Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Why I'm In Love With My Perkins Perfect Piecing Seam Guide

I'm still just beginning my Summer Solstice Quilt, but it is definitely an exercise in detail and precision. I truly have to be the world's most impatient perfectionist - I can't stand slow-moving progress, but non-matching points make me crazy, too. So, as part of my Summer Solstice Quilt, I've been looking for ways to increase my accuracy quickly and easily. I remember another blogger reviewing the "Perkins Perfect Piecing Seam Guide" (apologies I can't remember who it was now!). I was able to find one on Amazon for more than it should have been, and even forked over an extra $4 for next day shipping. I'm just that impatient.

Well, what an awesome decision all that was. I am so in love with this ruler (though for the record, I have no affiliation at all with the company or the ruler). It slides under my presser foot and lets me move my needle until I find the perfect scant quarter-inch seam. It is 100% quick, easy, and accurate. And it's so darn small that I can keep it right by machine without cluttering my space
I think the ruler is particularly handy for my Janome Horizon because it eases my transition between Acufeed and regular feet -- a switch I do constantly when I'm piecing. (For those unfamiliar with Janome's Acufeed feature it is essentially a built in walking-foot on steroids. It works amazingly well, but because the Acufeed feet are very large, the needle positions between Acufeed vs. regular feet are wildly different).
Before this ruler, I kept a mental list of needle positions for my most used piecing feet: my regular quarter-inch (O2) foot, my quarter-inch foot for Acufeed, and my open toe foot for Acufeed. The cheat sheet wasn't that bad, but I found myself constantly questioning whether my "scant" quarter inch seams were consistent across all the presser feet. Now I don't have to worry, and I can make the adjustments in seconds. See?

I've also started using the ruler to double check the accuracy of my seams. It's sort of reassuring to do now and then, and helps avoid a huge seam-ripping mess. 

And the best part? I have the most perfect half-square triangles that I've ever made. Time to start sewing them up!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Making My First Dragon Softie

You may be familiar with the now classic "sleeping baby dragon pattern" by Naomi @ NimblePhish. You can find sewists selling dragons made from the pattern in the $100 range all over the place on Etsy and Facebook. I love the pattern, and hope to make it one day for an adult recipient since the appendages are all sewn by hand (using a ladder stitch or button joints). The resulting dragons are gorgeous, but I would fear for their safety if they ever met up with my two year old.

So, you can imagine my excitement when I heard that NimblePhish was introducing a new toddler-friendly dragon, "Doughnut." Unlike his older brother, Doughnut is entirely machine sewn in a single structure (except the wings). I picked up the pattern in a heart beat, and pulled out some dark purple cotton velour that I had been holding on to. About twenty-seconds in to pattern cutting I realized that cotton velour is a delicate beast, so I applied fusible fleece to each piece (for the record, that step takes forever!). Then I added a few splashes of corduroy in lime green and orange for contrasting details. Finally, I ended up with a beautiful pile of pieces.

And then came a sewing extravaganza, which actually took place a few weeks ago before our home renovation projects. The sewing went smoothly once I got his feet sewn on in the right direction, but I would certainly consider this little guy an intermediate level pattern. There are some tricky seams, and generally very little detail or explanation. But, that said, anyone with modest sewing experience (or a lot of drive!) could make their way through this one.
Even though I finished his "skin" awhile ago I wasn't able to stuff him until now, thanks to the arrival of new eyes from 6060 and a new batch of wool stuffing. Unfortunately, while I was stuffing him I realized that something was funky. As you can see, he is a little slimmer and a little taller than the pattern picture. My best guess is that I misinterpreted the cross-grain/length-wise symbols on the pattern pieces, and ended up putting the stretch in the wrong direction. Easy enough to do since I was also compensating for the nap direction. But still, argh. Add in the fact that he is/was intended to be a special birthday present for an amazing friend's son next week? Double argh.
I debated sending him to the Island of Misfit Toys, but thought better of it (for now!). I've been assured that he is presentable, just different than planned. 

Even so, I decided to add a little more personality and charm where and if I could (read: I lay awake for hours trying to figure out ways to redeem him) So, I fashioned a snap-on diaper for him, and made a cut-out for his tail. I also added sleepy eye-lids, which are a feature in NimbleBit's other patterns. And lastly, I added a little bling to his under-wings in the form of dark purple silk. I had to hand-baste the wings before machine sewing, top-stitching was a @%&$@$ challenge, and the silk didn't photograph well, *but* it feels lovely. I think little hands will love it. But for my sanity's sake, I'm never ever sandwiching (real) silk and cotton velour together again. I promise you that much.

But for now, he is done, though I might decide to pin his ears down. I am probably going to vacillate between exiling him to the Island of Misfit Toys and giving him as a gift about a dozen times between now and next week.  It stinks when you work on something and it doesn't come out how you expected. Especially when it's a gift for someone special. I'm hoping that he'll grow on me if I just step-away. Step away! :)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Summer Solstice Quilt

I'm officially dubbing this WIP the "Summer Solstice Quilt."  As I mentioned in my earlier post, my plan is to combine several stars from Faith @FreshLemon's Summer Sampler and Solstice Stars Series. See what I did there? Summer Solstice Quilt. Mmm hmm.

Well, after weeks of procrastinating I finally broke ground on my project. This was my first time foundation paper piecing, and I was so intimidated! I am a creature of habit and paper piecing seemed completely counter-intuitive.  I'm happy to report that everything went smoothly  despite my worrying, and I had a lot of fun! I think paper piecing might be my new favorite thing -- it was so satisfying to watch the little bits come together.

My first star in my Summer Solstice Quilt is the Star of Mystery. I am so thrilled with how it came out! Unfortunately, I'm having a tough time getting a photo that is true to color. The midnight navy is reading as black... maybe my camera is trying to tell me something about 2AM photo shoots.

I will say that this block was hugely time consuming. It took an hour and some change to cut the pieces, and then another couple of hours to complete the various sections. After investing all that time I decided to baste the segments together first -- just to make sure that  my points matched before joining them more permanently. I think the extra step paid off :)

Star of Mystery, all finished!
I'm feeling reinvigorated on this project. I can't wait to start up my next block!

Linking up with Freshly Pieced and WIP Wednesday!

WIP Wednesday at Freshly Pieced

Monday, July 15, 2013

My Sewing Station, Revamped

I had to take a forced week off from sewing to get a bunch of projects done around the house. It was an exhausting week, but among other things, we finally got the dining room painted (also known as my Sewing Station, and the Piano Playground).  Anyone who has taken down multiple layers of wallpaper and then laboriously patched/sanded the horsehair plaster underneath knows my pain. And they can probably empathize with the nasty cough I'm sporting this week, too :)

It still felt really good to get so many of our remaining home improvement projects done. We're hoping to list the house in the fall or spring and it's starting to feel distantly achievable. A dedicated sewing room is high on our list of must-haves in the new house, but in the meantime it's very nice to look out over a finished room instead of old wallpaper. I thought I would put up a few photos since everything is nice and tidy (for a very short time!).

Here is where I sit. You can see how I'm encroaching on my husband's piano area, though this isn't even bad. Some days the piano is un-apologetically covered in fabric pulls and various WIPs.

And here is where I keep a (very small) portion of my fabric stash. Keeping my stash in different places really helps downplay the vast amount of fabric in my possession. A key tactic for sure.

I'm really looking forward to sewing for the first time in my "new" space!

Clothes Making for a Waldorf Doll, Part II

I talked a little bit before about how I was making new clothes for a waldorf doll. Well, dresses are fun, but as any self-respecting toddler will tell you, everyone needs a set of good pajamas. I still think it's a ploy to extend the bedtime routine -- because we certainly can't go to sleep until Faye is properly dressed.

Handmade Waldorf Pajamas, made from a revised AG doll patternNow I'm not a garment maker, but these came pretty close and they were easy! As before, I had to slightly modify a pattern meant for American Girl dolls. I used this adorable pattern from "Little Abbee" on Etsy. I actually ended up having to ask the author a question (a completely stupid question because I can't read at 2AM ), and she was just about the nicest person ever. I highly recommend her and her shop.

The pattern was super easy, and I'm really pleased with the results. It reminds me of the flannel PJ sets I wore as a kid (yes, I was always fashionable... not).  I've since been asked to make a PJ set for everyone in our family -- like I need more sewing projects. Even so, I might agree to make them in exchange for sewing while they go to the park or something. I just can't get into garment sewing! I'm always so afraid it will come out the wrong size! Any tips?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Veggie Redux Pickling Style.... And What to do with Two Pounds of Kohlrabi

Now that summer is finally here, it's definitely harder to find sewing time. Outdoor adventures are calling, and BabyBee wants to explore everything everywhere.  But, not one to be limited in my grandmotherly hobbies, another past time of mine is in full swing. That's right, it's canning time!  So, please excuse the off-topic post while I procrastinate more on my Work in Progress.... but I think this is just too great to skip over.

Seasoned strawberry tester at work
We joined a CSA this past winter, which was something we had been wanting to do for awhile now. The farm is absolutely perfect, and only a fifteen minute drive away.  We pick up our share Saturday morning, stay to pick a few of our own veggies out in the field, and then visit the farm animals. We come home exhausted, but refreshed. And the CSA forces us to eat better, keeps our culinary skills sharp, and provides great fodder for canning.  The "problem" is that every week I have to turn a mountain of veggies into meals. Quickly. And during the work week.
This is just what was up for processing Sunday afternoon, it's not even a quarter of this week's share.
Enter home canning. In just a few hours, I can put up a dozen jars -- relieving the pressure to consume all those veggies quick-quick-before-the-next-pick up-date.  Plus, I just love opening a jar of homemade jam in the middle of winter and reliving these sun-filled moments.

I know that caning can be intimidating, but you don't need a bunch of fancy canning equipment to make a great refrigerator pickle. Besides, a lot of early-spring vegetables aren't candidates for long term storage anyway (peas and radishes get mushy, distinctly not yummy). Almost any crunchy veggie makes good refrigerator pickle fodder, and they will last about a month. Though, good luck hanging on to them that long. I put these in everything - lunches, salads, or snack on them straight out of the jar. Don't overlook the leftover vinegar either, it makes great salad dressing!

Since these are refrigerated, feel free to play with the recipe a bit. Here's mine, adapted from Deb @ SmittenKitchen's recipe for Pickled Vegetable Sandwich Slaw.

Ingredient List:
  • Veggie Fodder - enough to fill two (2) 2.5 pint canning jars or any other large glass jars you have around the house. 
    • Note: Any crunchy veggie will do. Sugar snap peas, carrots, daikons, turnips, and kohlrabi are all tried and true candidates in my household. Though very tasty, be forwarned that radishes and beets will dye your entire batch of pickles *quite* pink.
  • 2 cups white vinegar
  • 8 tablespoons sugar
  • 4 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 4 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
  • Red pepper flakes to taste (I use two generous pinches which packs some heat, but doesn't scare off the occasional pickle-eating-guest)
  • 2 cups cold water
  • 1-2 garlic scapes, sliced the length of each scape
  • A few stalks of fresh herbs, bonus beauty points if they are in flower. 
    • Note: Dill is obviously the classic, but I plan to play around here. Fennel, mint (minus the mustard seeds!), and mustard greens all make my heart go pitter-patter.
Pickle Production!
  • Julienne your veggies. I like a chunkier pickle and slice them into 1/4 inch sticks. 
  • Pack your veggies into the two jars. If you're me, you have fun arranging the veggies into different colored layers. Add the sliced garlic scapes and the fresh herbs to your jars now, too.
  • Bring the vinegar, sugar, salt and mustard seeds to a boil and simmer for a few minutes (you'll add the cold water later!)
  • Add the cold water to the vinegar mix, and let it cool on the counter
  • Once lukewarm, add the vinegar mixture to your jars making sure that all your veggies are completely submerged
  • Let the pickles come to room temperature before stashing them in the fridge. They will be tasty within a few hours, but better after an overnight soak. They should last about a month in the fridge, but as with all home preserves, should be discarded if you note any strange odors or colors. 
Happy Pickling!

Notice how there is only one jar, instead of two? That's because the first jar didn't even last three days.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

New Quilty Work in Progress

I may have bitten off a little more than I can chew on this one. I am in love with my plan, but more than a little intimidated. I've spent weeks procrastinating by sewing up small projects, but it's time to get serious (or at least try!). So, I have finalized my fabric pull, and am hoping this post keeps me a little more accountable progress-wise. I'm going to use a mix of navy, grey, golds, and teal/aquas. The fabrics are mostly Art Gallery's Pure Elements, with a few others here and there.

My mission is to create a series of seven different stars, four of which are paper pieced (first time paper piecer here, yikes!).I'm going to be using a mix of stars from the Solstice Stars Series and the Summer Sampler Series -- both of which were quilt-alongs hosted by Faith @ FreshLemons. I have every confidence in the tutorials (Faith's "Lemon Squares" pattern was my first big quilt, and was a pleasure to sew through), but I'm feeling much less confident in my abilities.

To help procrastinate build my confidence, I've spent a lot of time organizing my project within Evernote. If you've never used Evernote before, I highly recommend it. It's a great tool for saving web-clippings for future reference, or keeping a running catalog of just about anything at all. Since my new project contains seven separate tutorials (and another dozen paper piecing templates!), I created a "master" page that includes cutting directions for each block, and links to the tutorials/template for each block. I also created a visual for myself so I can keep track of all my blocks. I've included a little screenshot below:

I'm a very visual person, so I think it is so useful to have all these things at my finger tips while I craft. Ok, here we go. Time to get cutting!