2017 Resolution Review

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Taken January 2, 2017

In January of 2017, I committed to the intention of using what I have.  Almost 2 months in, here is what I’ve accomplished so far with my commitment.

I resolved to use more of the food that I have before I go and procure more.  This has been relatively easy because I have a lot of good ingredients at my disposal in both my freezer and my pantry.  I think the stand out freezer concoction thus far was a wild turkey posole.  (Posole is a southwestern stew with hominy.) We had some leftover frozen turkey from Thanksgiving, a batch of hominy left over from previous soups and some frozen red chile paste.  I added some fresh onion and spices and let this simmer in the crock pot for a few hours.  It was a great meal and came entirely out of my freezer.  We strive to never waste food so my resolution hasn’t been too revolutionary, but it is a great way to challenge yourself.  We call these meals “Iron Chef”  challenges because you take the random ingredients you’ve got and you can come up with some pretty awesome things — often a one-time meal that can never again be replicated.

As much as I love and patronize my local library, I have really enjoyed grabbing books off of my shelves that I’ve collected over time.  The majority of the books are ones that I have picked up at the thrift store for less than a dollar and they have provided me with hours of enjoyment.  I now have these books in a read stack that I am either going to donate back or pass along to friends for reading.  It has been great, especially during this winter, to be able to peruse my own library, grab a book in my PJs and cuddle up on the couch under a quilt.  I used to keep all of my books carting all of them around proudly for years, but now I am happy to let many of them move on to another house and be used instead of just stagnant on an overcrowded shelf.  A couple of years back, I started a book journal where I write down every book I read.  I do some commentary, or I jot down poignant passages, but this journal has in a sense been able to replace my big stack of books.   I’ve also opened up my cd binder and pulled out some real gems to listen to instead of just defaulting to online radio.  It’s amazing how music can make one so nostalgic and also how it can create a certain mood.  I’ve been experimenting with quilting to different music to see if it impacts the way in which I quilt.  So far I do not have any definitive proof that music effects my stitching, but this has been a less than rigorous examination of this correlation.

 

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A back-up baby blanket

I have been very diligent with the use of materials I already have.  I found 4 skeins of yarn that were given to me as a gift that I am making into a very simple blocked baby blanket.  I made so many baby blankets last year that it seems pragmatic to have an extra one lying around for a future gift.  This hasn’t challenged my knitting skill set in the least, but it is a project that uses materials I already own.

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Free motion on ikat

I have been more successful with trying new skills and using up materials in my quilting.  Part of this education has been through my monthly art quilting group.  This group challenges me to think outside of the traditional and to try all sorts of new techniques.  (All of the skills I’m learning is an entirely different blog post/posts.)  One project I made is a baby quilt for my cousin out of ikat fabric in my stash wherein I quilted two identical yards together without any piecing or blocks.  This is the same idea as the quilt in a day, but this time, I free motioned around the ikat pattern in the blanket and it took me more than a day.  Because this fabric was so dynamic, it is hard to tell the level of detail that was involved from afar but it was a great practice project for me to get more comfortable with free motion quilting.  I have also made 2 very different log cabins out of scraps.  The smaller of the two is made entirely out of scraps that I had lying around and did not cut — I simply laid them out and let the design be very organic.  This quilt got sent to a friend living in the Baltics who longs to build her own tiny log cabin out of reclaimed materials when she gets back to the States.  Her dream was my inspiration for the quilt.  My second log cabin is very measured and based off of a pattern that uses 1-inch scrap pieces.  I’ve made several of these and always enjoy how the randomness of scraps creates an entirely different quilt each time.  This quilt will be heading north to Alaska where a couple of dear friends are moving for work (and adventure!).  I could easily make dozens more of these projects and still have remaining scraps of fabric.  Also, because of the size of these quilts, I’ve been able to use leftover batting scraps stitched together.  All three of these projects were made without spending any money.

We have been ever grateful for all of the time we are able to spend enjoying our nearby public lands.  Lately it has been mostly nordic skiing, but we have also enjoyed some crisp late winter hikes as well.  We are both stewards of our public lands and hope that the access to these precious resources never changes.  However, in this uncertain time, we have realized just how important and necessary this land is to us and we are taking full advantage of it while land still remains public.

So far, this intention/resolution/commitment has been a good challenge and a relatively easy mindset for me to adopt.  I am still buying fresh groceries, and I still spend money at the local quilt shop and thrift store, but it is very comforting to know that everything I need, I already have.  I do not feel limited by my intention in any way and the more I practice this habit, the more I have ingrained this practice into my everyday mindset.

The $1.25 Quilt Top

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Yes, a $1.25!

I happen to work across the street from a very good thrift store.  Since I am a local government employee on a fixed income, and one who is also granted two 15-minute breaks a day, I  visit this thrift store often.  Although it can be very tempting to escape with deals every day, I do try to keep my purchasing to a minimum.  However, there are some deals that are just too priceless to ignore.

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25 squares for 25 cents

Since I frequent this store so often, I have found that I often peruse it in a certain order.  One of my first stops is always the craft/fabric section.  There is always fabric and some remnant yarn.  One (very!) lucky day I found a plastic baggy for 25 cents that contained 25 nine patch quilt blocks.  Since 25 cents gets one next to nothing these days, let alone 25 perfect quilt blocks, I could not believe my luck.  I purchased my score and stashed it for some future undetermined project; I simply could not pass up the opportunity to have 25 perfect nine patches for the cost of less than an apple.  Some time later I was again wiling away my government granted break in the fabric section and I came across a yard of fabric printed with old fashioned postage/passport stamps in French.  I knew this would be perfect for my Francophile sister whom desperately deserved a homemade quilt.  Once home in my quilt room, I pulled out the 25 pack and wondered, would it be possible to make a usable quilt top for $1.25?  The answer to this question became my new mission.

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Add another $1

I searched through some of my quilting books for a pattern but after finding nothing exciting, I decided to create something of my own.  I wanted to make a one-of-a-kind scrappy quilt using only what I had available in my stash.  I started the blocks by bulking up the size of the nine patches adding on strips to all four sides.  These strips were all free to me as I am a former member of a strip club, and as a new member I received delinquent members monthly allotments.  After my first meeting, I walked out of the shop with 3 grocery bags full of quilt strips that all these years later I am still whittling away.  Once I bulked up the blocks with a completely random selection of strips, I then made use of the vintage stamp fabric to make up the rest of the quilt.  Good job, me!  I made a quilt top for a $1.25 and it turned out pretty cute.

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Add another $2

In keeping with the frugal quilt challenge, I was able to get a couple of yards of fabric for $2 to complete the backing.  The most expensive part of the quilt was the batting which I paid full price for at my local quilt shop. (I love this shop so I have no qualms about making full priced purchases here.)  I did all of the quilting myself on the mighty Bernina.  I quilted a sort of hourglass shape over all of the nine patches and then followed it up with a lot of free form swirls around the remainder of the quilt.  I loved the challenges of this project:  creating a pattern, using what was available and quilting it by myself.  It was a big surprise for my sister on her birthday and I know that it will get a lot of love and use.

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Now that it is definitively fall here in Colorado (we had snow last night at our house), this blanket is in a good home.  Right at this moment, I imagine it is being draped over resting legs, with my dog nephew lounging nearby and a movie on the TV.  All I ever want for my gifts is for them to get good use and make another being warm and cozy.  And the person who originally made all of those perfect nine patches wanted the same; I happened to be the person to put their work to a good use.  So thank you random thrift shop donor for the perfect blocks that will now keep another Colorado being warm and cozy.

Same Quilt, Different Fabrics

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The PBQ

Sometimes a fabric just speaks to you, other times a pattern does.  For this quilt, let’s call it Portland Baby Quilt (PBQ) because the ladies from Gee’s Bend say that every quilt must be named, the fabric called out to me.  Once I saw the Victorian outlined buildings, the rain drops and the black kitty on a red bike I knew the perfect person for the fabrics.  A very dear friend of mine from the old Portland days and her husband just welcomed their first baby boy. All of the fabrics were absolutely shouting out their names but what pattern could I use to highlight the fabrics and not the pattern.  Aha!  I could use the pattern for my very first quilt, the pea quilt, because the center blocks are huge by many quilt pattern standards at 8″.  This pattern allowed me to focus on the fabrics and see how different two quilts can be using different fabrics.

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My favorite of the three

The first fabric that really grabbed my heart has  red vintage bikes, a black kitty and tulips.  This trifecta reminds me of my dear friend:  she used to own a cute burgundy vintage bike, owns a sweet black cat and loves flowers.  The second fabric has raindrops and nothing says living in the Northwest like some raindrops, for despite what some people say it does rain a whole heck of a lot up there.  The third fabric has vintage Victorian style buildings, which is where I first met this dear friend, me as her apartment manager and she as tenant.  We used to have dinner parties in our tiny studios and eat on the floor in our slippers.   This was a simpler time in our lives and one filled with very good memories.

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The apartment building during a rare snowstorm

This simpler pattern allowed me to highlight the fabrics while still working on the ever present and technical star points.  I chose colors that appeared in the two multi-colored fabric for my star points – red and navy.  I then chose a gray background.  I went a little outside of the palette when I chose the light yellow for the interior but I really wanted to lighten up the quilt and not have it be so gray; the sun does shine in Portland!  I like the splashes of red because the quilt still has that bright kid quality to it.  It is traditional with the primary colors but modern thanks to the fun fabrics. I  used a totally different fabric for the backing of this quilt: a bright red squiggly owl print.  It has a similar color palate as the front but is definitely kid friendly.  To finish it up, I had the quilt long-armed by a talented local quilter with stippling in a variegated gray thread.

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Cute swirly owls

I really love how this quilt turned out and know that it will provide many good snuggle and fort building sessions.  It was really fun to take a familiar pattern and play with it and see it become something completely different.  This is the joy of quilting, there are always surprises to be had.

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The original pea quilt

The Simple Joy of Binding

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I know that this may sound strange to some of the quilters out there, but I find great joy in  binding my quilts.  After all of the (countless) hours of cutting and sewing and quilting are complete, finishing the binding of a quilt by hand allows the quilter the opportunity to test the quilt out (if working on your lap) and to savor the accomplishment of a another big project well done.

There are so many modern techniques that we employ today:  machine piecing, fancy rulers, long arm quilting, that binding by hand seems to be one of the few traditional techniques.  And yet this is the one time where we really get to sit with our completed piece and be with it before it goes to a new home.  Binding is like the grande finale when you get to see all of your effort come together into something really unique and special.

Despite the fact that I nick my thumb constantly and must steer clear of citrus for days after hand binding, I relish the time to just be with the quilt.

When the Plan Doesn’t Pan Out

Planning it out

Planning it out

I recently embarked on my most challenging quilt yet, a quilt that once the pattern was opened and digested, completely overwhelmed and perplexed me.  If I would have had access to these instructions, I would never have purchased — and (spoiler alert) succeeded — in making the aforementioned quilt.  Once I opened the pattern and recognized the sheer scale of the effort ahead me, I knew that I had to be proactive with my planning in order to avoid utter chaos.

Color pencils are good stuff!

Color pencils are good stuff!

Organization began immediately.  After copious hours of cutting 1-inch pieces into even smaller 1-inch pieces, I used envelopes from our recycling to stash each pile of strips.  Because so many pieces were so similar in size, it was important that I label each so as to avoid confusion when putting the strips together.  Another tool that I utilized throughout the whole process was my larger cutting mat. Instead of moving it aside after cutting, I left it on the table, a seemingly simple strategy that made a big difference in ensuring that all of my pieces were exactly the size I needed.  Also, this quilt required a great deal of space for something comprised entirely out of 1-ince pieces that will become a wall hanging.  Part of my organizational strategy was to utilize a space that didn’t feel cramped.  Our kitchen table has been a work station since the last major national 3-day holiday weekend with envelopes, pattern pieces and strips taking up nearly every last spot.

After all of the cutting, came the organization of the pattern.  Looking at it, I knew that colored pencils would be my best friend is deciphering the pattern.  Like the pieces that make up this quilt, the pattern was tiny. Even with all of my color coded instructions, mistakes were still made as I it was difficult to determine what on the pattern (which was coded in different patterns for different colors) was what.

Keeping the strips straight

Keeping the strips straight

Once the pieces were assembled into pairs of strips, I simply labeled them with masking tape to keep track of each.  My masking tape trick was great as I could see the pattern unfold in front of me.  I could also see many of my piecing mistakes and fix them prior to sewing the top together.

The reason this post is titled “When the Plan Doesn’t Pan Out” is because despite all of the aforementioned planning, I still spent an inordinate amount of time ripping out and fixing erroneous fabric pieces.  Some days it felt like I was doing more correcting of mistakes than actual sewing.  There were still challenges despite having been so proactive.  And that’s okay.  This whole quilt was a bundle of many lessons, both in quilting and in life.  No matter how organized you are, crap still happens.  The most simple things around the house (think chalk, rubber bands and tape) can be extremely helpful tools.  Perseverance is key to getting things done even when you feel overwhelmed.

The quilt top is done and I will begin the next process of hand quilting.  I’m sure that even then, I will face a few more bumps on the road to completion.  What I continue to learn through quilting, which resonates in life too, is that things always happen no matter how much you prepare otherwise and rarely are we unable to correct our mistakes.

The I Quilted This Myself Quilt

Done and ready for snuggling.

Done and ready for snuggling.

My new quilt makes the best couch fort ever!  I know this because after a dreadful Monday at the paycheck producing place, I returned home sodden and mud covered and ready to hide from the world for a little while when I took refuge from the previous 9 hours under the quilt on the couch.  It was more like a tent and it was the best medicine I could have asked for at the time.

But I digress.  This post is not about the healing power of a good blanket and the ability to just shut down.  I love blankets and like Linus, I embrace the comfort of a good wrap.  This missive is about how I, a very amateur quilter accomplished quilting a large (read twin size bed) quilt on my very own, in my small apartment with an heirloom sewing machine.

This quilt kit was a gift from my original quilting teacher and friend which now serves as a wonderful memory of the community that taught me to quilt. Due to the size of the project, I laid out all of the pieces while house sitting last summer and made up the top over time this winter.  I knew that doing the actual quilting would be a challenge given my space and time constraints.  When I found out that I was going to have the house to myself for a whole weekend, I knew that would be the optimal time to just get the project done.

Swirls up close

Swirls up close

I prepped for the big quilting weekend by stocking up on snack foods and fittingly, a bottle of bubbly.  I was so organized for the big quilt binge that I even prepped a bunch of sushi that I could snack on for breaks throughout the weekend.  Oh yeah, I was ready.  When I got home that Friday night and locked the door behind myself, I was eager to put the week behind me and just get the quilting started.  The worst part about the whole project was the preparation.  Due to space constraints at home, I had to move a bunch of furniture in order to spread the fabric out and make a quilt sandwich.  I was pinning the thing for hours on my hands and knees before I could even get ready to quilt.  It is important to get the fabric and batting taut for a smooth quilt.  Well, thank god I’m not a perfectionist because getting everything exact was not an option.  Once I accepted this reality, I could happily begin plotting the actual quilting.

What our apartment lacks in size, it more than makes up for in abundant natural light, which is awesome to work by.   Moving the kitchen table out a few feet into the middle of the space, I had the perfect sun strewn workstation.  Come Saturday morning after a breakfast fit for a day of outdoor exertion, I was ready to begin the actual quilting.  The sheer size of the blanket was intimidating as I tried to maneuver it into the regular sized machine, but I knew that over-analyzing the situation was just a glorified form of procrastination; I had to go for it and find my rhythm.  Because the quilt is free-motion, I let the music I was listening to (a mix comprised of: 90% jazz, 5% Bjork and 5% Cajun) guide me.  Once I got into it, the hours flew by punctuated only by snack and bathroom breaks.   I was in the quilting zone.

The back of the quilt.

The back of the quilt.

I found that due to the size of the quilt, my method with the swirl pattern was the best option.  And, as the quilt is very geometric, the pattern gives it a bit of softness and playfulness. I finished the quilt on Sunday around 3 and then because I still had some momentum, I was able to get the binding made and sewed on.  By the time my companion arrived back home three days after he left, I had a new blanket almost (hand stitching aside) done.

Almost covering our full-sized bed.

Almost covering our full-sized bed.

Finishing this quilt all by myself makes me happy.  It makes me confident in my ability to take on large projects despite the challenges (time, space, experience).  This quilt is a bit lumpy and I really don’t care.  When I need it, whether for warmth or because I just need a good hiding spot, I will not notice the small things that are not perfect.  Instead, what I see are all of the stitches and I know that I made each and every one of them.

Hokey Pokey. Times Two.

Completed

That’s what it’s all about!

I have a very dear friend that became a mother last year — of twin girls.  In thinking about what I would like to make them, I debated between the adorable kid-friendly fabrics available (hello, sock monkeys!) and something that was bright and would not be outgrown.  I decided on the latter mostly because my former local shop had a fantastic fabric kit full of color and texture available that I could modify into 2 similar yet different quilts.  Perfect for twin girls!

I will be honest, this Hokey Pokey pattern was not my favorite during the piecing stages.  There was a lot of keeping pieces straight between left and right and this is where I learned the value of using chalk to mark my pieces.  However, beyond getting my rights and my lefts confused which, again with the honesty, happens not just with quilting, this pattern did become quite cool once intact.

Stitch in the Ditch Quilting.

Stitch-in-the-ditch quilting.

These two quilts not only hold a place in my heart because of who they belong to, but also because they are my first quilts that I quilted (free-motion) on my own that are larger than a wall hanging size.  For the first quilt, I opted to do a modified stitch-in-the-ditch pattern with the free motion foot.  I quickly learned that this is a very tedious way to quilt a top.  I was continually stopping and starting and afterward, I had what felt like a million threads to hand sew into the top.  Despite the time consumption of this method, I am happy with the way that the individual pieces are emphasized with the stitch-in-the-ditch pattern.

See, each piece has been stitched around.

Yes, every single ditch was sewn.

After completing the first quilt top, I was less scared of an epic mess-up on the second quilt (kind of like a second child) so I decided to be bolder with the quilting.

Free-motion in action

Free-motion in action

This time around, I just went for it and was amazed at how much faster the process was then my prior quilt.  It took me about 5 hours straight to complete the top, which really didn’t feel all that exhausting.  Once I was in zone, or sewing with the flow, or whatever it is called when something just works, I felt the quilt top almost completing itself while my hands guided fabric this way and that.   This quilt certainly came out much more textured than the other.

Swirls and more swirls.

Swirls and more swirls.

These quilts are awesome because of the fabrics.  The tops are bright and bold, subtle and strong and I love the juxtaposition between all.  I found the most perfect backing for the quilts, one of those moments where a sunbeam falls upon you like a spotlight as you hoist the fabric bolt into the air in celebration.  The backing and the binding are the same on both of the quilts continuing the theme of similar and different.

Best match ever!

Best match ever!

The twin quilts were fun in many different ways to create.  There is a satisfaction in finishing the whole project yourself and not farming out of some of the work elsewhere.  Although neither of these are ready for inspection by the county fair quilt ladies with their magnifying glasses, I am sure that they will keep two little sweet peas cozy and warm for years to come.