Friday, August 30, 2013

Block of Valor Drive

I've been having fun making some blocks for the is  big block drive at Alycia Quilts for Quilts of Valor.  She is collecting two types of blocks this time. 

String blocks:
and these blocks:
You can see that I made twice as many of the strings.  They are seriously addictive and fun to make.  My supply of blue, however is really running low at the moment.  The drive is open through October so maybe I'll pick up some more blue on my next trip to the fabric store.  Postage for the blocks is also reasonable.  I fit 15 into a flat rate priority envelope for $5.05 (online rate) but I think you could even mail them for less using first class parcel rates. It's a great way to participate in a worthy organization.  Alycia takes these blocks and magically transforms them into some awesome quilts.  Hop over to her web site and see what I mean.

She also has some great sponsors offering prizes.  Every five blocks gives you an entry into the giveaways.  But, honestly, the real prize is being able to show thanks to those who have given us so very, very much.


Thursday, August 29, 2013

Some Good Customer Service

My previous post was a bit of a rant.  And while that incident was indeed frustrating, I know that in the larger scheme of things, what I encountered was an inconvenience and not a major life problem.  There are so many more serious things in life than that.  And so, as a balance my last post, I would like to tell you about two accounts of excellent customer service.  These happened on the same day as my ugly Post Office experience. 

During that same day I went to the drug store to pick up prescriptions.  The drug store is a frequent stop for me of late. Prescription management can get complicated. I expected to find one for my husband and one for me awaiting pick up,  but only mine was there.  When I inquired about his, the clerk checked his record, determined that it indeed was time to fill it and immediately filled the script so that I wouldn't have to make a second trip.  How very nice. 

And next....

I was trying to get a nice picture of my husband and his grandson from his recent visit to frame.  We all know that photography is a challenge for me.  I took several photos of the two and one (only one, I'll add)looked great on my computer. But when I printed it out it was dark and lacked contrast.  I put the file on a USB drive and went to a local independent photo lab and explained my problem.  The clerk could have told me to use the computers in the store, alter the photo, and submit it to be printed. Instead she went the extra mile and altered and submitted my photo herself on the self serve computers available in the store, all while also serving two other customers.  I paid $1.14 for three photos that were ready in an hour and received three more for free!?!  And she smiled.  


An Open Letter to the U.S. Postal Service

Dear Post Office,
I like you.  I like having mail delivered to my house and look forward to it each day.  I am one who will be sad to see Saturday delivery stop, even though I know you are just trying to make things work. I use your service to mail packages and even defend you to my husband who is a UPS fan.  But I have to say, you really let me down yesterday.  Let me explain my complete frustration.

I had a package to mail from Virginia to Florida.  It weighed 3 pounds.  I like to use the online service because I can compare prices without a line of people behind me impatient for me to make my choice and I like the small discount I receive for conducting my business online.  When I did this with my package, comparing a flat rate box and my box, I discovered that the least expensive way to mail this was with a box called Regional A.  Now, I didn't have such a box at home, but you very nicely list the box dimensions and I could tell that it would fit my items perfectly.  So, I paid for and printed my label, gathered my items and went to the post office expecting to box it up there.

I was the only one in the Post Office when I arrived. After studying the display and having trouble deciding which of the practically identical boxes (honestly, these are the SAME box except that some say "Priority", some "Express" and some "APO") I needed, I asked the clerk for a Regional A box.  Imagine my surprise when I was told, "We don't carry those boxes. You have to order them online."  Huh?  Really?  You offered me a postage rate, charged my credit card, allowed me to print postage without whispering a word about the difficulty in finding a Regional A box.  I asked if any of the nearby post offices might have one and was provided with phone numbers to call and ask.  I called the numbers from my car, but none of them had the elusive box. When I inquired about using the label I had paid for, or perhaps getting a refund the desk clerk really didn't know how the internet postage worked, but she thought that was possible if I went back online.

Now, I can buy a tangible item like a pair of pants from a retail store online and decide to return it to their store in the mall without any trouble.  They are able to manage to restock this tangible item without trouble, issue me a refund and keep the store financially solvent, and make me feel like a valued customer.  I didn't really buy an item online from the post office, but rather a service that had yet to be delivered, but I can't receive my refund from the store...only online.  Something is wrong here.

So, to make this already long story a bit shorter, I did a bit of calming, deep breathing, drove home, requested a refund online (I will give you credit here....that was an easy process), printed out a new label using my box which oddly costs me more even though you are not actually providing me with a box, packed my items, got back in my car, drove back to the post office (We will skip the part about how much bigger this is making my carbon footprint), parked, stood in a long line and, finally, submitted my package for delivery.  Phew.....Honestly now, it shouldn't be this difficult.  Let me point out a few things:
  • It's silly that you charge me more to use my own box.
  • You don't carry that many boxes.  Why on earth offer postage on a box that you don't stock in the post office?  If Regional rates are being phased out, at least give me a hint on the website. After all, your new ads claim that I am your priority.
  • It would seem that you are trying to encourage people to use the online services.  It would be very helpful for the desk clerk to know something about these services.
  • It would be helpful to integrate online and in person services.
  • The whole system is still confusing.  All three boxes: priority, regional A and my box are about the same size and would be handled the same way probably by the same people and/or machines.  Why even have three options anyway?
  • A box is a box is a box.
In a customer service oriented post office the encounter would have gone like this:
Me:  "I need a Regional A box."
Clerk: "We don't carry those."
Me: "I've already printed out my postage.  Do I have any options?"
Clerk: "Let me call around and see if I can find you a box."
                                  or, even better:
           "I'm so sorry for the confusion.  Let's take a regular Priority Mail box and write Regional A    on it for you and use your already paid for label.  After all, a box is a box is a box."

I still like you Post Office, but, seriously, you can do better. And for both of our sakes, you NEED to do better.



Wednesday, August 28, 2013

More Fun in the Sun

In spite of all the problems I had finishing the Fun in the Sun quilt a few months ago, my niece absolutely loved it.  In fact she decided to use it as the inspiration piece to decorate her home office and asked me recently to create some pillows to accent it on the day bed.  Actually I made pillow shams and she will fill them when they arrive.

I had a few odds and ends of the fabric left, bought some white and a little yardage from the same collection (most of the fabrics were Ticklish by Moda with some add ins from my stash) to make pillowcases and here's what I came up with:
The square ones will hold 16 inch pillows and the larger ones will hold standard bed pillows.  They all have envelope backs and flange edges.
Then I decides to make two pillowcases, just because:

So, hopefully these will help accent the quilt.  The link to the "rest of the story" about the quilt is above, but here's a picture of it:


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Embroidered Quilt

I've finally finished this one!  This is the project for a Craftsy class by Eileen Roche that I started at the beginning of the year.  Not only is it a quilt finish but it is the first Craftsy class that I've finished. Being new to machine embroidery it was a challenge at first to understand the technique, but I think I'm falling in love with the idea of embroidering on a quilt.
Due to the limits of a home embroidery machine the quilt is made in strips of about 9 inches.  A continuous technique is used so that you can create an embroidery that runs the entire width of the fabric by continual rehooping.  This project also used a raw edge applique technique along with the embroidery.
You had the option of embroidering on a full quilt sandwich of three layers.  This would have resulted in the bobbin side of the embroidery being visible on the back.  I chose to use a "quilt cracker" which is just the top fabric and the batting.  I pieced the strips together and then attached the back with lines of stitching on the sashing. 

As with any quilt I've ever made, there are things I like and don't like about the end result.  The back is a bit looser than I would like.  I think the raw edge applique is a bit out of sync with the elegance of the embroidery.  That might be due to my inexperience in the technique and the applique trimming.  I might have liked a more visible thread color on the grey parts...perhaps just a lighter or darker shade of grey.  I also think these embroidery patterns would look good without the applique in a contrasting thread color.  But all in all, I really like the end result.

If you have an embroidery module to your sewing machine I would recommend this course.  It made me a lot more comfortable with the workings of my machine and opened up so many creative possibilities.  Eileen Roche also has a lot of other embroidered quilt patterns on her blog and once I work through my current "to do" list (that would be 2014 or later) I may try another one.


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Virginia Safari Park

Our grandson week was a bit of a "staycation" with us visiting area attractions, swimming, playing board games, going out for ice cream, and just generally enjoying his company.

One of the places we visited was the Virginia Safari Park.  I love this place, so having an excuse to visit again was fantastic!  You drive through the park and get to feed the animals from your car.  It's very, very well kept and tons of fun.  The grandson loves llamas...I've shared a few llama themed items that I've made for him...and the park was loaded with llamas.  Here's a few favorite pictures of the drive through part:

Then, there is a walk through part/petting part for closer animal interaction.  By far, my favorite was the Budgie Aviary.  They have hundreds of budgies - you buy a stick with some bird seed stuck to it and the birds will light on your stick and eat the seed.  It was huge fun!

There were also giraffes, pot bellied pigs, watusi cattle, zebras, kangaroos, camels (they ate the food buckets!)  It was a fun, fun day. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Our Very Own Doggie Wellness Center!

I've posted a few times about swimming with Seamus and how very much he likes it.  I've even dreamed of being able to have a "Doggie Wellness Center" where owners and dogs could swim together.  Up until now our pool swimming was limited to once a year on Labor Day weekend when our town pool opens to dogs and their owners.  Right after this hairy event, they drain and winterize the pool.

Back in the winter, son #2 (who lives within five miles of us) bought a house with a pool.  Prior to closing they had never even taken the cover off to look inside.  Fortunately, it turned out to be a beautiful and well maintained swimming pool.  As he was learning how to manage it he asked a lot of questions to the pool professionals about allowing dogs to swim in it and he decided to open it up to us for use with Seamus. 

So, this week, with our 12 year old grandson visiting, we made use of that offer:
We swam three different days.  Seamus loved it, as always and he seemed to actually move better after the water exercise.  He slept well, too.


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Revisiting Steubenville Pottery

A while back I posted about my "holy grail" of vintage pottery:
I was hoping that someone would see my picture and help me find additional pieces or even information about this pattern.  It was made by Steubenville Pottery in Ohio.  The pottery closed in the late 1950's.  About a half dozen of these luncheon sized plates along with some round dessert plates of the same pattern were among my mother's dishes.  For some reason, I've always loved the pattern and vintage feel of the pottery and wanted to find more.  Over the years I've searched online sites, posted on pottery forums, registered with Replacements, Ltd. and come up absolutely empty.  Not only does no one else acknowledge having this pattern, but no one even can tell me a name or information about it.

So......I got it in my mind that if I would only actually travel to Steubenville, Ohio, someone up there with old ties to the factory would be able to tell me all I want to know and maybe even have a stash of this pattern.  Steubenville was sort of on the way to our destination in Michigan to pick up our grandson and I convinced the husband that it was a good stopping point for our travels and might also help me find the holy grail.

I did my online homework and made a list of antique stores and flea markets, and off we went.  Now,with great apologies to Steubenville residents, let me say, as gently as I can, that this town is in serious need of economic revitalization. I'll leave it at that.  We arrived in town about 2pm and I was concerned that we wouldn't have time to visit all five places on my list.  But, boy was I wrong.  We entered the first address into the GPS, followed the directions and ended front of a residence.  No signs.  Nothing to indicate a store.  The next two were said to be on a main street, but one turned out to be an appliance store and the other was empty.  The fourth address took us just to the edge of town where indeed there was a flea market sign......and an empty lot.  So, with little hope, we began to search for the last address.  Eureka!  It was still in business.  By now I knew that the husband was not a happy camper, so I endeavored to make this quick.  I had printed out pictures of my plate and put my contact info on the bottom, hoping to post it in some of these stores.  I walked into this last shop, showed my paper to the owner and asked him if he knew any info on this plate.

He was certainly the right guy.  His mother had been an inspector at the pottery until it closed.  But basically he said, "Don't know it. Never saw it.  Have no idea what it's called.  They made thousands of patterns and a lot never had names."  He posted my picture and then proceeded to tell me that after the pottery closed it sold wares until 1963 when some woman came and bought all the remaining pottery and moved to Toronto where she and later her son have been slowly selling it off piece by piece.  Hmmm......maybe a trip to Canada?!?  With no more stores to visit, we retired to our hotel.

We did learn that Steubenville was the birthplace of Dean Martin and once a year they have a Dean Martin festival.  They have a Franciscan University (with a great coffee shop called: Holy Grounds) and a restored Fort Steuben which you can tour.

The next morning we continued on our journey to Michigan.  Once we were on the highway we realized that we needed to stop for gas and got off at an exit promising a gas station.  Once off the highway we entered a small Ohio town with a large sign to welcome us to.....wait for it......TORONTO!  So....the lady with all the leftover Steubenville pottery didn't take it to Canada (which I thought was sort of a long way to go with a truckload of dishes).....she moved about ten miles north!!

The holy grail remains unsolved and may stay that way.  I don't think I can put my dear husband through another pottery exploration trip.


Saturday, August 17, 2013

Category: Dog Quilt

We've had a young visitor this last week so my computer time has been limited practically non existent.  But, today, after a long afternoon nap, I'm trying to catch up. 

First, because of a time limit, I want to write a post about my dog quilt.  If you've been reading here for awhile, you've already seen this quilt.  But there is a pet quilt show over at Lily Pad Quilting and I wanted to get in on the fun before the linky closed.

So, here it is:
I thought I'd put a bit of the story behind it.  This was one of my first quilts.  The husband picked out this printed panel of dog pictures.  I wasn't too keen on it, but he seemed to really like it so I agreed to try to make it into something.  Again, it was early in my quilty experience.  I did what I knew, which was to make enough blocks to have a design filling in with some other dog inspired blocks; frame them all to the same size and go with it.  So, we have paper pieced dog houses and bones, printed photos of our Golden Retriever and the blocks from the dog panel.  It's quilted with a combination of diamonds and free motion.  Here are a few close ups (again, taken before I learned a few tricks about taking photos of quilts!):

The Pet Quilt Show  is not just a show of pet themed quilts, but also of pictures of pets ON quilts.  I had hoped to snap one of those, but it's been a bit busy around here.  So, hop on over and check out the linky with some adorable photos of two things I love - pets and quilts.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Craftsy Block of the Month: August

This month's block is a two part block.  Appliqued flowers and leaves will be added to this in September.  You might think it's strange that I chose this flowered background, and I may end up regretting it, but I have this funny idea that it just might work.  I intend to actually add blue flowers (instead of the suggested red) and yellow/green leaves. If it doesn't work, I've had some good practice.  This piece used a turned applique technique for the basket handle.  Up until now I've only done raw edge applique.  Honestly, I'm not sure why or if the turned machine applique is better.  It certainly is more difficult.  Maybe I don't know enough about to machine applique to figure out why one would use this technique.  If any of you reading this prefer turned applique or have an opinion, please send me a comment.
I'm still not sure about the dark background on the tumbling blocks, As I look at the picture, though, I think the real problem is not just the brown background but the dark blue face of the blocks.  The dark color really gives the blocks depth and that's the main reason I chose it. Here's what I'm thinking this month - There are a lot of "fill in" pieces to be done including a lot of flying geese blocks.  If those are done with more brown and blues it might just even everything out . .....or plan B is just, remake the tumbling blocks with a yellow background.  And plan C is....make a smaller quilt out of my favorite blocks and use the others for different things.  Yes, this is definitely going to turn into a two year project.


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Country Threads Block of the Month: August

I think this has been my favorite project this year.  I find these blocks relaxing to work on and I like how they're going together.  I will say, though that I'm starting to think, "sashing" at this point because having them next to each other looks a bit chaotic to me.  Some of the spaces are meant to be filled in with flying geese pieces and half square triangles so that even adds to the busyness more.  But in general, I like the traditional look and the variety:
 Here they are in the approximate orientation as pictured with the instructions:
I'm already thinking of ways that I might change it up a bit here and here....but, we'll see.

Monday, August 5, 2013

To Russia With Love

My local quilting guild has become acquainted with a local guild in Russia and recently we had a visit from one of their members (...who happens to have a daughter living in this area and is a new member of our guild). 

This year the Russian guild sent us a collection or Russian fabric with a challenge to create a small wall quilt that represents our impression of Russia.  Participation is totally voluntary.  The quilts will be displayed here and then be sent together to the Russian guild.  At first I didn't take any fabric because I had absolutely NO ideas of how to represent my idea of Russian with fabric.  I think my experiences in art class as a child had my mind totally frozen.  But, after I went home, the ideas started to flow and now I actually have several.  So, I asked to have some pieces mailed to me and they arrived yesterday:

The shades of color remind me of vintage fabrics.  This won't be my next project, but it's high up on the list.  I hope I can make my thoughts transfer to fabric in a meaningful way.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Curtains: A Walk on the Home Decor Side of Sewing

Son #1 and his partner recently bought a co-op apartment.  (Co-op apartment owning was a new concept for me to get my head around.  You basically own a share of the entire building with the right to live in a particular apartment in the building.  It's sort of like a condo except that the residents own the building, not the condo corporation.) The building is from the 1920's with old, large windows making them difficult to dress.  They asked me to make them some curtains for the bedroom and a French door.  So, another learning adventure began for me and has just concluded with this result.  These pictures are taken on my window which is narrower than their windows by a few inches and has a much lighter rod than theirs.

Lessons learned from this adventure in sewing:
  • Curtains always take more fabric than you expect.  I bought an extra yard because it was the end of the bolt and I knew I wouldn't be able to go back and buy more if needed.  In the end I had about 1/2 yard left over.
  • I still don't like making curtains very much.
  • Buckram is a stiff interfacing type material used in the header to provide body.  Prior to this I had never heard of the stuff.
  • Grommets are actually pretty easy to install.  The hardest part is getting them evenly spaced.
  • Cotton is so much easier to work with than synthetics.  It's predictable, it tolerates ironing well, resists stretching and stays where you put it...unlike the fabric used for the curtains.  But I have to admit that this fabric hangs nicely without a wrinkle in sight.
  • Curtains always take longer to sew than you expect.
  • I still don't really like making curtains, but I'm always glad to be a part of my children's lives in whatever way I can.

  Here's hoping that the curtains fit as expected and are liked!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

An Embroidery Kind of Week

I haven't had too much in the way of quilting to show lately, but I have been busy in the sewing room.  I've finished up my Skirting the Issue projects as well as curtains for son #1 and his partner (more about that soon).

And...I've been machine embroidering my heart out.  I signed up for a Craftsy class early this year called the Machine Embroidered Quilt and I've finally made some progress.  Here are all the pieces on my design wall waiting to be cut to size and sewn together:

Here's a close up of some of the embroidery:

Since most of the quilting is basically done, I'm hoping that this will soon be finished up.

And, since I had my machine set up to embroider, I made these pieces:
This has always been one of my favorite saying.  If you're reading on a small screen, it says:  Cleaning and scrubbing can wait 'til tomorrow. But children grow up so we've learned to our sorrow. So quiet down cobwebs, dust go to sleep. I'm rocking my baby. Babies don't keep. I used to have it up in the baby room when my sons were small.  I had intended this to become a wall hanging, but it turned out much bigger than I planned.  So for now, I'm just going to think about what to make with it and keep my eyes open for some coordinating fabric.  It may still turn out to be a wall hanging, or it may turn into a quilt.  I'm still so new at this embroidery thing that I had plenty of lessons to learn to create these pieces. 
And now, I'm ready for a good quilting project!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Skirting the Issue: A Somber Last Week

This is the last week of the Skirting the Issue sew-a-long hosted by the girls at Simple Simon & Co.  Each week in July was dedicated to sewing a different item for donation to an appropriate group.  You were encouraged to donate locally or to send them to the hosts for donation (which is what I plan on doing).  So, I've blogged about skirt week, pillowcase week, blanket week, doll week and now, lastly, we have bereavement gown week. 

I didn't know what a bereavement gown was at the start of the month. I was surprised to learn that these are small outfits given to parents who have suffered the premature loss of a child through miscarriage or still birth. They are often used for burial.  There were comments and posts written by those who have suffered such a lose and encouraged by such kindnesses. 

There were several suggested patterns from rather complex lacey ones to the more simple bunting pattern, which I chose to make.  I put a small ruler in the picture to give you an idea of the size.  And this is the LARGE bunting pattern.

Here is the total contribution waiting to be boxed up and taken to the post office: