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.

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Staying warm yurt style

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The yurt in warmer times

Aw, the picture above reminds that there will again be a time when the yurt bubble is open and there is not a 2 foot field of condensed snow surrounding our home.  In the meantime, we are dealing with an El Nino winter to topple records with a couple of months left to go.  How are we staying warm without all of the trappings of modern homes?  Through the very simple tricks listed below.

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The Yurtain – a yurt curtain

Back in the fall when the warnings of the severity of our winter seemed far off, I decided to make us curtains for the yurt.   The huge advantage of our home is that we have a ton of light and, due to our spectacular natural surroundings, also have gorgeous views.  But our windows are plastic so I knew that we would have to do some covering up for the winter.  So I invented (or think I did . . .) the yurtain, a perfect curtain for the yurt.  It is a very simple utilitarian design.  I bought fabric that was already quilted, fancied up the edges with some binding and then added the ties at the top.  Voila, the yurtain.  The ties are important because we don’t have the ability to hang a traditional curtain rod.  These stretch to cover up our windows pretty well.  In the mornings when we leave for work, we simply remove one tie to let the sun in for solar heat gain.  When we get home, we tie the curtains back up for warmth.  Although only a half inch thick, there is a definite difference when the curtains are up.

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Weatherizing the door

Like all homes, we lose a lot of heat through our front door.  To combat some of this loss, we installed weatherstripping around the perimeter.  Next, I made a curtain out of scraps with batting in between to stop the leakage from the glass window.  This curtain, like the others, has ties so that we can take it down to allow light in.  Last, I made a simple door snake.  In the weatherization workshops, we always taught people that stopping the small leaks all around the house has a large cumulative effect.  This is the same principle applied here.  I fashioned a quick door snake for the bottom out of leftover scrap fabric and stuffed with all of the small pieces of quilting batting I had lying around that were not good for anything else.  I knew there would be an occasion for all of these stashed scraps!

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Warming up the bed

Lastly, we decided to enhance the space by our bed since that is where we spend a lot of our home time.  As our walls are rounded, a headboard does not work.  This allowed us to get a little creative.  First I stuffed foam from our furniture projects between the crossbars of our wall creating a padding and barrier.  Second, I hung up the pea quilt to cover up the foam and create another layer.  (Right now I’m not worried about the quilt getting bleached because the sun is too low in the sky.)  Then we added a second set of pillows behind our pillows for yet another layer of protection.  With this set up, we have no draft in our bed.  We use flannel sheets, a down comforter and a wool blanket to stay toasty inside.  If it’s especially cold, we can always wear a hat to bed and add another quilt on top.

Our home is heated by a wood stove that is brand new and fairly efficient considering that a lot of the heat is lost to our high ceilings.  We stumble over in the middle of the night to add a couple of logs until we wake up.  Not once has the stove been so cold as to not keep coals when we are tending the fire.  We start the fire immediately when we get home and wait only a little while for the place to heat up.  During this time we are also busy moving and getting dinner ready that the cold is hardly noticeable.  It is really a pretty simple set up and works well for our home.

When we are home in the winter, we are not sitting around in T-shirts and burning logs with abandon.  We wear sweaters and slippers and we use the plethora of blankets we have around.  This is how we all used to live in the not so distant past.  What we are doing is what has always been done.  We are conscientious of little steps that we can take that have big impacts.  Collectively, if everyone turned down their thermostats even a few degrees and donned a sweater, plus plugged up the smaller leaks around the home, it could make a huge impact on our wallets and our planet.  We all can keep ourselves comfortable in the deepest darkest of winters with simple solutions.

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.

Homemade All Natural Laundry Soap

Super easy and non-toxic

Super easy and non-toxic

Making laundry soap isn’t the most exciting thing to do on a Saturday morning, but in the pantheon of household chores, this ranks in the “very tolerable” category in both time and money.  I started to make my own soap out of necessity as our former residence had the hardest water ever which, after washing, left a crummy residue on our clothes when the soaps did not dissolve.  I started to do research about natural solutions to this conundrum and discovered that both borax and washing soda work well in hard water.  I then found many recipes for homemade laundry soaps using both ingredients and, after some test runs, have settled on the following.  This formula is an extremely affordable way to use natural laundry detergent without the steep price of manufactured natural soaps — at pennies a load.  Nothing costs a penny anymore, except this!

Grating the soap bar.

Grating the soap bar.

All you need is washing soda, borax, baking soda and a bar of natural soap (I use Dr. Bronner’s because I like to have a little bit of fragrance in the soap), and a bucket.  The first step is grating the bar of soap; I use a cheese grater.  Once grated, I grind the soap in an old food processor (it’s missing half a blade so I kept it for this purpose but you can use your regular appliance and wash it post soap-making) with a cup of one of the powdered ingredients until the soap is about the same consistency as typical laundry soap.  Place all of the ingredients in a bucket and mix, shaking until everything is incorporated.  The process from start to finish takes all of 10 minutes which is about the same amount of time it takes to walk down a couple of aisles in the grocery store.  Yep, this recipe is easy peasy lemon squeezy, as my former kindergartner students used to say.  The best part is that you only use a tablespoon to do a load of laundry, so your batch will last you at least a couple of few months.

Homemade laundry soap — adapted from many online recipes and tested by our household

  • 3 cups of borax
  • 3 cups of washing soda
  • 1 cup of baking soda
  • 1 bar of natural soap (i.e. Dr. Bronner’s), grated

That is really it!  All of these ingredients can be easily procured at your local store.  As a bonus, this recipe also works well for people with sensitive skin as there are no harsh ingredients.  Give it a spin and you will see that making your own laundry soap is loads better than what you can buy.

This Civil War is Over!

Farmhouse Style in the Bedroom!

Farmhouse Style in the Bedroom!

I can proudly announce that the Civil War in our house is over.  Done.  Finished.  A Civil War bed quilt that is.

This quilt, the pattern is a Four Square Farmhouse, uses all reproduction fabrics from the Civil War era.  Fabric designers pair with historians to recreate actual fabric patterns or design fabrics to look similar to what was used back then.  The Civil War fabric palettes tend to be darker and the motifs are smaller.  I tend to gravitate toward these reproduction fabrics as my tastes run more antique than modern.  You could create a starkly different quilt using more modern fabrics.

This quilt is also a journey.  Originally, I found this pattern in a now defunct quilt shop in Grand Junction, Colorado in June 2013.  This shop had an incredible array of Civil War era fabrics and I was instantly inspired to make something big — this pattern was perfect.  First, this pattern was something I understood and as a beginner quilter, I wanted to create a project that I easily understood.  Second, the pattern consisted of using fat quarters which allowed me to not only spend money only when able but also to procure fabrics where able.  To me, this quilt is so special because I remember all of the stores in all of the towns where parts of this blanket came from.  With an origin in western Colorado, these fabrics move west to Boise, Idaho continuing on through Oregon with stops in Ontario, Nyssa, Baker City, Halfway, Pendleton, La Pine, Burns, Bend and Portland.  It was a good summer of exploration and my keepsakes from each little town are embedded in the quilt.  The amazing Bishop’s Fan quilt work was done by long arm machine by my incredibly talented friend Heather in Ontario, Oregon.  Now, this quilt that represents the small towns and amazing quilt shops of (mostly) Oregon resides in Durango, Colorado on our bed where I admire it every day.

Oddly named Bishop's Fan.

Oddly named Bishop’s Fan.

This was my first queen sized quilt and definitely posed some challenges.  The blocks were easy to create after a stressful day at work, but the construction of something so large was new to me.   Even though we had vastly more space in our old home than our current home, finding a space to lay out 42 15 inch blocks wasn’t easy.  Also, it wasn’t always easy to see the contrasts between fabrics when laid out;  there are a few blocks that I now wish I would have placed differently.  But this a minor thing for I am immensely happy with what was created by me with the help of a talented quilter.

This Farmhouse quilt makes my day every time I see it.  When I make the bed in the morning, I smile at the quilt even if I’m not exactly thrilled to be upright.  When I snuggle down for bed, I am cozy, warm and more at peace with this quilt atop me.  What a difference a homemade bed covering can make in a day!  My utilitarian bulk Ikea duvet cover from 8 years ago works just fine, but it is nothing special — it certainly doesn’t give me any warm fuzzy feelings.  Warm, yes, warm AND fuzzy not so much.

Making things is always an experience, a journey in and of itself.  For me, this quilt is part road trip, too.  The fabrics transport me to memories of canyons, rivers, mountains and fun times with friends.  What more can you ask for in a blanket?

Blowin’ in the Wind

Alternative Dryer

Alternative Dryer

Laundry is just a part of life. Even with my very un-complicated laundry process, not to mention minimal amount of laundry, I would still rather do many other things besides actual laundry. However, I like clean clothes and bedsheets just like pretty much everyone else, so it always gets done. Letting the laundry languish until I am down to my most uncomfortable unmentionables is a practice I left behind shortly after college. Is there any way to make laundry more pleasant, less tedious?

Those who know me know that for many, many years I pined for the simplicity of both a clothesline and chickens of my own; two things that signified a backyard and a simpler lifestyle. And, lucky me, I got to have these for a couple of years. Having chickens of my own has forever made me elitist about grocery store eggs, although I am once again a consumer of those bland light yellow things. And having a clothesline made laundry a bit less tedious — it really did. I don’t exactly know why because logically it actually makes the process a bit more cumbersome, schlepping wet things outside instead of idly tossing them into a nearby machine. But something about stepping out, taking a few minutes to hang up things and then letting nature do the rest was more relaxing to me. The breeze did the majority of the work for me and watching the clean clothes gently sway outdoors was a calming sight.

Clotheslines were once the norm and now relics, favored by a select few. Even in dry climates, it is rare to see a clothesline even when more “progressive” green doodads (i.e. solar panels) are abundant. It is such a simple way to save energy (and money) and an easy way to just make laundry lighter, yet no longer common as a part of a household. I have heard of covenants across planned communities that actually ban clotheslines in their neighborhoods because they are unsightly. Seriously? We have gotten to a point where hanging our laundry outside is unattractive yet, culturally speaking, we air our proverbial “dirty laundry” out on the internet for all to see. Is it such a big deal in our culture of over-sharing to catch a glimpse of someone’s undergarments hanging in a backyard? Are we really that nosy to even notice? And, with some of the “fashions” displayed today, are we even shocked by underwear anymore? (I’m presuming that these laws are more about seeing underwear versus t-shirts or towels; I could be mistaken.) I think banning clotheslines in backyards is ridiculous, however I just read my lease, and we cannot have clothes hanging on our balconies either so apparently I too am one of the victims of the ban.

Now laundry is back to being just another chore, another task to cross off the to-do list. I have fond memories of the clothesline and its simple help. I know that one day, I will again embrace this “green” technology making laundry day a bit more pleasant.

Living With A Lot Less

It has officially been a week since I moved into our new mountain town loft.  I arrived with a Ford Focus worth of belongings and a couple of sea kayaks strapped to the roof.  (Sea kayaks in the mountains?  Their next iteration is high-altitude lake kayaks!)  In the car was the following:  my laptop, a folding camp chair, an air mattress, a sleeping bag, the pea quilt, two suitcases full of clothes (one entirely full of work dresses in the event I landed a job as fast as I got an apartment — eternally hopeful, I suppose), a pillow, a towel, two plates, two bowls, a coffee mug, a smattering of utensils, a pot, a pan, a coffee maker, unfinished quilt blocks and my sewing machine.  Of all these things, there are still many I haven’t used.  Not once have I used both plates or bowls.  And I certainly haven’t worn any of the dresses I brought.  I haven’t missed anything, really.  Except for my boyfriend, I miss him — and for right now, that’s it.

I have been able to cook three meals a day without a bevy of implements.  I have used the insides of cardboard boxes as cutting boards and a pot lid as a strainer.  There hasn’t been a single moment where I’ve pined for something else.  And, we have no internet at home which has meant no New Orleans jazz station and no temptation to binge on streaming videos.  Instead, I’ve gone to the library, I’ve listened to all those discs stored in my laptop music library and I’ve taken a few naps.

All this has made me think that I really could live with a lot less.  The last week has been a lot like camping indoors, with running water and a full kitchen.  I haven’t been uncomfortable in the least.  The space feels empty, but there is also something very zen about it at the same time.  Tonight, I’m sure that I will collapse upon the sofa and place my weary feet on the ottoman very grateful for the arrivals.  I believe that my gratitude will be less about my belongings and more about the driver’s safe arrival, and the ability to settle into our new life.  The most important thing arriving later today isn’t an object, it’s a person, it’s the beginning of our next adventure.

The apartment will fill up with our possessions and we will wonder how we accumulated so much stuff.  I’m sure that I will, once again, cull some of my belongings and reduce even further.  I’m already dreaming up all of the craigslist ads for sale.  But all of that stuff is later today and right now I am just going to enjoy my coffee on the floor, sitting in a sunbeam and marvel one last time at the emptiness of our new home, wondering about all the things that will happen within.