Friday
Feb242017

Binding the Small Plates Quilt

I am really motivated to get this quilt done. The blue marker that I used to mark the flower motifs is making me nervous. I used a cold-water soluble marker designed specifically for marking quilt motifs, but I don't want to let the quilt sit forever before soaking it in cold water to remove the ink. I made the binding last night from a leftover piece of one of the fabrics and started pinning it on to make sure I had enough (can you see the blue ink?):

I'll get it attached today and then I can spend the next couple of nights sitting downstairs with the husband watching car repair videos on YouTube while I sew it down. He is a big fan of the South Main Auto videos. They are pretty entertaining. 

I learned some things with this project:

  1. Quilting those flower motifs in the small boxes, while attractive, results in a whole lot of thread ends that need to be buried. I spent about three hours doing that yesterday afternoon. It reminds me a lot of darning in ends on a sweater project. Normally, I have a pretty high tolerance for that kind of stuff, but not this week. I should have buried them as I went.
  2. In hindsight, I should have skipped the motifs altogether. I need to remember to keep it simple. Straight line quilting on the entire quilt would have been a better choice. Oh well, live and learn. It's part of the process. Now I have worked with motifs and stencils and they have been added to the toolbox. 
  3. I am sooooo much better at free motion curvy stuff than anything else. I would say that the majority of the flowers look really nice. There are a couple that look like I was drunk when I quilted them, but not many. The outlines of the small squares, on the other hand, are not up to my standards. Straight lines with a free motion foot are harder than you think. 

I also need to experiment more with some of the variables on my sewing machine:

  1. I used a 90/14 quilting needle on this quilt. It worked fine with the 40wt Signature thread. However, I think I am going to try a topstitching needle next time. I am pretty impressed with those Schmetz Chrome needles. I ordered a package of the 80/12 chrome Microtex needles for piecing. I put one in Vittorio a couple of weeks ago and I have yet to change it. Normally, I can tell when a needle needs to be changed because it starts making a thunking noise as it enters the fabric, as one would expect a dull needle to do. I am way past the time when I would normally have to change a needle and that Chrome needle is still going strong. I have some more on order. So far, I have not seen them in any stores so I am ordering them from Amazon. I will try both the Chrome quilting and Chrome topstitching needles and see which I like better for quilting. There is no consensus in the quilting community on which needle to use for quilting. Some people swear by the toptitching needles. Some people will only use the quilting needles. And some people, like Leah Day—bless her—use the same 80/12 universal needle for piecing and quilting. 
  2. I hate plastic bobbins.  I am so used to sewing on vintage machines with high-quality metal bobbins that the plastic ones are driving me nuts. There is some conventional wisdom out there that says one should only use plastic bobbins in plastic bobbin cases and metal bobbins in metal bobbin cases. Vittorio tolerates plastic bobbins (sometimes I use them when I am trying to use up thread already wound) but they make a funny noise. I had a few places on this quilt where I was having a lot of trouble with thread breaking and skipped stitches, and I finally narrowed it down to the bobbin. As it got down to the last bit of thread, it would start bouncing around in the bobbin case and jerking the bobbin thread. A Bobbin Genie helped with that some. I suspect I may have to get Janome-specific plastic bobbins and keep them separate from my other plastic class 15 bobbins. I don't know. I have used metal bobbins before in this machine even though I know they are not recommended. The machine did not seem to mind. 
  3. I bought the convertible free motion quilting foot for that machine and it works pretty well, but I am going to try the stock embroidery/quilting foot that came with the machine. I want to see exactly what the difference is between the two. 

Also, I finally found some quilt clips that are flexible enough to hold the rolled-up quilt while I am quilting it. I tried some plastic ones that were so hard and inflexible that I could not get them around the rolled-up quilt. The quilt store in town had these Dritz longarm quilt clips—a packed of 6 metal ones—and they work perfectly. Having the extra table space to hold the quilt helps, but I don't like to have the quilt flopping around. I even used these when I was burying all those thread ends yesterday so that I could keep the completed sections out of the way. 

In any case, this project is almost done. This quilt will get used despite its flaws. I am glad I did it and I still like the rather bizarre color combination. 

Wednesday
Feb222017

The Pillowcase Fairy

It's been an avalanche of blog posts this week, I know. Thanks for hanging in there. There has been a lot going on. 

I've been pillowcase bombing some of my friends recently. I'll see some fabric that reminds me of someone, so I will make a pillowcase out of it and send it to them. One of my fellow biology majors from Washington College is now an aquatic entomologist. I made a pillowcase for him out of this fabulous Tim Holtz Entomology fabric (still available at Fabric.com):

I love this fabric so much that I bought the last of the bolt at a couple different Jo-Ann Fabrics stores, just to have it in my stash. 

Another one of our friends from college has a son who is an amazingly talented singer and just all-around nice kid. I ordered some fabric from Spoonflower that had his name all over it and made him a personalized pillowcase. Spoonflower is a great place to get custom fabric. You can design your own or choose from thousands upon thousands of already-designed images. Lucky for me, there was some fabric already available with this young man's name on it. Easy-peasy. (I made his mom a fun flowery pillowcase, too.) 

[I should note here that the husband is a bit baffled by this practice. He doesn't understand how I can be so sure that people will like these gifts I am randomly bestowing on them. He thought it was pretty risky that I was making a pillowcase for a 12-year-old boy. (The kid loved it, by the way.) My feeling is that 1) I try very hard to pick something that is special to the recipient, and 2) Everyone can use a pillowcase. In any event, he has dubbed me The Pillowcase Fairy, apparently in recognition of the fact that I am not going to stop anytime soon.]

Yet another one of our friends from college is an avid motorcycle rider. I found this Timeless Treasures motorcycle fabric at the quilt store in town and it seemed perfect for Dean:

Yesterday, a package showed up in the mail addressed to me. When I opened it up, I discovered this: 

Dean made it for me as a thank-you for the pillowcase. It is the coolest (ever!) little case for storing sewing needles. The top part, with the knob, lifts off. I am just tickled by this. It will have a place of honor at my sewing table. 

The husband and I went to a very small liberal arts college in Maryland. At the time were were there, the total student population was only about 800. If we didn't know another student personally, we certainly at least knew of them. A lot of us have reconnected on Facebook. Someone made the comment not too long ago that it would be fun to do college again now that we're all grown up because we are totally different people. That's an intriguing thought. I do know that I am discovering that I have things in common with people I only knew tangentially while I was at WC. Some of them have now become very good friends. 

[As DD#2 would say, "Facebook is for old people."] 

The pillowcase bombings will continue until people tell me to stop. It's fun and I think the world could use a lot more fun right now. 

********************************

We turned the Volkswagen Jetta into the dealer yesterday and picked up the settlement check. I had a lot of mixed feelings while I was driving up there. First of all, I miss driving a stick shift. A lot. Secondly, there really was nothing mechanically wrong with that car; it would have gone for at least another 100,000 miles with proper maintenance. The electronics, however, were another story. That car always had issues with its electronics, and in fact, while I was on my way to the dealer, the display randomly changed from English to Spanish. Go figure. 

Oh well. Those electronic issues ultimately might have cost us a pretty penny to fix. And I got a BMW out of the whole ordeal, so that's something. The husband is happy to have the extra space in the driveway, too. We have two Dodge work trucks, a plow truck, a boom truck, and a forklift, and it can get kind of crowded out there. 

Tuesday
Feb212017

A Bad Case of Startitis

I am usually pretty disciplined about my projects. My "three at a time" works-in-progress rule is left over from my knitting designer days and I still try to follow it. The boundaries in sewing are a bit blurrier, though. Is a finished-but-not-yet-quilted top a WIP or is it done? Does a leader and ender project count as one of the three? What about the pile of pillowcase pieces that are cut and waiting for a time when I don't have the brainpower to work on anything complicated? Surely no one will notice if I sneak another apron in there, right?

The problem is that having too many WIPs weighs on me and cramps my creative process. I could feel the beginnings of a bad case of startitis on Monday, which is the natural consequence of going out into the world and seeing all the beautiful projects out there and wanting to make. all. of. them. I was all prepared to cut out two aprons yesterday evening. I looked around, though, and saw the stacks of things still waiting to be completed, and shook myself back to reality. 

The best treatment for startitis, I have found, is to hide all the things that might tempt me. I spent about an hour cleaning and tidying. I put fabric and patterns away (I do try to "kit" things that I want to work on later so that I am not searching endlessly for them), organized my sewing spaces and cutting table, and put the things that need to be finished right where I can see them. That Small Plates quilt is one project I would like to get finished. There are six columns of seven blocks that need to have the inner block quilted with the flower motif. I had already done one column. Yesterday, I did two more columns. Yay!—now half of the quilt is quilted and I just need to finish the other columns. Totally doable in the next few days, especially as I am getting faster with each motif. That halfway point is a definite psychological milestone.

I'll probably reward myself with an apron or another project once the Small Plates quilt is all quilted and ready to be bound. After taking that quilt class last weekend, I think I need to make myself a Sew Together Bag to hold all of my sewing supplies. I have the pattern—I have had it for a while, actually—and I have plenty of fabrics and zippers to choose from. And of course, there are always aprons. 

*********************************

Irene posted a picture of our strip night quilts on her store's Facebook page:

Mine is the one on top. This has been added to the "ready to quilt" pile of tops. 

One of the places I went on Saturday—and forgot to mention—was to the Boyd-Walker Sewing Machine Company. I was telling the husband yesterday over breakfast that I wonder how much longer they might be in business. It is the oldest Pfaff dealer in the United States. I believe that the current owner's father started it in 1945. I went there looking for some cabinets for my Necchis. When I walked in, though, I noticed that they no longer had any fabric for sale. They never had a huge selection of fabric, but they did carry the American Made brand of cottons. When I asked, the saleslady told me that "they haven't had fabric for quite a while." (I was just there about six months ago, so it can't have been that long.) It's always a warning sign to me when stores start cutting back on their inventory. Also, a lot of these stores depend on machine sales to carry them. I don't know how many people can afford a $3000 to $5000 sewing machine anymore. On the other hand, B-W may just have so much business servicing machines that they needed to cut back on their retail sales. I don't know. I would hate to see them go out of business, but I know how hard it is to be a small business owner these days. 

They do offer classes. I asked about pattern-drafting classes and the saleslady said that they don't really have anyone who can teach those kinds of classes anymore. Apparently that is going to be something I have to teach myself. I made a promise to myself that I was not going to turn any of this sewing stuff into any kind of business, but it may be inevitable that I end up publishing or teaching again in some limited capacity. The universe has a funny way of dragging you back to the thing that you are supposed to be doing, no matter how far you run from it. 

Monday
Feb202017

Woolly Mammoths in Spokane

I woke up Saturday morning all refreshed and ready to go. I do *try* to sleep in when I am in Spokane just because there is nothing to do until stores open. Thankfully, Kohls opens at 8 a.m., so at least I can wander around there for a while. I usually go to the Kohls out in Spokane Valley. It's a quick 10-minute drive east of downtown. It also happens to be right across the street from the new Quilting Bee building. That is going to be a massive store. It's sized and shaped like a very large barn. 

I kicked around Spokane Valley for a while and then headed up to Regal Fabric and Gifts on South Hill to do the shopping I hadn't had time to do when I was there Friday night. It's not a large store, but the selection is varied and includes things I don't often see elsewhere. Irene is also a big fan of aprons and has a lot of apron patterns and kits for sale. I bought an apron kit and some fat quarters for the Ritzville quilt and a few other small items. 

I also found this on my travels, which I bought for the husband to hang in the garage:  

My cell phone rang while I was at the South Hill Jo-Ann Fabrics raiding the remnant rack. It was a call from a small sewing-vac repair place down in Spokane Valley where DD#1 and I had stopped on Friday on the off chance that they might have a replacement slide plate for my second Necchi Supernova. They were pretty busy on Friday, so I had left my phone number for them to call in case they were able to locate one. They did, and had it waiting for me. I left Jo-Anns and went back down to Spokane Valley and picked it up. This is a store I will likely frequent again. The entrance foyer is lined with all sorts of vintage machines with large tags stating "NOT FOR SALE" on them. Lots of eye candy, and apparently they have a fairly extensive boneyard of vintage machine parts. 

By then, it was almost time for me to meet DD#1 and her boyfriend, Arne, for lunch at Nordstrom Cafe. Lunch is about the only thing I can afford to buy there, but it's one of our favorite places to eat. Arne is a first-year dentistry student at the University of Washington. That campus is in Seattle, but they also have a satellite campus in Spokane, and Arne is in a program that sends a certain number of students to study in Spokane for a year. He is on the same campus as DD#1 right now but he'll be back in Seattle in the fall. I really like both of the girls' boyfriends. They are mature, thoughtful, and hardworking young men. I happen to think that both of my girls are very special and I just want them to be with boys who appreciate that. 

My suggestion that we spend the afternoon at the Titans of the Ice Age exhibit at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture was met with enthusiasm by both of the kids, so after lunch, we headed over there. The museum is in the Browne's Addition neighborhood of Spokane. I had never been in that part of Spokane before. The Spokane Historical Society describes it thusly:

In the summer of 1878 the area called Spokane Falls was sparsely populated having only 54 residents. At this time James N. Glover still owned most of the city when John J. Browne came to Spokane from Portland in the summer. John J. Browne had worked in schools in the mid-west and became a lawyer, studying at the University of Michigan. Once he was in Spokane Falls J.J. Browne bought 120 acres of land with Mr. A.M. Cannon. This acreage was the beginning of what would become Browne's Addition and Cannon's Addition respectively. 

By the end of the 19th Century the wealthy of Spokane were beginning to take notice of the fine surroundings in Browne's Addition and began moving into the neighborhood. Browne noticed the appeal of the location and in order to gain more land in this neighborhood he applied for and received a homestead grant for the part of Browne's Addition that he didn't already own. Browne's Addition was very attractive to Spokane Falls residents because of the proximity to downtown and it scenic location above the Spokane River. To make the neighborhood more attractive to wealthy residents John J. Browne, Henry C. Marshall and Andrew J. Ross incorporated the Spokane Street Railway Company on December 6th, 1886. By April 15th 1888 they had opened their first horse-drawn streetcar line, which incidentally ran from Browne's Addition to downtown.

The streets in Browne's Addition are very narrow and I wondered at the choice of location for the museum. Parking was a nightmare. Apparently, though, the city had been gifted the home of Amasa Campbell, one of Browne's Addition's first residents, upon his death. He was a wealthy businessman who made his fortune in the Idaho silver and gold mines. The property was large enough that the museum was built on part of it. The woolly mammoth exhibit was fascinating and included a lot of teeth, which delighted Arne. We also toured the Campbell residence next door to the museum, which has been completely restored and opened for tours. It reminded me very much of the Conrad Mansion here in Kalispell. I was pleased to see a Singer treadle in one of the rooms in the Campbell House. 

The kids went back to Arne's apartment to check on a batch of apple butter he was making in the crock pot. I went back to the hotel for a quick nap, and then we finished off the day with dinner at the sushi restaurant downtown. I refuse to eat raw fish, but they have lots of other delicious choices. And I was ridiculously pleased with myself for eating my entire dinner with a pair of chopsticks. The restaurant only provides silverware if you ask for it. 

I left for home yesterday morning after breakfast. Traffic was light and I was back by lunchtime. 

Sunday
Feb192017

Fun in Spokane, Part 1

I left Thursday morning and headed over to Spokane for the weekend. It was a bit dicey getting out of Kalispell because the temperature was right at freezing and there was a wintry mix coming down. I was careful, though, and by the time I reached Idaho, the precip had changed over to a hard driving rain. I did my usual checking of trap lines for sewing machines on the way over. DD#1, DD#2, and DD#2's boyfriend (James) and I all went out to dinner. DD#1's boyfriend had lab and couldn't join us. That was the extent of my visiting with DD#2, because she and a bunch of her girlfriends left Friday morning for Portland for the weekend. 

I was at the BMW dealer bright and early at 7:30 a.m. Friday morning for a service check. My car comes with complimentary scheduled maintence for the first 50,000 miles. The techs were very thorough. They ran diagnostics, replaced the air filter, changed the oil and oil filter, replaced all the wiper blades, topped off all the fluids, checked the air pressure in the tires, and vacuumed and washed the car for me.  It took about three hours but I hung out in their comfy waiting room and read a book on my iPad. 

After that was done, I hit a couple more thrift stores, a Jo-Ann Fabrics, and the Quilting Bee, which is one of the few quilting stores left in Spokane (three of them closed last year—Cozy Quilter, A Heart Like Yours, and Top Stitch). The Quilting Bee is getting ready to move into their new—enormous—building in a few weeks. They really are crammed into their current space and it is hard to look around in there. I was, however, delighted to find some Cori Dantini fabric. Cori is an artist and designer who lives in the Spokane area and she also happens to be very good friends with my friend Marcie. Cori's fabric is carried by many of the major online fabric retailers, but I have never seen it locally. Never. Until this weekend. The Quilting Bee had a few bolts of yardage and bunch of her panels. I bought two panels, The Makers:

And Garden Girls:

Aren't they darling? I am not quite sure how I am going to use these, but I will think of something. I rather wish I had bought some of the yardage, too. Oh well, next trip.  Check out Cori's very cool website.

At Sew E-Z Too, I dropped off about two dozen pillowcases for the hospital. (This fabric store is listed as a drop-off location, but the people working there never seem to be aware of it even though I have dropped off pillowcases there before; I finally was able to find someone who said yes, they do take them.) I bought this book there, which I have been waiting to find:

It's by Amanda Jean Nyberg, one of the authors of Sunday Morning Quilts. I love SMQ and this new book does not disappoint. I am sure I'll be making quite a few of these quilts, too. 

[I am going to digress a bit here, though, and lodge a small complaint regarding book design. I don't know who it is at C&T Publishing who has the ridiculous love affair with the font Classic Typewriter, but they need to stop using it. It looks stupid. With all the beautiful fonts available for book design, there is absolutely no need to use such a pedestrian typeface. And this isn't the first book they've used it on. It's not fresh. It's not hip. Frankly, it makes them look like amateurs and if I were Amanda Jean Nyberg, I would have pitched a small hissy fit or designed the cover myself.]

Moving on. 

DD#1 and I availed ourselves of the lunch buffet at our favorite Indian restaurant. It was yummy. We ran around a bit more and did some shopping and then I dropped her off at home. She is still waitressing at a little restaurant in Spokane called Wisconsinburger and was scheduled to work that night. That was perfectly fine with me—I do not expect my children to entertain me when I come to visit—and I had plans of my own. One of the other quilt stores in Spokane, Regal Fabrics and Gifts, had a class called "Strip Night" from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m Friday night. I signed up for it. The backstory is that one of the large fabric companies—Moda—came up with the idea of marketing their pre-cut fabrics using bakery terms. A stack of forty-two 10" x 10" squares is called a "layer cake." A roll of forty-two 2-1/2" strips is called a "jelly roll," etc. These terms have become pretty standard when describing all pre-cuts, even ones made by companies other than Moda. The purpose of the Strip Night class was to take a jelly roll and sew all the strips together end to end, then fold them back on themselves repeatedly to end up with a quilt approximately 52" x 62". That's completely doable in three hours; in fact, you can look up "Jelly Roll Race" on YouTube and see videos of stores that have held contests to see who could make a jelly roll quilt in the shortest amount of time. 

I've already done two of these—poor Margaret quilted both of them and said it was the most boring quilting ever, all straight lines—so I was not unfamiliar with the technique. I can always learn something new, though, and it gave me a chance to do some sewing on a Friday night instead of hanging out in my hotel room. There were three of us in the class: me, a woman named Vivian a few years older than me, and a woman named Ellie about 15 years older than me. Irene, the owner of the store, was the teacher. She had set out half a dozen gift bags with jelly rolls wrapped in tissue paper and told us to pick one without looking at it. It was supposed to be a surprise, and Irene reminded us that it was good to get out of our comfort zones, so we shouldn't be upset if we got something that wasn't in our preferred color palette. 

Vivian didn't hear that last part, apparently. She got a jelly roll comprised of lime green and white and black strips—very modern—and promptly announced that she "hated green." Ellie had picked the Lecien Flower Sugar jelly roll, which looked like a bunch of vintage sheets in pink and white and turquoise. I ended up with a batik-y style jelly roll in purples and blues. The colors were pretty, but batiks are not my thing. Nevertheless, I was fully prepared to go with it. Surprise was part of the deal. However, Irene said we could trade if we wanted to, and so Ellie ended up with the green and black, Vivian with the blues and purples (which she said she loved), and I got the Flower Sugar roll. Irene just kind of sighed. (It might work out better if she just lets people pick what they want in the first place, although the element of surprise is kind of fun. For some people, at least.)

We were supposed to bring a machine with us, so I had packed the Janome 3125 that DD#1 picked up for me at the Goodwill store in Spokane last fall. This model is identical to the wildly-popular Janome Hello Kitty sewing machine. Janome makes even their low-end machines with metal guts, however, and I figured it would be good for classes:

It is lightweight and portable. It is not fancy by any stretch of the imagination—there are only three stitch lengths, denoted by A, B, and C on the stitch selector dial. A makes very small, tight stitches; B makes medium-sized stitches, and C makes basting stitches. It had a snap-on ankle already on the machine, so I just had to snap off the standard presser foot and snap on the quarter-inch foot. 

[Vivian was sporting the Janome Gem, which is a few steps up from the 3125 and very popular among quilters for taking to classes. It has a few additional features, but it's twice the cost of the 3125. People who have them don't usually donate them to Goodwill.]

The 3125 was zooming along just fine for the first half an hour. In fact, I was miles ahead of the other two students. Vivian was no beginner, but she seemed to be spending a lot of time considering what order she wanted to sew her strips in. I just took them as they came off the roll. However, about halfway into the first long seam, after I had folded the strips back on themselves, my machine started making a grinding noise and slowed down considerably. I stopped sewing and opened it up to see what was going on. I located the source of the problem pretty quickly. There were some lengths of pink and blue thread wound around the thread take-up lever linkage. I was using beige thread and this was the first time I had sewn on this machine. I unplugged the machine, got out my fine-tipped scissors, and managed to dislodge and unwind the thread. (Note to self: Put a pair of tweezers in the sewing kit.) It makes me wonder if that was why that machine was donated to Goodwill in the first place. 

All of that held me up for about 10 minutes. When I was done, I happened to look over and see that Ellie—who was sewing on a wonderful early 70s-vintage Viking—was staring at me. She said, "Not only are you sewing faster than the rest of us, you just stopped and fixed your machine!" 

Apparently, I am a freak show no matter how hard I try to blend in, LOL. 

After that, the machine ran fine again. I did finish my quilt in the allotted time and I did learn a few tips for future quilts. Irene is a very personable and patient teacher. If I lived closer, I would sign up for everything she offers because she has a lot of fun classes. She also schedules them in the evenings and on weekends. That is my biggest complaint about the stores here. All of their classes are on weekdays. Some of us have to work. 

I'll show you a picture once I have turned that top into a completed quilt. Right now, it's not much to look at. I may also put a border on it and make it a bit bigger. It will be perfect, though, for practicing some FMQ. 

There is more to the weekend, but it will have to wait for the next blog post.