Monday, September 29, 2008

Finished project: bird mobile

I have been not so crafty lately (more on that at the end of this post), but over the weekend I finally hopped to it and finished one of my WIPs: the bird mobile. This is a birthday gift for a friend whose party is this coming Saturday, so I was just in time to finish over the weekend. The entire project is modeled after the one on Spool Sewing. The pattern was very easy to follow and I'm very pleased with how this project turned out. 

The birds are all completely stitched by hand, stuffed with Poly-Fil and flax seed (and then brown rice, when I ran out of flax with a few left). The only problems I ran into came when I attached the birds to the branches (gathered over Labor Day weekend at the park; none were pulled from trees, they were all picked up off the ground). Like Spool, I stitched my birds to the sticks using a dark embroidery thread. But once I held up the sticks, the birds were too heavy from the flax/rice and were sliding backward. Enter the handy dandy hot glue gun. That did the trick. 

The next issue I had was in the balancing/hanging. Perhaps I was a little overzealous in the flax/rice stuffing? The birds were heavy and kept turning the branches, so I ended up not being able to use the gold eye screws on the bottom sticks, only where the bottom bird stick was attaching to the one above. (Yeah, this part is hard to explain!) Instead, I threaded the monofilament through the birds and attached it to a gold eye screw on the bottom of the branch above. You can kind of see some of that in the detail picture below: 

Other than some trial-and-error with the hanging, though, this project was pretty easy and should be a wonderful birthday gift! I apologize for the crappiness of the pictures in this post. We've had pretty much non-stop rain here for 3+ days, so lighting all weekend was horrible. 

I mentioned above that I've been not so crafty lately. This is due mostly to me feeling pain (!!!) in my hand and arm while hand-stitching. I know! It freaked me out. BUT, there is some good news. I have not gone to a doctor, but I am paying very close attention to my body and taking it very easy. On Friday night I stitched up the tails of the six remaining birds and that was fine. On Saturday I sewed the birds to the branches and hung the mobile, and that went fine as well. Yesterday I did quite a bit more hand-stitching on my still in-progress circles mini-quilt. I took a couple of breaks and was very careful with my posture, and I feel fine. Well, I do have a little bit of a pain in my elbow today, but the fact that it's not residing in my hands or my wrists is definitely a plus for me. So, dear readers (all 2 of you), rest assured that I am being careful and conscientious and will definitely see a doctor if this becomes constant and predictable. For now, I am just being watchful and taking notes. And I should have something to show from that circles mini-quilt later this week! 

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Some things...

Because I don't have any crafty endeavors to show you today, here instead are some pictures of things that I am digging right now. First up, an awful shot of me on Friday in a sweater dress, green tights, and brown slouchy boots. I have decided that this is going to be the year that I wear leggings and tights and bring back the sweater dress and just extend the life span of my skirts. Not sure if it'll work, but that's my bright idea at the moment. 

Next: Mr. Gnome's Deliver This Creature. I don't even remember how we stumbled upon this band, but they're cool. Very rockin', with a cool chick singer. I'm always amazed that two-person bands can make so much noise! Their official site is here

And then the inevitable kitty shots. Here's one of Bellow doing exactly what he's not supposed to do. It seems whenever Rob gets up from typing at his laptop, Bellow sits down on top of it and immediately falls asleep. Rob is beyond annoyed at this, but I find the whole thing endearing and adorable. Then again, it's not my spot that he's stealing. 

We had a lovely sunny Sunday morning over the weekend and I was lucky enough to snap some really cute pictures of Iris. My beautiful little girl is so photogenic, and it's like she's posing for the camera! She's continually moving around, showing me different angles... Watch out, America's Next Top Kitty Model! 

Friday, September 19, 2008

WIP - birds

Here's another little craft project I've begun. It's going to turn into the most wonderful birthday gift, so I need to keep it a secret for a little while. Still, aren't these little birdies cute? They are an excellent way to use up scraps. 

They are completely hand-stitched and didn't take nearly as long to do as I thought they might. I made the four above in around two hours (though I'd cut the fabrics a couple of weeks ago, so that helped). They are stuffed with Poly-Fil and then a bit of flax to give them some weight. I stuffed more Poly-Fil in after the flax so it wouldn't all fall into their tails, which I want to keep unstuffed. Pretty cute, huh? I have big plans for these little guys, but they need six more siblings first.  

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Hearts mini-quilt reveal

My swap partner received the quilt yesterday, so now I can post it! Here is my mini-quilt take on the theme "hearts." I know it may not be immediately apparent, but I wasn't feeling too inspired to just appliqué on some hearts, so I took this approach instead. Each of the flower petals is a hand-appliquéd heart, and there are 16 of them! I took the long way around and made freezer paper templates, ironed them to the fabric, cut the hearts out with a seam allowance, basted under the seam allowance, stitched 70% of the heart to the quilt top, removed the basting, pulled out the freezer paper, and stitched the last 30%. Sixteen times! I left the one petal falling off because I wanted to make it a little more obvious that there were hearts in the quilt! 

I used my free-motion foot and first outlined all the patchwork, embroidery, and appliqué (and those darn buttons kept making things tough!) and then quilted the entire background in a curlicue pattern. For whatever reason, stippling is really hard for me to do but these curlicues are not nearly so difficult. I think it's because I have a distinct direction I need to go in. Go figure. 

I love love love how the bees turned out! Originally I was going to do a traditional honey bee block with just one bee, but once I cut it out I realized that the scale was all wrong. Then I had a light-bulb moment where I realized that I had some cute bee buttons I'd been hoarding for years and waiting for just the right project to use them on. So instead of one bee and one flower, I ended up with two bees and three flowers! 

This picture was taken post-wash, to remove the cat hair and most of my pencil markings from the stitched label on the back (picture in this post). I think the quilting really transformed this quilt into something much more spectacular. I'm very proud of how that turned out. 

My swap partner was very generous and sent along three half-yards of fabric with my quilt, so I wanted to include a little something extra for her as well. I had some extra needle books from the weekend of unsurpassed productivity, so I did up a little embroidery (inspired by the needle book labels in this book) and included this with the quilt. I'm pretty pleased with the entire package, and my partner was delighted, but I still can't help but think that all my embroidery of words looks like it was done by a third-grader... 

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Urgent! Help keep Bitch afloat!

I know I haven't been blogging on feminist issues, but that's mainly because I think the links on the right under "feminist links" do a much better job at that than I can. That's why I was super bummed today to discover that the most recent issue of bitch, the one I just devoured, cover to cover, in three days, may be the magazine's last, unless they can raise $40,000 in the next month. A frowny face does not do justice to my concern. 

So, if you are a feminist, if you care about independent publishing, if you care about smart writing that analyzes pop culture, PLEASE consider donating here. I have been subscribing and giving gift subscriptions for years now, but I just gave another $25. Hang in there, bitch--we need you. 

Little bits quilt finished

Finally, here are finished post-wash photos of the little bits quilt I made for my friend JJ's birthday. (Note: I never pre-wash my fabrics because I love the scrunchy, wrinkled, shrinky look of machine washed and dried quilts, so these post-wash photos represent the quilt in its final form.) JJ loved it. Her living room furniture is brown and red, so I took that into account when choosing the fabrics. Finished quilt size is around 43" x 60". 

I envisioned this project as a "reversible" quilt but saw the brown as being the top because the red can be a bit much all together like that. As you can see from the picture above, I staggered the patchwork sections so they wouldn't both be in the middle and make that part a lot more "seam-y". 

As I mentioned in my last post on this project, I quilted in channels in the ditch on the patchwork on the brown side and extended the lines to either end. When I sandwiched the quilt I did my best to keep the seams of the little bits sections in line, but they finish at around 1" and were at either ends of the quilt, so that turned out to be impossible. Hence the above photo, where the quilting lines run right through the patchwork sections instead of in the ditch. Yuck. Still, for most of the quilt, they're pretty close to the seam lines, so it could've been worse. But like I said earlier, it was given on Saturday and the recipient loved it, so that's all that matters, right? And I have nearly 1/2 yard left of both of the fabrics. Yippee for me and my stash! 

Monday, September 15, 2008

Hearts mini-quilts

I received my swap quilt (pictured above)! It's from fairbanksfancygoods and it arrived on Saturday. Wow--how cool, huh? It is so colorful and so crazy and so "me," though something I probably never would've been able to do myself. So, it's perfect! I love the way she treated the hearts theme. For whatever reason, I thought there wouldn't be much variety in the hearts quilts; I was so wrong! You can see the group's Flickr photostream here

Here's a picture of the back. I love the fabric--it's so cute! The brown looks like stitches. You can see the excellent hand-quilting from the back. I am going to add some kind of hanging tabs to this because if I don't hang it up, the cats will steal it. They are already trying to take naps on it. Those crazy cats--they sure do love quilts! I think they have excellent taste. 

Here is a sneak peek of my hearts mini-quilt, which is going out in the mail today and should be received by Wednesday. I won't post full pictures of it until after it's been received. Here's a detail of one of the hearts, plus some of the quilting. 

Here's a shot of the back, showing some of my curlicue free-motion quilting (!!) and my new attempt at a label. As you can see, I attached the label before quilting, and I like the way it turned out! As you can also see, I'm having trouble embroidering my printing so it doesn't look like a second grader's. Oh well--guess I just need some more practice! Also, doesn't that pink flowered fabric look familiar?? (Hint: Check the first pic in this post for it in the blue colorway...!) 

Friday, September 12, 2008

Little bits quilt update

Here's a little peek at my finished "little bits" quilt. As I mentioned before, this pattern is from the ubiquitous Last-Minute Patchwork and Quilted Gifts. Instead of following the instructions exactly, I modified it for size (it's around 45" x 60", so very lap quilt-y) and wanted to make it out of only two fabrics for a modern, less scrappy feel. I also made it reversible, but that didn't come out quite like I'd hoped. More on that later. As you'll notice, I'm not posting any full finished pics yet. This is a gift, and I don't want to spoil it, just in case. It'll be given very soon, though, so there's not much longer to wait!

When it came time to bind, I wasn't sure what to do. I had leftovers of both fabrics, so I briefly considered doing a scrappy, every-other-brown-and-red binding, but then thought it might be too jarring on either side. Then I thought about doing just the red, but there is a lot going on in that fabric and it might be too distracting on the brown side, and too much on the red side. So, what did I do? I went to my local quilt shop, of course. The lovely owner who was working suggested a more subtle print from the same line, the dark red polka dot. Perfect.

Here's a close-up of my very subtle signature on the back. I used two strands (I think) of embroidery floss and back-stitched "KK 2008." I like how it turned out. I'm looking into doing a more full label for future quilts (and more on that next week when I update my swap quilt, but it's nearly finished!!) but wanted this quilt to be reversible, which a big label would definitely not allow.

I quilted the entire thing with red thread on the top and brown on the bottom. The quilting is just in channels through the little bits part to either end. LOTS of straight lines. It was kind of boring to do, but I really like how it turned out. Also, I used some Mettler quilting thread, which I don't think I've used before, and it was really nice. It felt so luxurious! And yes, I fully realize how dorky that sounds. The only downside is I'm still cleaning red fuzz out of my machine. I think I need to just take apart the bobbin casing and do a full clean to get it all out--but you'll get that with all nice cotton threads.

In other news, there's nothing like hearing that your swap partner is finished and popping your quilt in the mail to really give you a kick in the pants! Last night, after a much-needed (and VERY strong) cocktail (vodka, Apple Pucker, ice, and cranberry juice, in that order), I burned through that baby. I ironed and attached the label, sandwiched the quilt, quilted it (and that cocktail really helped me relax and just do all that free-motion quilting, which I'm still learning and still anxious about messing up), made and attached the binding, attached hanging tabs, and got more than half way through the hand-stitching on the binding. Phew! How's that for progress? I still have to finish up the binding (15 minutes tops) and do some little detail sewing (5-10 minutes) and the pop the entire thing in the wash, but it's definitely going out Monday, 9/15, which meets the "mid-month mailing" requirements. Still not sure if this swap is the right thing for me to be doing, but it's a little late now... I just hope my partner likes it!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

WIP - garden trellis quilt

And here's my last catch-up post from Labor Day weekend's mega crafting. This is the beginning of a jelly roll quilt from the book Jelly Roll Quilts (which I also bought from my Crafter's Choice book club--it's an addiction, I tell you). It's a jelly roll pattern, but I had a fat quarter pack I wanted to use instead for a less scrappy look. So I cut my own 2-1/2" strips from the fat quarters. The piecing of these blocks was really demanding. I had to make light/dark pairs, then pair the pairs, then stitch the four strips into a tube, then cut the blocks at 60-degree angles, then unpicked the stitches on the skinny side and pressed them into squares.

So now I have these 80 blocks which are then arranged in sets of four, then into rows, then the top. I'm planning for this to be a Christmas gift, so I probably won't be able to show much more of it before it's finished and received, but I hope to be able to sneak in some peeks.

Last night I was home alone while Rob was teaching a night class. Instead of quilting my swap quilt, though, I ended up watching a bunch of stuff On-Demand. One of the things I watched was True Blood, the new Alan Ball series on HBO. I will probably continue watching. Between this show and all the Twilight phenomena going on, I feel it's safe to proclaim: Vampires are the new black.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Quilted pillowcase

This is one project that's been on my to-do list for a looooong time. Two years ago we moved from Boston to our apartment on the North Shore, and then we went to Ikea. We got all kinds of furniture, including my lovely sewing desk and a chair. The chair I got has a plastic seat and I didn't think it'd be extremely comfortable after long hours at the sewing machine, so I bought a pillow form to go on it. After a while of using the pillow form "naked," I realized that it would be much better if I made a case for it, so I added that to my to do list. And that was about two years ago.

Finally, over Labor Day weekend, in my nearly unprecedented burst of productivity, I whipped this out. I used the leftover scraps from my (sort of) crazy quilt wedding gift for Jeff and Jen and raided some other solids from my stash. The backing of each side is muslin, and the batting are scraps also from the stash. It always feels nice to use up some of what I already have! I also finished some spools of variegated quilting threads on this project. I knew there wasn't much left, but it's always hard for me to estimate how much thread that is, and who throws away thread?? Not me.

So the front and back are pieced following the techniques used for the (sort of) crazy quilt. I ran out of scraps when doing the back so used gray to border the panel. Both front and back are quilted in free-motion curlicues, which were really fun once my machine and I got the tension figured out and got going on it. I stitched the case together, leaving a 6" or so opening, and then washed and dried it before inserting the pillow form and stitching it shut. I really like how it turned out. It makes my sewing desk just that much more inviting, and it felt awesome to use up those scraps I had sitting around for months and to finally cross something off my list. Of course, I added three more things to it, but still!

I also made mega progress on my Flickr swap mini-quilt. No pictures yet, but I finished the top on Sunday and just need quilting and binding. I'm hoping I can quilt it tonight or some other night during the week and then finish the binding and wash it over the weekend so I can send it out Monday.

A little bit of a side note here. I finished stitching the binding on my Little Bits quilt over the weekend. Actually, it was Sunday night during the Bears/Colts game. In the last three days, I've watched probably 24 hours of football. And I've loved it. For a number of reasons, I don't have a fantasy football team this year, but that's okay. I'm still really interested in watching my hometown team of the Packers, Brett Favre's new team the Jets, and my favorite quarterback (Jake Delhomme) and the Carolina Panthers. I got to see the entire Packers/Vikings game last night and the endings of the Jets and Panthers games on Sunday, and all my teams won! I'm so excited that football is back, and that I have a ton of handwork on my plate so I can plant myself in front of the TV every Sunday and still be productive. I went to bed last night after Denver's first drive, but that looks like it was a fun game. I'm a Jay Cutler fan, and this Royal guy looks like he's on track for a really good year already. Rob is already calling him "Royale with cheese."

Friday, September 5, 2008

Jelly jar pincushion

As promised, here's a picture of one of the jelly jar pincushions I made over Labor Day weekend. This craft was inspired by this post on Martha Stewart's website. The idea is great, but the instructions on her site aren't the most helpful. Here's what I ended up doing:
  1. Trace inner lid onto a piece of cardboard--I used an empty cracker box from our recycling. Cut out circle.
  2. Take piece of fabric and trim to a circle at the very least 1" larger than the cardboard. I made two of these with 4" squares of sample fabric, but this one I used a 1930s replica charm square that I decided didn't have enough contrast to be in my Dear Jane quilt.
  3. Make a gathering stitch close to the outer edge of the circle. Keep the needle on the thread for the next two steps.
  4. Roll some Poly-fil into a tight ball and layer between fabric and cardboard. Pull the gathering stitch on the fabric so it all stays put. This is tricky because you want to put the fabric side against the table to tighten the stitch, but that pushes on the Poly-fil and makes it all want to pop out!
  5. I found it best to then make some more stitches across the cardboard so that the gathering stitch would stay and the edges of the fabric wouldn't pop off the cardboard. This was tricky.
  6. Apply very hot hot glue to the inside of the outer lid. Quickly squish pincushion part inside and screw it onto the jar.
  7. Once the hot glue has cooled, unscrew outer lid, put glue along the top ridge of the inner, flat lid, and quickly screw the outer lid and pincushion on again. When it's all cooled, you should have a one-piece lid that is a pincushion!
As you can probably tell from my directions, this was a little tricky to do, but by the third one I think I got the hang of it. I have nine more of the dozen jars I bought (also, they're the quilted jelly jars, so they're extra cute!) and these are intended to become sewing kit gifts (to go along with the needle books) but I just had to keep this one for myself. Only, what to do with it? Ah yes, my button collection! It was previously in plastic zip bags. Much better. And with some Shrinky Dink pins, even.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Needle books

As promised, here's a photo of the needle books I was working on over Labor Day weekend. They are all made with wool-blend felt, which is very nice. There may be no going back to acetate fel for me! They each have 8 "pages" of white felt inside (actually two pieces of felt).

I had made some needle books before using the pattern in this book and sewing them on my machine, but I didn't have much luck keeping the spines straight and had to do a lot of trimming after the fact. Also, although my first one was very pretty, the flannel "pages" haven't held up very well and are fraying quite a bit. I probably should've pinked them, but oh well--too late now! I've become very attached to using a needle book, and I'm pleased with how useful they are. I only hope the recipients of these are just as pleased!

So, to make these, I followed the measurements in the book but reduced the number of pages. The felt is definitely more bulky than flannel. I folded each of the pieces in half to create a crease, then sandwiched them together and hand-basted down the center. Then I got out the embroidery floss and blanket-stitched each book's spine using three strands and pulling out the basting stitches as I went along. The whole process was really very quick and I easily whipped out this dozen, plus one for me, while watching television one morning.

These aren't completely finished, as I would like to add some embroidery to the fronts so that they are more personalized and cute, but the bulk of the work is finished. I've even filled them with:
  • Quilter's betweens
  • Sharps
  • Gold-eye embroidery needles
  • Glass-head quilting pins
  • Flat flower-head pins
There are only three needles in each, plus 2-3 of each kind of pin, but still. These will be going to people who rarely, if ever, sew, so I figured a little bit of everything would be enough.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


My apologies to the handful of you who actually read this blog. Sorry it's been so long since I've posted, and sorry I don't have any crafty pictures to show you today. That will be remedied, but right now they are still on my camera. Instead, I have these cloud pictures I snapped with my cell phone yesterday morning on my walk to work. They make me hopeful.

Yesterday was my first day back to work in four days--I took Friday off just to have an extra long weekend. Anyway, there was something in the air yesterday that made me feel hopeful. It was like everything was a new beginning, even though not a lot is changing for me. Summer is unofficially over, which means no more summer Fridays, but also means I'm back to my 9-to-5 and getting home a little after 6 instead of at 7:30. It also means we're really hitting our fall season with the books and I'm getting a lot busier at work, which really makes the time fly. Rob starts teaching a little this week, and then has a full week next week. Routine feels good. So does productivity.

With my four-day weekend, I did lots of crafting. Rob was home the whole time, too. We were fairly anti-social, but most of our friends were out of town or otherwise occupied, so it wasn't hard to just stick around. We did SOMEthing every day, even if it was just getting groceries, going to the museum, getting bagels, or having a picnic at the park. We also watched a bunch of movies. But for the most part, when we were home, I was crafting.

I've been getting a little anxious about Christmas this year. I know, I know, it's almost four months away, but when your gifts are handmade, and number 20+, you really need to start thinking about things early. Last year I made a lot of big, different things for everyone. I did a pretty good job of budgeting my time, but still had some late nights and some close mailing deadlines. This year I decided everyone is getting similar things, but they will still be personalized. And the gifts will also be smaller, easier to make, but no less handmade, and with no less love put into them. So, in an effort to try some things out and get a jump on the gifts, here's what I accomplished over my four-day crafty retreat:
  • Cut, basted, and blanket-stitched (by hand) 13 needle books
  • After some trial and error, made three jelly jar pincushions and will be able to make nine more very easily
  • Finished piecing the top and back of my Little Bits quilt, sandwiched it, and quilted it
  • Almost finished piecing an entire quilt top from "jelly roll" strips I cut from fat quarters; this will be another gift
  • Cut out fabric to make ten little birds, which will become a lovely birthday gift
  • Made a nifty quilted pillow case for my sewing chair pillow, complete with free-motion quilted curlicues
  • Did lots of reading of this book and made much progress on the top and borders of my first mini-quilt
It was a lot of cutting, pressing, stitching, pressing... But it felt so good to get so much done and off my list. I will be posting pictures of everything soon--once I fully document it all and get the pictures off my camera.

I haven't been able to get excited about fall. I don't know why I've been so reluctant to let go of the summer, but I have been. Anyway, yesterday something changed. I don't know exactly what it was. My walk to the train was busier, with more traffic, making it more difficult to cross streets in some places. But the sky was lovely, full of wisps of clouds. And the sun was shining. And between yesterday and today I listened to The National, My Brightest Diamond, and Jeff Buckley. Wowee. It's a beautiful way to start a day. And though I still wouldn't say I'm excited for fall, I am hopeful.

I'm hopeful for the elections and for Obama, who I fully support. I'm hopeful for good, busy workdays and productive crafting at home. I'm hopeful for more quilting classes and a chance to learn paper piecing. I'm hopeful for more snuggle time with my cats, who are little bundles of wonderfulness covered in fur. I'm hopeful for a new season of NFL football and for long Sundays with stew and fresh bread and lots of beer and TV. I'm hopeful for more hand-sewing.

I'm also hopeful that this Flickr mini-quilt swap I signed up for wasn't a mistake. This is a monthly swap with quilts no larger than 15" square, and a new swap partner every month. There is also a monthly theme. We've known this month's theme, hearts, for a few weeks but just got our partners the other day. I had an idea for the hearts theme but wanted to wait and see who my partner was to make sure it was something she would like (we all posted our likes and dislikes, so the idea is that you get something made just for you). I decided to go ahead with my original idea, though I haven't made any physical progress on it yet. Yesterday I learned that some people are done and were talking about a mailing on the 7th or the 10th! Wow--talk about anxiety-inducing. This is my first swap and I want to be good, but I also don't want to stress myself out over it; it's supposed to be fun! So I've kicked my mental planning into high gear and actually lied in bed, awake, from 3am until after 4, thinking about how best to make this work. Ugh. And then this morning, before hopping in the shower, I dug through my stash and picked out scraps for the different elements, so I'll be ready to start cutting tonight. I'm nervous, but I'm also hopeful that I'll do good work and receive good work and my swap partner will be happy.

I have a question for you quilters out there, if you're still reading. How do you label your quilts? I usually just chain-stitch or back-stitch "KK 2008" on the back before attaching the binding, but I don't think that will cut it for this swap, or probably for any of the other projects I have pending. Any suggestions? I don't like the idea of the printable fabric because I like to wash my quilts, and I know that over time the ink on the label will continue to fade. This is something I need to look into, and quick!

Anyway, happy Wednesday, happy September, and happy (gulp) start of fall. I'm still not giving up my skirts, though. Not yet.