Monday, December 19, 2011

Cookie Mania

I returned today from the annual sister cookie baking weekend at my mom's up in Wisconsin.  My sister Anna and I actually started this tradition about eight years ago when she was living in Chicago.  We made a list of cookies we each wanted to bake and even organized a schedule that included which cookies needed to be refrigerated before baking and which could be baked right away.  All together, we made a whopping 30 types of cookies between the two of us and a friend of Anna's who stopped by briefly to help us but accidentally broke the oven instead.  By Sunday evening, we were both sitting at the kitchen table sharing a much needed bottle of wine and looking at about an inch of flour, sugar and sprinkles on the kitchen floor.  Thus was born a tradition.

Since then, we try to get as many sisters on board as possible.  This year there were three of us, a three year old and my mom.  We made a lowly 15 types of cookies, but it was just enough to put together plates and tins for good friends, neighbors, co-workers, family and still put some away for Christmas day.  We are pretty serious about the cookie baking at Christmas time in our house.  There are some recipes that just HAVE to be made--they are non-negotiable.  These include mini chip snowballsisland cookies (we use macadamia nuts in these instead of walnuts), mandel bread and anise biscotti.  The last two recipes are from Cookies Unlimited by Nick Malgieri.  I have to admit to having a flour and sugar crush on this man.  Everything I have ever made from any of his books about baking has been amazing.  If you like to bake, you should definitely add a book of his to your library.

island cookies

It is just as important to add a few new recipes to the mix as it is to keep making the old ones.  This year, these included Greek butter cookies, crock pot peanut clusters (not really a cookie but there are no steadfast rules here...), cardamom butter squares, and peanut butter thumbprints.

crock pot peanut clusters

cardamom butter squares
It was nice to have a break from sewing over the weekend--especially to do something just as fun.  There is something about baking and Christmas music that puts everyone in a good mood.  And, we had such a feeling of accomplishment Sunday night after we had packed up packages for everyone on our lists and cleaned up the warzone that had once been my mother's kitchen!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

LOFT baby quilt

Well....It's been a while since I've posted here.  Something happened...I think I blinked....and all of the sudden it was December 14th.  Anyway, I've been working on a lot of projects that I can't post anything about at the moment....and some that I can.

I've recently started a new quilt for a special little someone in our lives, and it's meant to be a Christmas gift.  (And about Christmas sewing:  why is it always December before it occurs to me that I could make gifts for people?)  This quilt is one that I have been wanting to make ever since I made the original for Colorful Quilts last year.  It's called LOFT.

Of the five quilts that I have in the Colorful Quilts book, LOFT might very well be my favorite.  I love the simplicity and straightforwardness (if that's a word) of it.  Even though I made the original with all solids, I have really been wanting to try it with a solid/print combination.

I decided to do pink and cream, since this quilt is for a little girl.  I always like to meet a baby before I make a baby quilt.  I find that I make color and fabric choices that are influenced by the baby's personality.  This particular little girl is bubbly and sweet, and happens to have a little ( or actually a lot) of pink in her nursery.  Not that I am overly concerned with being matchy-matchy, mind you, but if it works out that way, it's like a little bonus.

One of the fun things about this quilt is that the blocks go together pretty quickly and are really fun to sew.  Here they are, ready to be sewn together with the sashing and borders:

The top is actually together, and ready to go on my quilting frame to be quilted--with a week to spare!  I can do this--no problem!

But, you'll have to wait until after Christmas to see pictures on the finished quilt :-).

Hope you're having a beautiful holiday season!


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Re-quilted rectangles

Having finished the ripping and re-basting of the rectangle top in record time, I immediately started to quilt it with parallel lines.  This was actually my first instinct for this quilt--and I thought about it a lot while I was piecing.  When I got it on the frame, however, I didn't follow through.  It's pretty easy to do straight lines on my longarm.  I have channel locks and a stitch regulator, so I just pop them both on and go from side to side.  Straight line quilting is one of my favorite patterns but it can expose of lot of irregularities in your piecing, especially where the shapes aren't straight.  This is why I was reticent to use straight lines from the start.  But, I am glad I took the time to rip and re-do the quilting here.  I think the straight lines work with the piecing design--they actually add more rectangles to the top, instead of taking away from them.

After I finished the binding, I washed the quilt with retayne on a hot water cycle.  I had noticed while piecing that some of the darker fabrics were running even from the leak in my iron.  To avoid some serious bleeding, I put a very generous dose of retayne in the washer.  I dried it for a few minutes and then pinned it (while it was still damp) to my large cutting mat to block it.

I am not sure what I'm going to do with this quilt.  I think that's why it was so much fun to make!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Giving In

Driving home from a quilt guild meeting yesterday, I had the most acute desire to work with some Cherrywood fabrics.  It may have had something to do with the fact that I sat behind our sales table and looked at our stacks of Cherrywoods all during the guild business meeting while waiting to speak.  Or, it may have had something to do with the fact that I do not often have the time to kick around and sew something for fun.  And I have been longing to do just that.

So, even though I walked in the door to a very hungry family, a pile of laundry and a stack of groceries that had not yet been put away, I did not allow myself to be deterred.  I got dinner in the oven in record time and immediately went downstairs to start cutting.  Luckily, the nature of my job allows me to keep a fairly large stash of fabrics in house so I was able to satisfy the urge to work with hand dyes.  I dug into my bin--thanks to my handy contractor I no longer have to de-stack an entire pile of bins to get to the one I need--and got out all of the colors that grabbed me--which incidentally amounted to almost every single color in the bin :-).  I knew I was not going to be able to allow myself a lot of time for this project.  Therefore, I did not want much to keep me from getting from point A (the contemplative stage) to point B (the sewing stage) in a hurry.  The sewing of this project was not going to focus on color or design. It was all about putting the fabrics together.  I was going to start, and let it play out and see what happened.

When I brought all the fabrics to the cutting table, I somehow knew that I should start cutting rectangles.  First I cut 5 1/2" strips and then subcut them into 1 1/2" rectangles.  Then, I started sewing them together in pairs.

I could have strip-pieced these rectangles, but I like the variety you can get when you sew them individually, especially when you are making a small piece.

I had all of the pieces cut and many of them sewn together that evening--which is unusual for me.  I woke up today thinking about this quilt and decided that meant I should finish it ASAP.  It's not easy to parcel out  a chunk of time to sew something for pleasure.  In fact, at a guild meeting earlier this year, someone actually asked me if I ever get to sew things I want to anymore.  I answered yes, and then realized while driving home from that meeting that I really do not take enough time for free creativity.  (I guess the drive home from guild meetings is a prime time for me to do some reflective thinking).

I actually took the time today to sew this top together.  It ended up being wall-sized--just what I wanted (and what I had time for).  Here's a picture before all of the rectangle pairs were sewn together:

After I made a few minor changes, I sewed everything together.  Here's the finished top:

I was so happy with the way it turned out I decided to put it on the longarm right away.  And, not wanting to delay the finishing process, I started quilting.  Here's where I ran into a snag....I decided to do a free-hand square meander.  Now, I normally REALLY like this quilting design.  But as I finished the third or fourth minute of quilting, I knew I was not happy with the way it was looking.  I felt the quilting was too distracting....I wanted the rectangles to be more obvious than the quilting.

Before I knew it, I had the seam ripper in my hand and I had started to take out the stitching.  I have to take a moment to say that I HATE ripping out quilting--and I have done my fair share of it!  The mere fact that I was willing to put myself through the ordeal of "unquilting" meant that I really would not have been satisfied with the finished product.

I always play little mind games with myself when I have an arduous task to do.  In this case, I counted the number of rectangles I had quilted over:  12.  That meant I could do two at a time and then take a break in the hopes of making the job more palatable. It would only take me 6 trips back to the machine to finish up.  The six trips are almost finished as I am writing this....I have punctuated ripping with roasting a chicken, starting this blog post, mixing up a batch of wholegrain honey oatmeal bread, cleaning the kitchen, and watching Olivia! with Maggie.  Stay tuned for the "re-quilted" rectangle top...hopefully by the end of the weekend!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Little Red

Every year, I resolve to do things in a more timely manner.  It's not exactly a new year's resolution type of thing because I have to re-resolve to do it every month or so.  And, sometimes my resolve works and sometimes it doesn't.  This past month, I planned (at the beginning of the month, of course) to make Maggie a halloween costume.  When I was little, my mother always made us costumes.  I thought it was so much fun to be able to have something unique, not something that we bought out of a plastic bag at Target.  (actually, there was no Target here at the time--it would have been more like Venture, or even Zayre--am I dating myself??).  Not that there is anything inherently wrong with costumes out of a plastic bag.  I have been known to use them myself from time to time.  But sometimes I feel that if you have the skill, why not use it?

At any rate, October would be one of those months after which I have to renew my resolution to do things in a more timely manner.  Actually I might go so far as to say I need to stop doing things at the last minute!  I finally got around to starting said halloween costume on Friday afternoon, and finished it on Saturday.  The idea all started with one of our favorite fairy tales:  Little Red Riding Hood.  Maggie loves to read that book!  She also shares our love of the movie Hoodwinked, a hilarious spoof on the classic fairy tale.  I decided that before Maggie started telling me what she'll be for Halloween, I'd take this opportunity to make a costume I wanted to make.  So, I snatched up a Simplicity pattern from JoAnn fabrics and some red flannel and made a day of it.

Garment sewing is not something that is intuitive to me because I do not do it very often.  So, this little cape probably took me longer than it should have.  But the important thing is I did get it done, and even took a few short cuts to make it go a little faster.  I was pretty happy with the results, given the fact that it is a costume.

I decided not to make the dress that went with the pattern.  It seemed like a lot of work for something she would never wear again.  Instead, I pulled out a fun Westminster print and One Yard Wonders from my sewing library.  Who said Little Red Riding Hood has to wear gingham?  I decided to make a skirt that she could wear again and enlisted the help of my friend Stephanie, who by the way, also designs patterns for Blue Underground Studios.

The skirt was our Saturday night project--talk about cutting things close!  I knew that I would have no time to sew on Sunday.  Someday, I really AM going to make good on the promise to use my time more effectively!

The result was adorable.  Unfortunately, Maggie is a little reticent to pose for pictures these days.  But I did manage to get some cute back shots of her cape while we were trick or treating and my sister held her still for a 30 second skirt shot on Sunday afternoon.

I love the way the skirt turned out.  She even wore to to church on Sunday!  So, already, it's been used more than once which makes me feel good about time spent.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Book Signing II

On Friday evening, Janine and I returned to the scene of the crime, so to speak.  Pieceful Heart fabrics in Lisle, IL was nice enough to host a book signing for us.  Janine and I actually met at this store about 8 years ago in a sewing class that she was teaching.  To make a long story short, she mentioned that she had a longarm and I hired her to quilt a couple of my unfinished tops.  And, as soon as I saw her longarm I decided that I had to have one!  So, I quit teaching junior high and high school history, convinced my dear husband that I needed a gigantic sewing machine at the same time Janine was thinking about teaching longarm classes.  As I started my longarm business, we got to know each other pretty well and the rest, as they say, was history.  Since then, we have about 50 patterns in print, and between the two of us and Janine's sister, we have probably about 150 quilts that go out as samples and trunk shows.  We spend A LOT of time with our suitcases, carrying quilts back and forth to various places....

On Friday, we brought all of the quilts from the book as well as a few other new ones to give a trunk show and a brief talk about Colorful Quilts for Fabric Lovers.  We had a ton of fun--Deb, who works at the shop, baked some amazing brownies and made whiskey balls, there was wine, and we spent the evening in a fabric-filled environment.  Pieceful Heart has some great finds!


Westminster Prints
But we really love the fact that at Pieceful Heart, you get to stand ON the cutting table to give your trunk show.  I haven't really stood on a desk (or cutting table for that matter) since I was teaching.  Especially in my junior high classes, I used to do it once in a while just to grab the girls' attention.  Most  students do not expect to find their teacher standing on the desk when they get to the classroom!  Janine usually shows the quilts.  Here she is, post-trunk show:

Thanks to all the ladies who work at the shop and made the evening a great success.  And, thanks to everyone who came out to meet us!!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Rear Window with Soul

Earlier this year while I was browsing the aisles at Patched Works in Elm Grove, WI, the shop owner asked if we had ever made any of our quilts with Amy Butler prints.  I had used Amy's prints here and there in our samples, but never for the whole quilt.  However, I had been eyeing what was at the time her latest collection and was looking for an excuse to buy some and make a sample with it.  As it turned out that summer day, a quick question was all the encouragement I needed to acquire a neat little stack of Soul Blossoms in what I am calling the blue/green colorway.  I decided to narrow down the palette instead of using the entire collection because the fabrics are very eclectic in style.  This particular quilt only finishes 54" x 63"-- too small to add all of the fabrics in the collection and still get a cohesive look.  So, I narrowed it down to about ten different fabrics.  And I knew right there at the cutting table that I was going to use white kona solid as the frames.  I am happy with the way this top turned out.  It has a fresh, springy look to it--very contrary to our current weather in Chicago!

The quilt is now in line to be quilted at Patched Works.  Stay tuned for future pictures, or, go and check it out for yourself.  They will have the quilt on display in the coming months and you can get some Soul Blossoms of your own as they stock much of the line.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Because I can.....

I am always telling myself how nice it is to work at home.  You can go grocery shopping in the morning, when the store is less crowded.  You can go the the mall on the weekdays, when the mall is less crowded.     You can watch daytime TV--if you are into that sort of thing.  You can get to know the small children and retired people in your neighborhood.  Or, you can take a day to hang out with your family at places like the Chicago Botanic Garden...when they are less crowded.  I am very into the 'less crowded' thing.  

So today, because I can, I took Maggie to the Botanic Gardens.  It was a mother-daughter bonding day--the first of many I am hoping!  

Not to get all corny, but spending a day amid such beautiful surroundings helps me recharge my batteries and look forward to our lecture and trunk show tomorrow in Steger, IL.

Maggie's favorite part of the day was the Model Railroad garden.  After all, where else can you go from one coast to the other in a matter of minutes??

My favorite part of the day:  spending it with Maggie :-).

And to top off this lovely experience, these were waiting for me at my doorstep when we arrived home...Some new Amy Butler prints as well as a mix of some other Westminster prints!

Oh how I do love working at home....

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Book Signing!

Last night Julie and the wonderful staff at Patched Works in Elm Grove, WI hosted a book signing party for Colorful Quilts.  If you have never been to Patched Works, it's time to get in the car and take a road trip.  Julie stocks about 8,000 bolts of fabric in a wide variety of styles!  Our favorites happen to be her batik and kona solid sections but she also carries a wide variety of Moda, halloween, novelty, childrens and Westminster fabrics.  And, if your travels make you hungry, stop in at Le Cakery (it's right next door!) and have a soup and sandwich....and something sweet for desert.

We had a great time showing the quilts from the book and talking a little bit about the process of writing it from start to finish.  I love all of the quilts in the book, but two of my favorites at the moment are the cover quilt:  Club Noir, and Union Station.  Both are pictured below:

Thanks to everyone who joined us--especially my dear mother, sisters and niece Josie!  I am hoping she gets the quilting bug soon:-).

If you weren't able to join us last night, we'll be at Pieceful Heart fabrics in Lisle, IL this coming Friday and at Quilter's Destination in Arlington Heights, IL in November.  Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Weekend Workshops

This past weekend, we had the pleasure of doing a trunk show and teaching 2 workshops for the lovely ladies out at the Berrien Towne and Country Quilt Guild in Bridgman, MI.  Janine and I both agree that teaching workshops is one of our favorite things to do.  We have never had a group of students that did not inspire us in some way.  After all of the years I have been quilting, I am still astounded at the different perspectives people bring to quilting.  These perspectives influence the way they look at fabrics, how they put fabrics together, and even why they are sewing in the first place.  And, there is nothing more satisfying than the sound of several machines humming, constant laughter and companionable chatter, accompanied by the smell of steam irons and cotton.

Here are a few accomplishments we witnessed this weekend--

On Friday, the pattern was Curved Log Cabin.  As always, one quilt can have so many different looks! Everyone used different looking fabrics in a wide range of designs from traditional to contemporary....

Reproduction type prints in a neutral palette with a tone on tone chocolate print:

Reproduction prints with a neutral alternate print:

Scrappy fall prints with a gold alternate print:

Batiks on both sides!

Some students even decided to make both sides of their Curved Log scrappy.  This takes some tenacity but is well worth the effort...

And there is always one combination that I love and wouldn't have thought of myself--like this quilt using Amy Butler, etc prints on the scrappy side and Kona stone on the other.

Saturday's pattern was Around the Block.  Again, we were blown away by the different fabric combinations and people's willingness to step "out of their box".

Of course some people started with their quilt already finished!

Brights and dots....and one of my personal favorite colors:  lime green

A mixture of various types of prints in a controlled palette.....we liked the selective cutting for the center in this block...

And this quilt using garden themed fabrics.  Centers here are also selectively cut and each has a butterfly, flower or a bee....

Both days, everyone got some blocks finished and were well on their way to having a finished quilt.  And Janine and I had such a good time!  So, thank you Berrien Towne and Country Quilt Guild for a wonderful weekend.  We hope to see you again in the future.