Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Road Trip

When you've been cooped up inside due to all the snow we've had and the days have been gray and gloomy, the snow isn't pretty anymore, just different shades of dirt, what's a girl to do?
So our gang headed to Lancaster County, Burkholders to be precise. There was some scuttlebutt that the new owners were the old owners, and the shop was overflowing, packed to the gills with fabric. I hadn't been there in a couple of years and hadn't seen its demise.

So that was enough of an enticement to drive to the middle of nowhere to check it out. If you blink, it looks like another Amish farm. But just keep your eye out for that sign on Rte 897.

Once inside, it was clear that the rumors were true. The shelves were packed. As in the past, if they had one color of a basics collection, such as Michael Miller's Fairy Frost, they had them all.
Gene Martin, the new owner, was busy cutting my fabric, while my traveling companion Kelly was bragging that her soon to be beach quilt, aka lobster fabric, matched her red coat.

This aisle was loaded with batiks.

The prices are good, but the best part is they give guild members a 15% discount. That's huge. And Mr. Martin told us they currently have somewhere between 10,000 and 12,000 bolts. He and his wife plan on doubling the amount and adding a deli and a tearoom. A place to eat would make it a perfect day out. However, there is a charming luncheonette about 3 miles away, Kountry Korner. You can search very hard for a healthy choice or bring your Lipitor. No paper plates here. Sandwiches are served on a napkin.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Working On My Book

These days, when I'm not posting, it's because I am working on my book. I've been told I am not allowed to share anything yet. I sent in the completed manuscript and the quilts to Martingale before we left for Key West in December. Now, the editing process has begun. I have my own technical editor, Robin. The first time we chatted, she had read my book all the way through. She estimated that it was 12 pages too long, but it was better to cut than to have to add.

Robin has taught me how to edit the chapters she sends me, with my computer, including highlighting and crossing out. She is so patient with my "noviceness" and makes the whole process look effortless. I thought the editing process was going to be tedious and difficult, but she has made it painless.

Today I got my biggest thrill - a reality check. There was a question about the yardage. So Robin sent me a pdf file. When I opened it, there was an actual color schematic. It looked like a real book! Not like my hand drawn yardage estimation.

Now back to sewing. I have 2 more quilts to make to show alternatives to the actual projects. These are in addition to the quilts that a bunch of my friends have made. I am so pleasantly surprised to see how versatile the patterns are. I am hoping that these alternatives provide people with additional inspiration. Stay tuned.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Trouble With Round Robins

A Round Robin in the quilting world is a project that involves a group of participants, each taking turns working on each others quilt. Each participant starts with their own and then passes it on to the next person. This keeps going until everyone has worked on each others quilt and then it returns to the originator. Sometimes there are rules. Sometimes there are no rules.

I have participated in a few round robins during the past decade. So far, none of them has had a good ending. For one of them, I never got my quilt top back. Actually that happened twice. There was another one with an on-line crazy quilt group that was more of an exchange. I must have spent 3 days sewing and embellishing my ornament. The one I received in return looked like it took 2 hours.

So you ask, why do I keep jumping in. First of all, I have a very short memory. And each of these times that I agreed to partake were a few years apart. Secondly, the promise of the challenge and excitement of what I would receive in return were just irresistible.

A few years ago, I went to Ohio and took a workshop about diary painting with Susan Shie at the Quilt Surface Design Symposium. It was a great class. Susan was a great teacher and the students bonded. We decided to keep in touch and we did, via e-mail. In 2008, someone suggested that we do an altered book round robin. My ears perked up. A round robin? An altered book? What was it? It sure sounded like fun to me.

I don't know how many of us decided to participate. It was somewhere around 8 or 9. It involved buying one of those hard page books from the dollar store. Some of them are square:

And some of them are odd shaped. It's easier to work with the square ones, but the odd shapes do represent a challenge.

Everything was going pretty well. The books were moving along on a monthly basis. I would get a book and try to get it sent to the next participant on the list by the end of the month. Then, nothing. I waited and waited. Hey, does anybody know where to books are? Oh, Ellen - I won't use her last name, was sitting on a couple of them. She was the person that sent me the books. Finally, I got 2. It then took me a couple of months to finish mine and send them along.

Well, today, I am saying, do not let me participate in any more round robins. I have been trying to clean out my studio. Finish projects and commitments. At the bottom of a pile, guess what I found? An unopened manila envelope from Ellen with 2 books in it, dated June 2009! The last 2 books. I was the weak link! I am the one that they are all waiting for! Guilty!

So let me share the pages that I made for the 2 books, because I have to mail them out immediately, if not sooner.

For the odd shaped book, I used a set of alphabet rubber stamps to print on fabric, words that I associate with trees. The berries are french knots and I chose to finish the edge with rick rack.

For the 6" square book, I used the idea of a Mexican retablo. Above the arch are bugle beads and french knots. The fabric with the swirls is actually a set of doors.

And when they are opened, inside is a heart embellished with sequins.

The final step is to sand the page in the book, apply glue and place the page. Never again .....until next time.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Try New Things

I like to try new things. It's what makes life interesting. In my quilting, I am never convinced that I know the best way to do things. So I am always game to try something new. I tried a few new things with this current charity project. This is always a good opportunity to try new things.

I discovered a pattern for a scrap quilt on Moda's website (Moda Free Pattern) in January while I was sewing In Key West. I made a scrap quilt from it that I can't share just yet because it's a surprise gift. But I loved this pattern so much. It is a great scrap quilt that is easy to adjust to any size. The pattern called for 2 1/2"x7". I decided to make a Valor Quilt to be donated for injured veterans through my Quilt Guild. I thought this would be an opportunity to use up some of my stash. I increased the size of the rectangles a bit to 3"x8", and cut up most of my red and cream homespuns.

The first step is to sew together 2 of the rectangles.

And then keep adding rectangles - one cream, then one red. I pieced 4 strips this way, until I had 25 rectangles in the strip.

Then I trimmed the edges and the top and the bottom.

I alternated these strips with navy strips onto which I appliqued stars.

To baste the quilt, I decided to try something new. I usually use safety pins for machine quilting. This time I tried using a temporary adhesive (505). I have a love/hate relationship with this spray. It's a messy product - hard to control the overspray. To try and minimize the mess, I hung a bed sheet on my design wall that also covered a part of the floor. Standing upright to spray really did work. First I pinned the backing to the sheet. Sprayed it and smoothed the batting onto it. Then I sprayed the batting and smoothed on the top. Would it stay put while I quilted it? It wasn't that large ( 50"Lx 40"W) so there wouldn't be a lot of squishing it. I was a little skeptical, but tried it anyway.

It worked! No puckers on the back. Success.

I decided to try something different than I usually do for the binding. I wanted to do it entirely by machine. My friend Kelly shared her method with me. I cut my binding 2 1/2" wide. After trimming the excess batting and squaring up the quilt, I sewed on the binding with a 1/4" seam allowance to the BACK of the quilt. I flipped it to the top (where it was a little wider than on the back). And then I actually pinned the binding all the way around, paying extra attention to the corners. Top stitched it. It came out great.

Would I use these 2 new techniques again? I would with some caveats. I would limit the spray basting to quilts that were on the smaller size. And the machine stitched binding? I have another scrap quilt that needs a binding that is a little bigger than twin size. Tomorrow I will try it again. But, maybe not for competition quilts.

Thanks Kelly!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day

My husband and I celebrated Valentine's Day one day early. Ever since my husband retired from corporate life, he has taken over our kitchen. Not only does he cook, but he also does the grocery shopping. It's a great thing.
So for Valentine's Day, we took a cooking class at Susanna Foo's. It is a lovely restaurant in a suburb located a little west of Philadelphia. We had eaten in her restaurant in the city (which is now closed), but had not been to her suburban location. The main dining room was elegant with the most gorgeous Asian style chandeliers. We had our class in a private dining room. There were about 15 of us and Susanna Foo was our teacher and personal chef!

I found her to be gracious, humble and shy. It was important to her to share her knowledge and love of cooking and ingredients with us. To me it is amazing, considering that she is one of the preeminent Chinese chefs in the US., who has won the James Beard Award not once, but twice. Her philosophy revolves around the freshest ingredients that you can find.

We were treated like royalty. While Ms Foo was telling us that she had just returned from the hospital where she had been to see her new grandson, we were served wine and a beautiful plate of popcorn pork dumplings (not on the class menu).

The first demo was crab dumplings. After talking about the different types of crab and how these can be made and frozen, the wait staff served each of this with this beautiful dish of crab dumplings with a delicate coconut foam.

The next course was Kung Pao chicken. It was a little spicey and so delicious that I forgot to take a photo! The last course was Chinese Mushroom Risotto. Very nice.
This was a perfect Valentine's date. It was delicious. The food was so light and delicate, not like your neighborhood Chinese restaurant (which I also love.).If you are anywhere in the area and have an opportunity to either dine here or take a class, you must.

And one last photo of winter, here in Pennsylvania.

Friday, February 12, 2010

No Power

During our 2nd snowstorm in less than 1 week, we lost electricity yesterday. It was inevitable that the power would go out somewhere with the heavy snow and ice. We were the lucky ones. It happened sometime during the night. We woke up with no power.

It's amazing what you cannot do if there is no power coming into your house. Since we have what they call a triple play though our cable company - internet, phone and TV, all that was gone. No phone! But there are cell phones - as long as they are charged.

So I thought, no problem. I can sit near the fireplace and do some handwork. I just have to cut out some shapes and fuse them. No iron! So I thought the most productive thing I could do was to organize and fold my fabric. That lasted for one shelf. See the black and white fabric in the upper left corner?(Pardon my mess.)

While I was in FL, I made a great scrap quilt from a really easy free Moda pattern. Everything is cut into 3"x8" rectangles. To help to "use up" some of my fabric, because clearly I have way too much, I thought I would make a "Quilt of Valor" for homecoming soldiers in red, white and blue using homespuns. First I pulled my reds and started the cutting. But it was all rumpled near the selvages. Oh I would just go and iron it- oh no I couldn't!

So I went out to help shovel the driveway. The benefit of that was when I came back inside the house, it actually felt warm. As we were standing in the family room talking about how warm it felt, there was a little flicker of a light on our cable box! The power was not supposed to go back on until the next day. Could it be? Hooray! Power. It's a beautiful thing.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Quick Snow Day Project

So we are having yet more snow! We have broken the all time record for a winter snowfall. And yes I really do miss Key West. But this would make a really beautiful quilt.

Our quilt guild is having an auction next month. These fundraisers are necessary to help pay for our monthly meetings, especially when we have nationally known speakers. I try to donate something, wether it's a finished piece or offering a class. I am not sure what my schedule is going to be like this spring since it seems like my time will be tied up with the bulk of the editing of my book. So I decided to donate some hand dyed fabric.

Previously, I had used a kit from Pro Chemical and Dye. It was a Rainbow Gradation Kit. It resulted in 30 fat eighths of cotton fabric. I started with 3 different dyes - Mustard, Navy and Burgundy. The wonderful thing about dyeing this way is that all of the fabrics "go together". I even dyed a scrap piece of fabric with the leftover dye in a mottled design that worked as my binding. I liked the value and colors so much that I ordered the 3 dyes so that I could do it again. (Just one word of caution here. Dyeing can be hazardous to your health. You need to take proper precautions to not inhale the dye powder and make sure you use containers/utensils that are dedicated for dyeing only - not for food use after you have used them for dyeing.)

This would be the perfect time to do this again. I had some tone on tone beige fabric - enough for 12 fat quarters. The only problem was that I couldn't find the directions that came with the kit. This is the story of my life. After spending a considerable amount of time looking for my hard copy and searching Pro Chem's website, I found a website with directions that were similar, at I pre-washed my fabric, made up the three dye solutions and the soda ash solution. I deviated from the directions in combining the different dyes so that I ended up with 12 different colors. This can be done with any variations of the 3 primary colors. A - Mustard, B- Navy, C-Burgundy. I used zip lock baggies and placed them in a plastic cup for stability while filling them.Below are the tablespoons of dye solution that I added to the soda ash solution in each of the baggies.

#1 4 Tbsp A
#2 4 Tbsp B
#3 4 Tbsp C
#4 2 Tbsp A + 2 Tbsp
#5 2 Tbsp A + 2 Tbsp C
#6 2 Tbsp B + 2 Tbsp C
#7 1 Tbsp A + 3 Tbsp B
#8 1 Tbsp B + 3 Tbsp C
#9 1 Tbsp A + 3 Tbsp C
#10 3 Tbsp A + 1 Tbsp B
#11 3 Tbsp B + 1 Tbsp C
#12 3 Tbsp A + 1 Tbsp C

The next step was to add the fabric. Into each baggie I place a fat quarter of the fabric, zipped it and smooshed it as best I could. It is also important to place the baggies once they are filled with dye and fabric into a large container like a dishpan, just in case one of the baggies leaks. Then the hardest part was yet to come. I ha to let them sit overnight.In the morning, it's rinse out time. I rinsed them in my sink with very hot water.
Then into the washing machine all that yummy fabric goes with a capful of Synthrapol. And ta dah!! I think the ladies will like it.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Snow Day

Snow days are fun for adults too, unless you have to go to work. Almost everyone I know was looking forward to being stranded inside during this much predicted snowstorm - whether it was to spend the day sewing, or organizing tax forms, or reading or just vegging.

Although it doesn't seem fair that we have been back from Key West for less than a week, I have to admit that it sure does look beautiful - but 2 feet?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Trip To Mexico

A few months back I received an e-mail from QSDS. They are a non-profit group, based in Ohio, that encourages the creation of quilts as art through symposium, museum exhibitions and trips. The e-mail was about a trip to Mexico during The Day of the Dead celebration, October 23- November 2. The stated focus is to study Mexican art and culture through visits to Mexico City, Oaxaca and side trips to Puebla and Cuernavaca. My heart almost jumped out of my chest. My love of Mexican folk art is only surpassed by my love of Puebla, "City of Tiles". The trip also includes visits to the studios of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.

I had been to Puebla last March with my husband to see the many buildings adorned with Talavera tiles. We also took cooking classes at Mesones Sacristia, which is famous for their Mole Pablono. It would be great to go back.

The trip looks absolutely fascinating. To view the Mexican culture and folk art during a celebration like Day of the Dead is just too tempting for me. I'm saving my pennies. Anyone else? e-mail me.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Fabric Postcard Tutorial

I admitted in my last post that I got carried away making these small Key West houses. Since I had some extra ones after making my book and based on their size, I thought it would be a fun opportunity to experiment with fabric postcards. In creating these small pieces, first I fused the pieces onto the sky background fabric. Then I backed them with a scrap piece of low loft batting. I then stitched around each of the houses and finally added the house's posts and railings with a small zig zag.

First I trimmed the little house using a piece of parchment paper so that I could see where I was cutting. To make the postcards stiff, I used the stabilizer, Timtex, that was available at the local quilt shop. I then applied fusible web to both sides of the stabilizer. (I prefer to use Pelltex that comes already fusible on both sides to eliminate this step, but it wasn't available.)
For my first postcard I used a piece of fabric for the back and used a Sharpie pen to label it as a postcard.

For the next postcard I decided to try using watercolor paper instead of the fabric for the back. I used a purchased postcard to make sure that the template I was making was "legal" - although I don't really know what legal is. But I thought better safe than sorry. Using my word processing program I prepared a word document to print 2 postcard backs on an 8 1/2" x 11" piece of paper. (Click here for a free downloadable template - Trim to fit your size).

After trimming the one large sheet of watercolor paper (130LB weight) to 8 1/2"x11" sheets, I printed the backs and trimmed them to 4 1/2" x 6 1/2". Then I fused the top, fusible Timtex and the postcard backing and tried different methods of finishing the edges. I used a blanket stitch, a zig-zag stitch and then I also bound the edges. I really preferred the watercolor paper. The postcard was nice and stiff and it was much easier to write on.

Normally, I am not a scrap saver, but there were so many little pieces of fabric that had the fusible on them, I couldn't resist. So I decided to make scrap postcards. To do this, I used a piece of parchment paper, with an outline of the correct postcard size and started layering the pieces, ironed, layered some more, ironed and layered some more until I thought there were very few holes. Just to make sure, I removed it from the parchment paper then fused it to a background fabric. To make sure that none of the little scraps lifted in transit, I covered it with tulle before stitching around the sandwich.The final test was mailing the postcards. My experiment involved sending one of each type to myself to meet me when I arrived home in PA. The PO in Key West charged 64c each and informed me that they had to be hand stamped. Again, the watercolor paper was better in terms of how it took their stamps. The one on the left is the watercolor paper and the one on the right is a fabric backing.Those postcards were waiting for me upon my return in excellent shape. Hooray!
Now that I'm back in Pennsylvania , I really miss those houses and the warm weather.