Saturday, May 28, 2022

My Gardening Efforts

I promised to show you how I potted and arranged those plants that were huddling in the corner of my deck. It will look better once things fill out, the plants that wintered over have revived and started blooming and perhaps the few seeds I planted germinate as well. Let me tell you, it is a much better "after" view than the "before" view of dead plants and empty pots! If you look closely in the upper right hand corner, you will see that the syringa are doing their part too, having recently started to bloom all along the greenbelt behind our street of duplexes.

I was really drawn to yellow and orange blooms this year for some reason, but was sure to add this purple colorway to the orange one I picked out. I realized I was picking flowers like I used to pick fabric - if I couldn't decide which colorway I liked best, I'd buy some of each.

Here's the orange colorway along with this pretty yellow flower tinged with pink. Almost out of view in the upper left is a dahlia. I've never had dahlias before but know they come in so many varieties and colors. I hope this one does well in its pot. Could have bought different colorways of this one too but I only have so many pots on my deck! In the upper right is the pot holding a purple perennial whose name eludes me at the moment which is slowly re-emerging. Out of view on the left is a robust pansy which I hope does better than pansies I've had in the past. They seemed to be prone to mildew and bugs but this one looks much hardier. I have to try because pansies are a special  link to my mother and her mother who, I was told, always said pansies looked like little faces smiling up at you.

This is perhaps my favorite pick of the lot. It was a last minute grab after I thought I had the requisite number of new plants for my pots. It's called funny honey for some reason and because it seemed to have a spreading nature, it has gone in one of my long pots where I'm having a bit of trouble establishing anything perennial. I almost put it back, realizing how heavy on the orange/yellow I'd gone, but just couldn't resist.

I also have a big pot by my front steps that I've never been able to get to look like other people's large front step pots along my street which overflow with greenery and blooms. I just end up with a few blooms barely peaking over the edge. I truly am not much of a gardener, pretty much failing at every residence I've lived at to groom lush gardens. I love roses and tried them at several places only to have them go nowhere and be aphid gatherers. I've planted hundreds of bulbs over the years, never seeing more than widely spaced results in spring. Never could get foundation plantings to shield foundations with greenery and blooms. When we moved to Wisconsin, I swore off gardening, save to continue planting geraniums each year in that big copper tub - the one thing I have success with. So what to try this year? To my surprise, I brought home some double pentunias, a surprise because I have never cared for petunias, mainly because of the sticky secretions coming off them. But this pink double caught my eye and I thought maybe, maybe it could give me a better result.

I went back and got two more so the pot would be fuller with them. I'm hoping they will literally rise to the occasion.

And because they are giving me as much joy as the newly potted blooms on the deck, I share with you some closer shots of those wild syringas.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

A Challenge Story

Here's a story for you - my quilts all seem to have stories behind them. This is a picture of the couch I said the mystery quilt I just mended goes with. Not a very good photo of the upholstery which really does have more green in it but it's the pattern that's important here. It was the inspiration for a quilt I made for a local quilt show challenge when I was living in Brodhead, WI. The theme of the challenge was Seminole, and I'd pondered ever since we'd gotten this couch about replicating that pattern in a quilt. But how to piece something so intricate? I hadn't been seriously quilting all that long, hadn't built up a large arsenal of techniques, and sat at the kitchen table with paper and pencil trying to work it out, about to give up.

And then my husband walked by, paused to observe, then said as he continued on by, "Naw, you'll never be able to work it out." Well, that was the goading I needed (as he well knew as well as he knew that I COULD figure it out) - challenge on! I used the challenge fabric in that center motif, a packet of gradated green Cherrywood Handdyes, and a few other fabrics from my stash. Not quite sure how I managed the math working out the strips that I did piece using Seminole piecing but I obviously did. It's not an exact replica but captures most of the upholstery design.

Look at those tiny pieces!

But that center motif - I just could see how it could be pieced using a Seminole piecing method. Instead, I used a modified version of Cynthia England's freezer paper template piecing method. There's even one template I missed removing - you can hear it crinkle when you press your finger on that place. I haven't had this quilt hanging in the livingroom for years though I've thought of it often, wanting it sharing space with the couch. I've finally dug it out to hang in the spot where I rotate quilts in and out. So wonderful to still love a piece this old (1996) and marvel at how I did it. I'm losing my patience for such fiddly work!

Sunday, May 22, 2022

The In Between Time

This week found me not quite knowing what to do with myself. I'd recently seen something about this phenomenon fairly common among artists. You make the big push to finish a project, setting all else aside, and then once done, you sigh with satisfaction but realize you hadn't thought about what the next project would be. You wander about, trying to remember what else you had in mind, whether it be a new piece of art or a bit of neglected housework. The driving goal that had kept you moving is gone and you've yet to decide on the next one, leaving you a bit uneasy in this in between time. Doesn't matter if your to do list is long or short, it can take a few days to find your bearings and get back to work. That's where I found myself and this is how I got myself going again, getting these plants that had been huddling in the corner of the covered deck until our nights quit dipping below freezing into their planters. Pictures of the final arrangement to come.

Then it was a ponder as to what my next "finish more" project would be. That set me on spin cycle so I decided to finish filling out the documentation sheet for the fat quarter quilt. That led to getting out those pieced sections that I figured were my step by step samples for making the blocks when I taught the class. Sure enough, when I laid them out, they will make a complete block when sewn together. And then what will I do with it? At least it will be out of the book.

"Pennsylvania Eye Popper"

I sensed what I needed to do next before diving into another quilt project was something I'd been putting off: mending the quilting on a quilt I use all the time while I am sitting or napping on my couch. I completed this mystery quilt in 2000 and when I showed it to the group of ladies I sewed with at the time, they oohed and aahed and said "You're NOT going to USE it, ARE you?"Well, yes, actually. The colors matched my couch, it didn't have expensive fabric in it, and I really liked the pattern that unfolded as I worked through the mystery quilt directions.

Look closely to spot the line of loose invisible thread in the center of the picture

So 22 years and several washes later after nearly daily use, it's not surprising that the quilt is showing some wear. I'd noticed lately that when I slid my had down to grab a piece of it to pull up over my lap or shoulders, a finger or two would slide right under a loop of stitching that had come loose. As time went on, I realized this wasn't just one bit of stitching, but quite a few places that had come loose. I'd used invisible thread on the top and cotton thread in the bobbin and I suppose that invisible thread was the culprit, wearing through the cotton thread. 

A strand of broken cotton thread on the back. I bought 2 colorways of that fabric!

I realized the sleeve on the back was coming loose as well, to the point that I finally took all the stitching out, never planning to hang it for display again. (Can you believe this got an Honorable Mention at the Ashville Quilt Competition?) Oh, I was NOT looking forward to fixing this, having worked on a different quilt whose stitches had broken for entirely different reasons. But time to bite the bullet while I still had the ironing board next to the sewing machine to rest it on as I sewed.

One of the longer failed stretches between the arrows. You can just make out the invisible thread looped over my finger.

I thought I'd found all the loops of invisible thread where I needed to sew new stitches and was a bit surprised to find that all of the stitches that had failed were the stitch in the ditch ones. All of the free motion stitching seems fine. Back over my legs that night, I purposely ran my hand over the entire quilt and found many more places needing mending. I tied yarn around the loops so I could easily find them when this went back under the needle. The failed stitching could be as short as an inch or as long as four. But I think I finally found them all and snipped off those loops on top. As always, click on any photo for a larger view.

I kept thinking, this is really something. I can't think of another quilt I own and have used that I've had to repair because of wear. Granted, this is some of the first cotton fabric I purchased for quilting before quilt shops with quality fabric became a thing and picked for this project because of that, in case I ended up not liking the pattern when the mystery was revealed. I even found one spot where there's almost a hole worn through one spot. I still have pieces of all of these fabrics so I could even patch it if it came to that. And I can't imagine replacing it with something new. This is my ultimate comfort quilt that I don't have to worry about being careful with. 

Also really something, my studio appears to have swallowed another tool. The curve-tipped scissors I keep by my machine for snipping threads close to the fabric were nowhere to be found when I sat down to repair this. Again, I've tried to retrace my steps, pretty sure the last time I used them was when I was burying those last thread tails on the fat quarter quilt, and have looked in all logical and illogical places to no avail. Again, I worry they fell into the wastebasket and went out with the trash. But if I stop looking, I suppose they will magically appear, just like that favorite screwdriver.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

A Name and More Shrinkage

Forgive the uneven lighting

Here it is on my bed - my fabulous fat quarter quilt nearly 20 years in the making! Yes, not much of an overhang but that's not an issue for me. I was just pleased that it dropped over the edges of the bed at the border.

It took an overnight soak in 20 Mule Team Borax and two washes with hour-long rinse cycle soaks with vinegar added to finally get all the cigarette smoke odor out. But I think I did. Didn't put it in the dryer though as one internet suggestion warned against it. Instead, I spread it out in the livingroom to airdry with a fan moving air over it. Here's the back showing the two reproduction fabrics on either side of the Dutch reproduction border fabric - I love it as much as the front!

I'd forgotten that when quilting the main part of the top, I'd left a lot of tails in the back to bury. I found most of them before the wash but found several more afterward. It's like this quilt refuses to be fully finished.

After I'd done this overall paisley quilting as an experiment, I was disappointed in it and wished I'd just quilted like I normally do - lots of stitching in the ditch and straight lines. And it bothers me a bit that changing bobbin thread to match the backing as I moved over the dark strips at the sides was not a practical option.

However, when I got it out again to quilt the border, I was surprised to now kind of like it. I was reminded of what Angela Walters always says about not worrying if you make mistakes or your stitches aren't even because when done, all you'll see is the beautiful texture. She's turning me into a believer. And goodness, can you actually see that tiny sliver of piping in the binding? Not sure what I was thinking to make it so narrow (maybe the widest I could do with the fabric left?). It's almost a conversation piece and I'm playing in my head what my descendants will make of it - lol. Certainly not necessary but all the same, a nice little accent.

All that was left now was to ink in a little information on the back. (Boy am I glad I don't have to sew a sleeve on!) I've been calling this my fat quarter quilt because its true name picked so many years ago is so very long. The original pattern was called "Hot Apple Cider" no doubt because of it cider-colored palette. But my palette reminded me of something else so I decided to call it "Blueberry Jam and Toast . . . With Eggs Over Easy!" I always use a Pigma Micron Pen when writing on fabric which is not always easy, the felt nibs catching in the weave. I've been seeing a lot about Pigma's newish PN pens - same permanent archival ink but with a plastic nib (thus the PN designation), so picked one up on a recent trip to Michael's. Oh My Goodness! It glides right over the fabric and leaves a beautiful line of ink.

Wool batting sample hand quilted on left, machine quilted on right

I'd measured this quilt before binding in order to estimate the amount of binding I would need and it measured 87" x 69" which was a little bit of a surprise. Before quilting it had measured 89-1/2" x 71, and while I am used to a quilt shrinking up a bit from quilting, this was more than usual, no doubt because of the density of the quilting. But since it has been so long since I've finished a piece that would be washed, I totally forgot about the additional shrinkage from the batting, and I lost a lot. Now my quilt measured 83 x 67-1/2. At one point in my traditional quilting journey, I got into making batting samples per Harriet Hargrave, the ultimate source for all things technical and otherwise having to do with batting. Few surprises, she offered, if you've taken the time to do a batting sample which among other things, will tell you how much shrinkage to expect when washed. I divided my samples in half, machine stitching on one side and hand stitching on the other (because it makes a difference sometimes in how much is drawn in). Out of curiosity, I dug out the one I did for the Hobbs Wool Batting I used in this quilt (above).

Total shrinkage of this sample: 6.5 - 7%

On the back side you record all the pertinent information: type of batting, type of fabric, if anything has been prewashed, starting size, size after quilting and size after washing. And there it is, a really high percentage of shrinkage with this wool batting (most cotton battings run around 3%). On a smaller piece it might not matter, but if you are planning a quilt for a bed that drops a certain amount over the sides, you'd do well to know how much shrinkage to expect and figure dimensions accordingly. You can lose 3 to 7 inches before you know it.

Over the years, I've settled into using pretty much the same few battings that give the different looks I want and that I am so familiar with how they behave so I haven't made a batting sample in a long time. I still have my stack of samples from when I was trying almost everything that was out there, and every now and then, pull them out for reference if I need a reminder of how a particular batting looks and drapes when quilted. Would I spend the time to make up a sample if I find a new batting to try? I should but I'd probably just sandwich up that quilt and hope for the best!

Sunday, May 08, 2022

A Little Spring, A Little Binding

Spring is finally ramping up although the temps are still cool and overnight it is still in the 30's. Still, that hasn't stopped the birches behind my place from doing their spring thing (above), neighborhood trees from blossoming and daffodils and hyacinths from bursting forth around the building where I went to early vote. It is all very uplifting.

Also uplifting is getting that binding on my fat quarter quilt. Here's a trick I picked up a long time ago, don't remember where, but I find it an excellent way to keep those long lengths of binding from getting tangled as you add them if, like me, you don't pin the binding on before starting to sew. You just fold the binding accordion style and thread the folds onto a large safety pin. This sits in your lap as you apply the binding, and as you need more, you just remove one fold from the safety pin.

As I turned the sewn-on binding to the back and pinned, I could view how evenly that bit of piping/flange showed. Not perfect, a few places where it is narrower than in others, but overall I am quite pleased, thinking "close enough for jazz." And I am also pleased with those corners where I lapped the piping rather than included them on the binding for a miter. If you click on the picture for a larger view, you can just make out the stitching along the binding seam which I did in a gold thread that matches the gold fabric well.

Doing the second thought thing, I wondered if I really should have done the piping between the border and the quilt top rather than in the binding. Nevertheless, it does give the edge a nice pop of color. Now for a good soak in vinegar and a wash. 

And since it's Mother's Day, and I've been back to scanning old slides, here's one from 1955 of little me being held by my mom, and her mother, my grandmother standing on the other side. My grandparents died when I was about 5 so I don't have many memories of them or photos either so this one feels very special.

Sunday, May 01, 2022

Piping or Flange?

I'd stopped by my local quilt shop to pick up some needles and got to chatting with the owner about this quilt and my tentativeness about adding the piping. She was quick to suggest that I merely needed to sew the piping to the binding so that the two could be applied to the quilt in one step. She took me over to a wall quilt on display to show me the flange that had been added in the binding. Yes, flange. She kept saying flange; I kept saying piping. Granted my piping which will show just 1/8th of an inch has no filling so may not technically be a piping, but the flange on this shop sample was very wide (more than a 1/4 inch less than a half?) so I could see why she kept referring to it as a flange. Couldn't resist a google and it appears that size may indeed be the difference between piping and flange, piping being narrow, flange being wide.

Be that as it may, I just couldn't bring myself to sew the piping to the binding first, mostly because of the bulk it might create at the mitered corners. I plan to machine sew the binding from the front after it has been turned to the back, and getting into those corners at the miters is tricky enough. But also because I don't trust myself to keep all layers even since so little of the piping will be showing. I guess it's another case of control for me. The piping is now machine basted in place and we'll see how evenly I can get that binding sewn over it.