Friday, December 31, 2010

Evil Overlord Scarf

Not much quilting has gotten done lately, but I have been experimenting with knitting and crochet. Above is my Evil Overlord Scarf. For those of you who have seen "Despicable Me" (which is hilarious, by the way), this is just like the scarf the villain/hero Gru wears in the film. I saw it, and I knew I had to make one. I don't much like knitting with needles, so I decided to trying a knitting loom. This scarf is meant to be long and narrow, and it is, quite appropriately, 13 stitches wide. I had to make my own loom spacers to get a gauge this fine, the ones the loom came with gave a stitch that was too loose.

And this is the crochet scarf I started last month. I don't know if it will ever get done. This is the first scarf I tried to crochet, and I did not fully realize just how many yarn ends would need to be woven in when I changed colors so often, or just how long it would take. Or how much of a pain in the @$$ it would be. So, this project is on the slow road to completion. Every now and again I'll pull it out and weave a few tails in. Then I'll give up and put it away again for a while. I have noticed that the ends of the tails I've already woven in tend to poke out again over time, so I keep having to trim them again. And now you know why this project may never get done.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Three Tops

Soooo, some progress has been made, if not in actual completed quilts, then at least in quilt tops, YAY! Here are the two quilt of valor tops that I made from this block set. Still have 12 blocks leftover, but I think I'll put them in a wall-hanging or on the pillowcases I'll make for the QOVs to go in after they are completed. I don't know whether I should really count both of these as done, since the one with the red border has a bit of border ripple. Apparently the numerous seams in the piano-key inner border caused some stretch and I may need to do some ripping and re-sewing on that one. I hate having to re-sew, so I'm going to put it away and not think about it!

This top is a baby quilt for a neighbor. I had the blocks tucked away from an experiment in designing my own rectilinear blocks. I think of them as log cabin pattern variations. I call this design "circuit boards," and I have a set with light backgrounds and one with dark backgrounds. The light ones went into this quilt, the dark ones are still in a stack in my quilt room. I was 4 blocks short, so I made more and put sashing and a couple of borders on when I realized that the baby shower was coming up soon. The mom-to-be told me she wanted to learn to quilt, so I don't intend to finish this one for her. I'll help her learn how to quilt it or tie it (and I'll even tell her about long-armers who will machine quilt it for you if you pay them, in case she chickens out).

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Nene Reads Book Club

I summarize every book club read in one sentence and read it out at the meeting.

We did two book clubs this month because October's was postponed. The First book we read was The Tenderness of Wolves, by Stef Penney: "A murdered trapper is found in his cabin, and two dozen people take off into the Canadian wilderness in winter searching for lost relatives, murder suspects, other searchers, dead bodies, and a new home."

You may think that 2 dozen is an underestimate, but trust me, it isn't. The book was pretty good and the characters well-drawn, although there is a lot that is left out and at the end, it pretty much just stops and you don't really know what happens to most of the characters. And who the h@#$ is Half-Man, anyway?!?

The second book was Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout: "Thirteen stories of people living lives of quiet desperation in Maine."

Olive Kitteridge was well-written, but I had a hard time getting over the fact that it is really a bummer and Olive is not an especially likeable person (although she does have her moments). And it felt a bit voyeuristic at times.

January is my month to pick a book. I have 3 or 4 possibilities, what shall I torture them with next, hmmm. . .

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

I'm ba-ack!

Soo. . .I've been a total slacker and haven't posted anything in a month. I haven't posted in so long, I forgot my password and had to reset it (I hate passwords. I can never remember them unless I write them down, and how secure is that?)!

I actually have done some quilting, though, yay!

I made so many stars, I decided to make 2 quilts of valor (and I actually have 12 more blocks left over. Hmm, maybe that was a little overkill). The first one is set on point with setting triangles rather than squares and the rows offset. I like the zigzag line the setting triangles form. I sewed all the blocks together and added an inner border and "auditioned" 3 fabrics for the outer border and I don't like any of them. How can I not have a good blue border when I have a dresser and a bookshelf full of fabric???

And here is the second one, a straight set with alternating lattice blocks. I heven't sewed the rows together yet and I'm still thinking about borders. I have some rail fence units cut from the strip sets I used to make the 9-patch centers of the star blocks, and I may sew them together to make a blue and white piano key-type border.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Solar Water Heater

We had a solar water heater installed last month. It took almost 3 days to put the system in (complete with crawling around in our tiny attic). It runs antifreeze through a solar collector on the roof. There is a pump that moves the antifreeze through a heat exchange coil in the hot water heater when it is hot enough. The system has an electric backup, but we turned it off. The system produces hot water every sunny afternoon. I only turned on the electric backup one cloudy Sunday afternoon when I did three loads of laundry and ran the dishwasher. So far it works fine running it this way, although I expect sometime this winter we may have to keep the backup system on.

I'm working on a Quilt of Valor. I've been making star blocks from one of the Nickel Quilt books by Pat Speth.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

September Book Club pick

Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley.

My one-sentence synopsis:
Man vs. Monster: miserable quest for mutual destruction (with whining over the desolation)!

Now I see where all those bad gothic novel stereotypes came from.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Quilty Finish

I finished quilting and binding a simple diamond lap quilt. This pieced up quickly in diagonal rows. It was my first new project in several months, and I needed some instant gratification. I pieced it in about a week, which is about as instant as quilting gets. This kind of quilt is all about the colors and the fabric. Some rows contrast and other rows blend into each other. You can see the pieced backing of vertical stripes.

I quilted it in rows of spirals and squiggles and finished the binding while we were at the beach. I'm happy with the way this one turned out.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

We're Ba-ack!

Took a short blog hiatus while we were at the beach for a few days. It was cloudy and rainy for the first few days (but on the bright side, not hot at all), then it cleared up.


So, we were in the Florida Panhandle, in an area that did get some impacts from the oil spill, and I think this may be weathered tarball. It is most composed of sand, but it seems to be glued together with an asphalt-like substance. They weren't abundant, but there were a few rolling in the surf.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Machine Quilting Binge

It's that time of year again. . .time for the machine quilting binge! I always have several quilt projects in the works, and once I finish a quilt top, I'll piece a backing, baste it, fold it up, and tuck it away under my sewing table (or sometimes, I'll just put the top away and figure out a backing and baste it later). Once or twice a year, I pull out all the projects that are ready for quilting and binge. Usually one or two projects get put off until next time because I haven't figured out how I want to quilt them yet.

There is a reason for the save and binge. I free-motion quilt, which is a skill that has a kind of zen. You control the speed of the machine, the rate that you move the quilt, and the pattern you are sewing. It takes practice, and I quilt better if I do a lot at once. I usually use a small wallhanging or neonatal charity quilt to warm up on. I find that it is stressful at first and all the muscles in my shoulders tighten up, and then as I keep doing it, I start to relax and the quilting gets better. I find the zen of machine quilting.

Here are my warm-up projects.

And this is me, working on a lap-sized quilt, the first in the stack. It took me a couple of hours to find the zen this time, but I got more than half of this one quilted today. I have two more basted quilts in the stack, plus two more basted wallhangings. I also have two tops with already pieced backs ready for basting (I ran out of batting and safety pins for basting), and two or three lap-sized tops without backings. I usually piece my backings from fabric in my stash. I have a lot of fabric, but I tend to buy 1/2 or 1 yard cuts, so I rarely have enough for a quilt back. Pieced backs are more interesting anyway. Sometimes the back of the quilt is almost as interesting as the front. I'll post some quilt backs on here later as I complete the quilting on this stack of quilts.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

My Green Quilt

Here is the completed chevron quilt top. A number of changes have occurred since the last iteration. I added thin gray bands to emphasize the diagonals in the quilt as well as borders. I'm still not sure if the coral pink inner border is the way to go. I already made it narrower (it was originally to be 3/4", now it is 1/2"). I suppose I can always applique another border on top if I decide it really has to go. I am piecing leftover strips to make a backing for the quilt, and, of course, planning my next quilt.

Two Very Different Books

My reading tastes are fairly omnivorous, so here are the two I finished most recently (Jane Austen's "Persuasion" doesn't count, since I reread it).

John Scalzi's "The Last Colony" was quite enjoyable. It is third in a loosely connected series set in the same universe. Humanity has colonized the stars and now competes with other races for planetary territory by recruiting the elderly to serve as soldiers and giving them new, genetically enhanced bodies to fight with. An alliance of alien races called the Conclave has formed and declared that no nonmember species (including humans) will be allowed to colonize new worlds. John Perry (retired soldier) and his wife, Jane (retired Special Forces soldier) are enlisted to start a new colony in defiance of the bann. These books are like popcorn, but they also bring up some interesting ideas about leadership and governments. One of my favorite authors, Lois Bujold, says that Sci Fi/Fantasy books are really about politics and power, and there's plenty of that here.

Shay Saloman's "Little House on a Small Planet" was also interesting, although I wish it had more pictures. It's a book of anecdotes and interviews about and with people who live in small houses. It's an advocacy book about ignoring the call of the McMansion and living small; I found it less annoying than some (does that mean that it is really less annoying or just that I find it so because I agree with a lot of the ideals in it?). It made me think about life in general, what we value and how we order our lives. I live in what is, by American standards, a modest-sized house--about 1200 square feet--but nowhere near the 120 or 350 square feet size of some of the truly tiny houses profiled in the book. I know I could live in a smaller space--I have before--but it seems hard for me to make the change now. I guess it is because I like my neighborhood and don't really want to move. Maybe my inertia is just too great for the kinds of changes needed to downsize my house. The only way I could think of doing so was to build a guesthouse in the backyard and live in that. And I'd have to fight my husband over that, because he really wants a garage instead, so he has somewhere to work on cars!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Another book

The latest book I finished was Palimpsest, by Catherynne Valente. It is the story of four people who are transported to a dream-city after an impulsive one night stand with a mysterious stranger, and how they each become obsessed with the city and finding their way back to it--permanently. My reaction was mixed. Valente's language is beautiful, and her writing has that half-intriguing, half grotesque quality of fairy tales. She is never a quick read. Her characters are only symbols and the plot never seemed to quite mesh. It was a bit more explicit and graphic than I expected, and the story was too disjointed to read smoothly or draw me in completely. It seemed to both go too far, and not far enough--too far to make the reader comfortable, but not far enough for clear resolution and closure in each of the tales. I wasn't sure I'd finish it and probably won't read it again. I liked her Orphan's Tales books (In the Night Garden and In the Cities of Coin and Spice) better. The stories were also disjointed, but it suited the structure of the books better.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Chevron Top Done, Auditioning Borders

I finished the Chevron quilt top, and am auditioning borders for it. I was originally planning a white inner border and light green outer border and medium/dark green binding, but I thought I'd try some pinks and purples for the inner border as an experiment. I think the pinks give it a little zip. There is a tiny bit of coral pink in the body of the quilt--thin stripes scattered in one of the fabrics--so I think I'm going to go with that one (shown in the second photo). I want the inner border to be fairly narrow. A little pink goes a long way.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Kindle Covers

For Christmas last year my husband got me a Kindle (which was even better than a pony!); he also got me a nice leather cover for it, but of course, I had to make a couple of fabric covers as well (just so it doesn't feel like I'm reading the same book all the time, right?). I traced around the leather cover to make the pattern, and they slip on over it.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Good book

Just finished reading The Stolen Child, by Keith Donohue. Someone in my book club loaned it to me. The story of a child kidnapped by faeries and the changeling left in his place. It's a strangely compelling book about identity and change, love and loss, remembering and forgetting. Fascinating.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


Where does your quilt inspiration come from?

I am inspired by color, and I will sometimes take pictures or save pages from home dec magazines just because the colors make me happy. My sketchbook has tons of such pictures tucked into it.

I found this lichen outside my office building and borrowed a camera to take a photo of it. I love the colors. And I'm actually not sure if I could re-create this from my (extensive) stash. I don't have a lot of peachy colors in my fabric collection.

And here is a mushroom photo taken the same day. I like the way it is all neutrals except for a bit of green grass.

I love Andrew Wyeth's paintings and he often painted in neutral, earth tones with just a touch of some other color--blue or green or gold--to give it life. I have a hard time being that restrained in my quilts. Maybe I need to quiet down a little.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Scrapbook FAIL!

(If you don't understand what a fail is, take a look at this website).

Our Deputy Division Director is retiring this summer and somehow I got elected to put together a scrapbook for him. So I bought supplies and had a bunch of my coworkers cut out paper fish and photos and make scrapbook pages. There are still lots more for me to put together once we finish printing photos.

Well, he doesn't like things made in China, and it turns out that scrapbooks that are not made in China pretty much don't exist, unless you go on the internet and pay 2-3 times what your average scrapbook will cost. So I thought about making one from scratch and found some acid-free chipboard and dug out all the double-sided fusible that I have and some fabric and came out with this:

Notice that white band on the right side of the scrapbook? Yes, that is the pages hanging out from the too-small cover. The chipboard I bought only came in a 12 x 12 inch size. No problem, I thought, the pages are the same size. Never having constructed a scrapbook before, I completely failed to realize that the pages are in plastic sleeves that are about an inch wider than the paper, so the scrapbook cover needs to be wider as well.

Luckily someone brought in a custom scrapbook made of wood veneer, and someone else has been enlisted to make covers out of wood. So this is just an experiment gone slightly awry. I still smile everytime I see it. And I realized that I can trim down the pages so that they will fit in the skinny scrapbook, and use it myself to document my quilts, which I've been meaning to do but somehow have never gotten around to.

What I've been reading. . .

Just finished reading Off the Books, by Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh. It's an exploration of a ghetto economy in southside Chicago. When segregation became less strict, a lot of the upper and middle-class African Americans left the ghetto, leaving the poor and the destitute. With few cash infusions from outside the community, poor social services and meager political power, residents turned inward and developed an unregulated, off the books economy. People are hired part-time with no paperwork, job security, or benefits, services are paid for in cash or with barter, favors are traded, and deals are brokered. Gang leaders, clergymen, neighborhood leaders, and local shopowners get together to mediate disputes. Part of America, but another world.

The book was fairly readable, but not well-organized; it felt like the author travelled the same ground over and over, emphasizing one aspect here and another there. An interesting read, but sometimes tedious and sort of depressing.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Chevron Quilt progress

I'm making slow but steady progress on what I am mentally calling my Chevron quilt (I wish I had a better name for it, that one reminds me too much of large oil companies and considering the Golf Coast Disaster, that is the last thing I want to be reminded of).

I did notice, though, that all the white-on-white strips somehow didn't make it into the quilt. I find it really difficult to use certain colors in my quilting. Black, white, and gray almost never show up in my quilts (I have some black and white fabric, and but almost no gray fabric at all in my stash). I'm not sure where the reluctance to use these colors comes from. I have no problem at all throwing yellow and orange into my quilts. Maybe I need to make a black, white, and gray quilt, or challenge myself to incorporate them into quilts with other colors.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Book Club Book July

A few months ago my friends and neighbors talked me into joining the local book club, Nene Reads. I love to read, but I hesitated because, well, I want to read what I want to read, and I already have a stack of unread books. It's been fun meeting, though, and sometimes books that few people liked have generated a lot of discussion.

I just finished the July book, West With the Night, a memoir by Beryl Markham. I do a one-sentence synopsis of every book we read and read it aloud at the meetings, so here is the sentence for West with the Night:

"Memories of a bush pilot in Africa in the early 20th century: lions and airplanes and barons, oh my!"

I am very ambiguous about the book; parts of it were good, but I really do enjoy books that have a plot, which it did not. This one was a series of scenes that weren't very connected. I guess life is like that. The language was beautiful, the pace was slow, the story meandered at the writers whim. I enjoyed most the descriptions of flying.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Here is the crew, stitching away. At times like these, I realize how small my house is. We had to put the ironing board in the kitchen, and we were cutting fabric and trimming blocks on the countertop.

This is the other project I have been working on this past week. Sometimes ideas get together in weird ways to make a quilt. A couple of weeks ago, I was looking for a light green background fabric for the group quilt that Kelly, Barbara, and Geni are working on in the picture above. I bought small amounts of several choices to see which fabric worked best. I also found a couple of neutral taupe fabrics that I got just because I liked them. When I saw them next to each other, I knew I needed to make a green and neutral quilt. This is a bit of a change for me because I usually make quilts that use LOTS of different colors. I had this picture of a hot air balloon pinned to my sewing wall for months because I liked it, and I drew a couple of sketches of chevron quilt layouts. I made full-sized freezer paper templates and cut a lot of green and neutral strings from the ends of fabrics in my stash and I've been sewing the fabric to the templates for the past week.

First blog post.

These are colors for a group quilt I'm working on with some friends from my quilt guild. We have an informal sit-and-stitch group that meets now and again. We tried to establish a monthly meeting date, but that never seemed to work. We generally meet on Sunday afternoons when we do meet.

This is really just one of many projects I am working on. I'm hoping that over the next few months I will actually FINISH some of these projects rather than letting them stack up on most available surfaces in my sewing room. . .ahem, STUDIO.