Sunday, November 8, 2015

It's Off The Machine

Before I begin, I have to state: I am so tired. I do not remember a time when I was more tired. I can hardly hold my eyes open to type this...

I just took the quilt off the rails and the yawning and achy shoulders and everything tells me I should not even attempt trimming off the excess fabric and batting.
I'm going to bed!

Okay, It's Nov. 8 and the quilt when on the machine on Oct. 15. This means it's been under way for 3.5 weeks and I have spent almost every day between working on it. A little here, a lot there.

What has taken the longest is not the actual stitching but rather the deciding on the designs I wanted to try to make. After I had blocked in all the 'negative space' squares on point, I waited to see how it looked before deciding on the filler stitches between them.

 Above you can see how I treated the lattice work and how the circles push down the background.

After the good night's sleep, I felt ready to tackle the trimming up. The quilt measures 86.5" square and is the widest one I've done on the Tin Lizzie 18.

Now, all that is left is to figure out how I will bind it. I'm leaning on using all the leftover strips from the fabrics I used in the center. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

And In Full Disclosure

I am a cluttered quilter.

But I'll get to that fact in a moment... bear with me.

One thing about quilt making that I've had issues with is hiding the threads that invariably come with machine quilting. Doing a pantogram or all-over design gives you the ability to start and stop somewhere off the quilt but when you work on custom-quilting designs, you start and stop wherever is best for the overall quilt. This means you end up with lots of threads all over the place and these must must must be hidden in the center of the sandwich, hopefully snug in the batting and unobservable from the front.

Burying threads is very easy, but time-consuming and can be hard on the back if you wait til the very end to do this. Recently, I began burying as I go and all you need is a 'self-threading' needle and a small pair of snips.

Slip the needle in right where you see the threads and out somewhere where there is thread-work already created or, anywhere you know you're going to add more. This is because you want those threads to get secured and not work their way loose over time.
Now, pop the threads through the eye of the needle (there's a space at the tip-top where they just pop in and don't easily pop back out. Over time and use, this gets worn out and can also break. They don't last forever.)

Pull the needle through the fabric and drag the threads out the other side....

.... and snip away the excess. Easy-peasy... and use a small square of batting to drop the snipped threads on or they'll end up all over the place.

If, over time, you get in the habit of doing this as you finish an area, you won't end up with hours of burying threads when you take the completed quilt off the rollers.

Now, here is where we return to the first sentence: I am a cluttered quilter and this is what the quilting frame looks like on a good day.

You can see I have a magnifying glass, screw drivers, tweezers, bobbins, paint brushes, markers, rulers and sheets with quilting designs. AS I say, this looks pretty organized than it usually does.... but look at all those nifty places a teeny tiny needle can get lost in and usually does!

I have spent an inordinate amount of time searching for the little devil because I can't seem to put it in the same place every time I use it but now I have the perfect solution:

This is the Needle Nanny and Peeper Keeper, a 2 in 1 magnetized device that snaps securely and easily on my shirt and keeps track of the needle. I can slip my reading glasses in the loop instead of on top of head, as well and it looks like a cute little brooch. 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

West African Peanut Stew

I remember, years ago, watching a talkshow host (could it have been Dinah Shore? ....way before there was an Oprah or a Martha) interviewing a woman who taught the audience about this West African stew using peanut butter and heavy spices and okra.

I remember being intrigued.

From that time forward, whenever I think about okra, this recipe-memory surfaces but until today, I never pursued the activity of making it.

This morning, while out in the garden harvesting the penultimate crops, my mind once more resurrected the image and I could swear I was smelling the fragrance of a dish I have never tasted. So, I searched the innertubes and found lots of recipes to follow.

And I do mean, LOTs of recipes and they were all variations on the theme, so while I have never tasted this dish before, I want to set about making a meal using what I have on hand & (obviously) tastes great.

What is even more exciting is learning that eggplant features in the recipes!!!!!! Well, whaddaya know!!! I have all that and then some... check it out.
There are 3 different variety of eggplant we planted in the spring and two are only now bringing forth the little Japanese eggplants. The bushes are large and multi-branched but the fruit is tiny, almost absurdly so but big on taste and texture.

I start with this!

I have selected about 20 okra fingers and enough eggplant to chop & measure (about 1.5 cups of okra and eggplant each).

Bacon grease
1 finely chopped onion
1 Tbls minced ginger
1 fat clove finely chopped garlic
1 finely chopped bell pepper
1 small finely chopped hot pepper
3 - 4 tbls catsup
1  coarse chopped sweet potato or butternut squash
1.5 cups eggplant, cubed 1"
1.5 cups okra, sliced into 1/2" rounds
3 cups chicken stock
3/4 cup peanut butter
* Penzeys Berbere Spice
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 coriander powder

In a large stock pot, saute' the onion in about 2 -3 Tbls of bacon grease (you can go olive oil if you must) for 3 minutes, and add ginger and pepper. Saute' a further 3 - 4 minutes and add all the spices. Add catsup and peanut butter. Stir well and you will see the ingredients begin to stick to the bottom of the pot. Add the stock and stir until well-blended.

Now, add the eggplant  and cook for 10 - 15 minutes. 

Add okra and sweet potato or butternut squash. (I substituted out the potato because I have lots of squash from the garden and they have the same texture.) Cook low, for a further 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to be certain nothing sticks on the bottom.

Oh, man is this ever good! I was concerned, too, because while researching I read reviews of some of the online recipes; some people gave them high scores but others were downright abusive: "I threw the whole mess away!" really? in the same recipe? Could it be that bad with those ingredients?  No. It is aromatic, creamy, packed with flavor, exotic and I can't wait for lunch tomorrow.

Chunked chicken pieces can also be added for more protein but as a Meatless Monday, this is great as it is. Go vegetarian and use anything other than the bacon grease.
Serve with couscous or basmati rice.

* Addendum - Berbere spice is a blend from Penzeys Spices which includes fenugreek, cumin, allspice, pepper  etc. It is an amazing blend that just transports me to another continent every time I use it. I went this route because the various recipes had a laundry list of stand-alone spices, most of which are in Berbere so I just cut to the chase.

If you buy and use this spice for the first time, disregard the use instructions on the back where it suggests starting with 1 TABLESPOON and adding more. Oh dear God, no. Most people will find that so hot that it will kill off the flavors of anything else that happens to be included. I learned this the hard way. Sneak up on the heat......

I like the spices from Penzey Spices. I was introduced to this brand just after Katrina and have to say the flavor and freshness is outstanding. You can order online or find shops in large cities (except New Orleans, for some reason. I guess they don't think we're much into food down here).

HOWEVER, the political agenda coming from this business in some emails and catalogues is way over the top. If you don't want me to buy your spices because I disagree with you, I can accommodate that. I don't need to pass a litmus test to be deemed worthy.  Just sell me the spices and leave me alone and in return, I won't proselytize you or the employees. Really, I just want to cook, and spread the fragrance and share. 

"Can't we all just get along?"

huh..... I just received another email...... and it's perfectly neutral. Thank You!

Friday, October 23, 2015

Further Along

If you think I seemed to be behaving in a cagey sort of way by not showing what the quilt looks like in it's fullness, you would be correct.

The reason for this is straight-forward. I don't want to.

I want to focus on the quilting motifs and the learning process because I think lots of quilters are in the same situation as I often find myself: How Should I Quilt This Top?

The answers, I have found, can reveal themselves if I take the time to look and listen and learn.

The Modern Quilt Movement has certainly taken my notion of quilting in a different direction in the past 8 or so years. I enjoy the open spaces (or negative spaces) that they feature, because this opens the opportunity to wander around and create secondary designs in free-motion quilting. This is IMPORTANT to ME because I do NOT have a programmable computer assisted long-arm machine. Everything I do (or attempt to do) is guided by my hand so I am NEVER going to end up with a flawless quilt. Ain't Gonna Happen.

What to do. What to do?

Which brought me here to this video by Karen Hanson of Quilt Expressions. It will take 58 minutes of your life and add years to your knowledge.

If you don't want to take 58 minutes out of your life, take this piece of advice from Karen.

I paraphrase: Quilt what you can.

This means (to me!) you should not let what you don't know how to do stop you from trying to learn to do it

I loved how I was starting to see quilting in wide open spaces in big quilts but I had no idea to do this without a computer. This is where Research  comes into play and I can't stress it often enough... I love living in a world of 24 hours Search Engines. 

I wake up so early in the morning.... and I begin pouring through search engines and find great inspirations like Green Fairy and Quilting in Negative Space on Pinterest.  

Green Fairy Quilting, Judi Madsen, actually demonstrates on YouTube how she goes about marking her tops and using straight-edge rulers to guide her machine and break down the "big picture" into workable areas. 

Allow me to emphasize: These are not the acrylic rulers you use to cut your fabrics. They are thicker for a good reason. You run your hopping foot along the edge of them and if they are thin (like a rotary cutting ruler) your hopping foot can hop right on top and the needle will shatter it. I know this from Experience. I experienced it twice, for good measure, because I didn't learn the lesson the FIRST time! So now, it's Knowledge.

With this powerful knowledge, I began to tackle this top. I have now reached one step away from the center and wanted to accentuate the explosive look. So I stepped back and thought about how I would do this.

There are radiating 2" squares in a diagonal row and I thought if I allowed them to come forward and push the 'negative space' down, I could begin to achieve the desired effect. 

Here is the result and yes, I have stitched unsuccessful motifs and taken them all out and started over. It ain't that big a deal.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Never Stop Learning

I bought my Tin Lizzie 18 back in 2008 (I think...) because, like a lot of quilters, I really like making quilt tops but don't like to hand quilt. So, I finally got past the rigid notion that to be authentic, quilts had to be hand-quilted and started hiring machine quilters to finish that part of the process. 

Well, that was going pretty good. There was usually a waiting line to queue in before the quilt even got into the building. Then there was the waiting in line to get the top ON the machine. After that, it went very quickly. A good machine quite is in high demand, and no mistake. These people are artists and I bow down to any one of them who are willing to take this on as a profession.

But, at this point in time, I still had about 10-12 quilts in my closet that needed quilting and I did the math. I could buy a machine and learn to do it myself for only $15,000 more than it would cost me to have this dozen get done by someone who knows what the hell she's doing. Heck, (I told myself) and think of all the driving I won't be doing. (ha)

So, I dropped down into that rabbit-hole called research and went about test-driving all the available quilting machines and settled on the Tin Lizzie. Slightly less expensive than a used car, but much cheaper than a Gammill, the Tin Lizzie 18 even came with a stitch regulator which is a must for when you are learning how to machine quilt. At this point in time, I only use that with rulers and straight lines.

It's a pretty basic machine, no computer so everything is hand-guided all the way. I like that simple aspect. I have modified as much as possible by removing the original lamp which only gave light on one side of the machine and adding two LED lamps. It doesn't get nearly as hot now standing there next to it and I illuminate a larger space. This machine goes in all directions so it's a good thing to be able to see where I'm going as much as possible!

Today, if I had to do it all over again, I think I would cough up the extra money and get one with a computer-driven device as well. It just adds an extra layer of possibilities to your quilting and frankly, learning how to use computers is exciting.

Never Stop Learning.

Which brings me to to today's topic: Learning New Tricks

After learning the basic stitches like puzzle pieces and loop-de-loops, I began mastering what I think if as Dr Seuss Ivy Hearts, my "signature design". This showed up in nearly all of my quilts because it covered a lot of area and could meander in any direction.

Then came paisley. Talk about fun! I used this an over-all pattern on quilts that needed no attention to outer border, which at this point in time I avoided. Until there came a time when I knew I had to step up to the plate and learn how to feather. 

All of this took about 2 years. "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?" practice... and then some. But it should always be fun. If it doesn't start or end with fun, what are we doing?!

Feathering on a quilt, IMHO, accomplished two major tasks: 1. It covers a lot of space somewhat uniformly and 2. it looks like heritage craftsmanship. So, it is vital to learn how to feather without stress, in all directions and shapes.

Now, after quilting for 6+ years and understanding the limitations of my particular machine, I was at a place where I wanted to push out of my comfort-zone and try to add a different dimension to my quilting. After all, the quilts themselves had taken a turn towards the Modern Quilt look, with more open spaces in which to embellish with free-motion quilting.

I began by exploring with Leah Day and taking on more filler designs like wavy water, pebbles, swirls, etc. These can create that 'quilted to death' appearance if you go over-board with them but they really add a layer of texture to a quilt when used in an appropriate area.

When I approach a new quilt-top, I browse my sketchbook of ideas or the internet looking for something exciting I have not used before. Every new quilt is a great opportunity to add to the repertoire of designs. This is how I stumbled upon Judi Madsen, the Green Fairy quilt queen. You want to talk about taking quilting to a new level? She's in a stratosphere all her own.

I watched many of her video tutorials to understand how she develops her designs on the quilt as she goes and this made such a difference in what could be possible. She also took the worry of marking pens away. She is fearless with that little purple pen!

So, I ordered her green ruler, marking pens, acrylic circles as guides and set off to learn how mark and quilt in open spaces without a masterplan but rather an idea in my head. I sort like flying by the seat of pants when it comes to quilting. And I don't mind taking stitches out when something looks terrible.

Here is my first attempt on a GRAND scale. There is more (much more) to come.

Thank you Leah and Judi... seriously.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

It's No Secret....

....I like the fabrics by the Kaffe Fassett team at Rowan Fabrics. 

I got hooked on them when I started working at Bright Hopes Quilting, which carries a very extensive selection of bolts. I'd say, off-hand, we have about 125-150 bolts to choose from and it kills me when we receive another shipment. 

They are not to everyone's liking and that's okay..... the colors can be extremely vibrant or gently pastel. The designs can be anything from slightly 'cartoonish' like this Big Fish Shoal, by Brandon Mably....

to elegantly painted florals of Phillip Jacobs, reminiscent of English chintz..... like THIS!  

Here is "Shanty", which reminds me so much of the west coast of Sweden..... the colors, the small saltbox shape to the houses...

So, where does this Kaffe Fassett come into the picture?...... here is one of his designs I have used extensively... it is just the best!

Kaffe Fassett is an artist from California who decamped for England years ago and quietly went about his business creating some of the most interesting knitting in generations. Yes, knitting.

That has as much to do with technique as it ever did about color-play but it may have been equally responsible for his attention turning toward fabric design. AND HOW!!!!

The team and Kaffe Fassett have written many books on quilts and the patterns to create them along with some exquisite on-site photography. So much beauty, so much research. 

You can read all about his life in his autobiography, Dreaming in Color, a terrific read for anyone interested in what a rich life in art can be, especially if the artist is willing to live with and without.... and isn't this a GREAT cover photo?
I mean, c'mon! Who is so ridiculously handsome!?

So, here I am, buying and using these strange, saturated fabrics in a variety of quilt patterns for the past 12 years. I have (ahem) quite a collection of 'left-overs' as well as fat quarters and yardage....... I thought 'we' had a vast selection to pull from until I visited a shop in Georgia in 2013 and realized.... "Hang on, that design comes in THESE THREE COLOR-WAYS??????" and off I went!

Okay, in full disclosure, whenever I cross paths with Kaffe Fassett fabrics, I basically lose my mind and begin blathering as I carry bolts to the cutting table. "I can't leave these beauties to languish in that shelf! I have to bring them home.... they need to be in a good home......."

And so, I do and I did and they have been piling up, despite all my efforts to use them in a variety of are just a few....

New York Beauty

Lone Star

Double Wedding Ring - Quick Curve Ruler


Hopscotch Too

Can you tell? I really like these fabrics!!!!!

Now, one day in a fit of cleaning up my work space, I was looking at what I had and decided it clearly wasn't enough and went online to add to the pile Kaffe Fassett shot cottons.

What is this, you ask? this 'shot cotton'?

Okay, Shot cotton is fabric where the warp threads (up and down) are one color and the weft threads (side to side) are another.... so they have a natural shimmer to them, an extra dimension, as it were. 

(Thai silk is famous for this particular look but that is silk, not cotton. "Same, Same, Only Different" comes to mind)

Two years ago, or so, Kaffe Fassett and his team released new and fabulous-looking bolts and a book of his patterns based around these particular fabrics and, naturally, I swooned over the fabrics and wanted them like nobody's business. Unfortunately, no one in my area carried any so I had to order it off-line before I could see it 'in person'.

Okay, so I ordered a reasonable amount and variety of colors (less than 3 yards) (seriously) (no. Really! I'm being truthful!) , based specifically on the KF fabric I had yards of on-hand. I had in mind an idea for a medallion quilt I wanted to make featuring the Kaffe Fassett look.

But I need to tell you, in the sad event you are like me and cannot see and feel these fabrics up-close and personal... shot cotton has a looser weave than standard greige-good (which is printed) and certainly a lot looser than batik (which is typically dyed). As a result, these are not the best choice one can make when sewing quilts, particularly if your pieces are small(ish). BUT, BUT, BUT... if you starch the fabrics gently and give them a nice press... they respond quite well to rotary blades and 1/4" seam allowances. (Just don't think for a minute that you are going to needle-turn them without a struggle.)

With what I now, including a generic hank of background white, had on hand, I began
designing and sewing this:
Center Block

As I say, this is the center of what has become a medallion quilt and now, after many months, the quilt is on the big machine and tomorrow, I begin quilting.

I cannot tell you how excited I am!