Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Happy Tuesday!

I haven't posted in a few days so I thought I'd check in and let you know I'm still here!

First of all-- I have a lot of names in the hat for the calendar drawing. All you have to do is comment on ANY posting on here, or send me an email, or even call me during the month of January. Any form of communication is fine. If you just let me know you're reading this blog, you're in the drawing. I'll be selecting a name at random (really- I just pull a name out of the hat) on February 1st and the lucky winner will find my LAST 2009 quilt calendar in their mailbox. Now isn't that easy?

I was in Philadelphia for 10 days. While I was there, my DH did a wonderful job of shipping for me. But there is a large pile of "action items" on my desk that will take all week to work down. While I was gone, I got 2 fabric shipments. I have 2 new fabric collections to get listed on the website. I'm SO EXCITED! I am starting some block of the month programs on the website and now that I have the fabric and patterns I can get started.

I'm sorry I haven't finished the January Bag yet, but I will- I promise! And I have a February bag ready to get started.

Speaking of block programs, In addition to the block programs on my website, I'm going to start a FREE block of the month on the blog. The free block pattern will be posted on the LAST SATURDAY of every month. Here's how it will work. You will be able to use your own stash and make the blocks at no cost whatsoever. If you want yours to look exactly like mine, you will be able to order the block kits for $3.00 each plus actual shipping on the website. At the end of the year, I'll give you some setting options and ideas for what to do with your 12 blocks. You will be able to do all of this from your stash- no pressure to buy anything. If you really want yours to look exactly like mine, you will be able to purchase finishing kits from the website. I'm really not trying to make money on this- it's just a fun thing to do with customers and friends. The patterns will stay posted indefinitely and the kits will be available for a long time (at least a few months into 2010) so you have plenty of time to think about it or jump in any time during the year.

I have lots more to blog about but that stupid pile is sitting on my desk looking at me. It's telling me to stop playing on the blog and get to work!

Have a happy Tuesday, and try to find a few minutes today to quilt.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Mel's Sparkly Stack n' Whack

I'm in Philadelphia visiting with family and I have the pleasure of sleeping under a wonderfully fun quilt that my niece, Melanie made for her sister. She used the Magic Stack N' Whack book (the first one, I think) for the pattern.
The print for the blocks was a stripe- I think it turned out really cute!
This was the first quilt Melanie ever machine quilted. She used a variegated thread on the print, and a metallic thread on the dark blue background.

So there you have it, my blog buddies! No excuses that special threads are difficult to work with. If a first time quilter can use metallic thread to do a queen-sized quilt on an older model home sewing machine- you, too, can be successful with any thread you choose!

Speaking of thread challenges- for you newer quilters out there- if you are struggling with thread skipping or breaking or generally mis-behaving, always try a new needle first. And if you are using old or poor-quality thread, that may be the problem. Before you try the more expensive fixes- change the needle and make sure you are using good thread. On more than one occasion, I have skipped the needle change because I THOUGHT the needle SHOULD be ok. Not smart. Just check the needle first.

Cute quilt, Mel!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day

I'm SUPER busy this week, but I took time today to sit and watch the inauguration. You won't see political commentary on this blog. I tend to get myself in trouble when I share my opinions with people who didn't ask for them. I believe in God and I always vote. That's all I'm gonna say about religion and politics on here. I'm not going to tell you how I worship or who I voted for. But I do have a few thoughts to share about today that are of a more general nature on life and patriotism.

I'm a sucker for big historic events. I remember watching the FIRST space shuttle liftoff.... and the second.... and the third. I always go outside late at night and look up at the sky when the weather reporters tell us there is something special to see. Last year I drug my husband outside one very cold night to watch a meteor shower. I remember getting up in the wee hours of the morning to watch the wedding of Dianna and Charles. Years later, I watched Dianna's funeral. I never miss a state funeral, famous wedding or inauguration when they are broadcast on TV. I don't even care for sports, but I watched the Phillies last month as they made me proud to have grown up in Philadelphia. I don't care what country, or what political party- I just love history. I love being a part of something big-- thinking that people all over the world are watching the same thing I am watching. It's somehow connecting- uniting humanity.

As I was listening to our new president make his first speech as the leader of the free world, my heart skipped a beat when he said, "Our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness". Our "patchwork heritage". Did you hear that? PATCHWORK! He said PATCHWORK! (Do you think he likes quilts???) I was feeling something as I heard commentator after commentator focus on the race of our new president, but I couldn't quite put into words what I was feeling until he said, "patchwork heritage". Then it hit me.

When we make our quilts, we work with fabrics that contrast. They may coordinate- but they aren't the same. The difference in the fabrics is a strength- not a weakness. If they were all the same- we'd have a "whole cloth quilt", not a "patchwork quilt". The beauty we create comes from contrast and blending. It comes from using different colors and different values and different textures. The beauty comes from how they blend and how they are interwoven to lock together in harmony. We would never make a patchwork quilt and look only at one fabric. One fabric ceases to be important when appreciating the beauty of the interplay of many fabrics.

What bothered me was the focus on Obama's race. Couldn't seasoned reporters find something else to talk about than the color of his skin? I didn't hear anyone point out that Biden was Caucasian. And I heard more reporters talk about Michelle Obama's dress than any other single thing about her. There has to be more to say about her than who designed her dress. (Her dresses were stunning, by the way- I just wanted to know more about her).

Commentators spoke of this being a great day. They spoke of history being made today. I submit to you that history was made yesterday and will be made tomorrow and the next day. History is a kind of patchwork, as well. It isn't just a few special days. History, like patchwork, is about all of the days and how they play together. The world is not a better place because Kennedy was Catholic or because Obama is a man of color- and it will not be a better place when a woman holds the highest office. The world will be a better place when the race, religion or gender of the president is no longer newsworthy. When we no longer point out that someone is a minority, or point out that we deserve a shot at something in spite of the fact that we are in a minority- then we will have equality. When physical qualities and traits no longer hold us back OR move us forward- THAT will be a great day.

Lest you think I'm complaining- I loved watching the inauguration. And I'll be watching the next lunar eclipse in the back yard. Another blogger wrote that inaugurations bring out the best in Americans. Life is good- and it's worth watching!

Our "patchwork heritage"..... I like that.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Old and Cherished

I'm in the City Of Brotherly Love- Philadelphia, PA. I'm here visiting family. I'm staying with my niece, Meredith. While we were spending time together, she showed me some quilts made by her grandmother, Leona Tillman. Leona was from Bayou La Batre, Alabama. She was a "real" quilter. I'm not sure if she ever actually purchased fabric off of a bolt in a fabric store in her life. But she made more quilts than anyone seems to be able to number. She used feed sacks, old clothes, and scraps. Everyone knew Leona would always take your scraps! Leona was my sister-in-law's mother, and when my own children were born in the 80's, a hand made quilt appeared in the mail each time. I'd like to share a few of her quilts with you. I'm not sure, but these quilts are probably about 40 years old- give or take. (As with all blog photos, click on them to enlarge)

This one is a sampler. I don't know about you, but when I make a sampler quilt, it's usually planned- several different blocks with somewhat related fabric sewn together with some sort of plan. Not Leona. Her sampler quilts were leftover blocks from quilts she made- or extra blocks made on purpose to have left over. Then- when she had a pile, she stuck them together in a quilt. Three ladies in a row- add a few pieced blocks- throw in another lady- then a few Sunbonnet Sues- and what the heck- throw in a Dresden Plate.

I remember her tracing around cardboard templaits with pencil on the fabric and then cutting out the pieces with scissors. Oh, wait! I remember doing that myself!!! The difference is that I switched to rotary cutters. She was still tracing and cutting with scissors until her last days. I'm not even sure if she ever got a rotary cutter. In fact, I'm not sure she would have used it even if she had one!

Her family can see their old clothing in this one!
Now THIS one is a real surprise. It's a pretty non-descript quilt- just simple old fabric squares sewn and tied. But look closer.....
If you look through the thin, light fabric- you can see another quilt underneath. The old quilt was getting worn, so she just made another quilt and sewed it on top! My niece told me that she did that twice and there are actually 3 quilts in here- all sewn on top of each other. She was so frugal that she put a new top on top rather than waste the batting. Leona loved her craft. She loved fabric and she loved to stitch them into pretty designs. But the pretty designs were secondary to functionality and frugality. Quilts were for function- to keep you warm. And there was no reason to go buying fabric when you had feed sacks, old clothing and scraps. I don't think it ever occurred to her to hang a quilt on the wall or to make a tiny one for show. Leona passed away several years ago. She, and her craft, are missed. But there are many, many quilts that live on and are loved by the people whose lives she touched.

January Bag- done knitting- now it's time to sew!

I finished the front and back of the bag and used the yarn and a big fat rounded point needle to sew the front to the back. To do that, I put the right sides facing, and stitched around, starting and ending at the stitch markers on the sides. So there is a little space at the top of the sides that is open. Then turn the bag right side out.
I took a fat quarter (I love this batik- and it just happens to be on my website). Laying the knitted bag out on top of a double layer of the fabric, as flat as I could, but not stretching it, I traced around the bag at about 1/4 inch larger than the bag.
Then it's a simple stitch around- to the same points where you stopped at the stitch markers on the knitting. Leave the lining inside out, because that's how you want to put it inside the knitted bag.

Two more steps before the handles go on. We're going to put a pocket in and press under 1/4 inch around the unstitched edges at the top. I didn't think of the pocket before I stitched around the lining. I just decided to add the pocket! You might want to hold off and read the pocket part and put that on before you close the lining up. You'll have an easier time with the pocket than I will. This is what happens when I get inspiration when I have a work in progress!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

January Bag- Finishing the back

When you finish the last group of rows (3-11) follow the instructions for the shaping rows. Then you do the 3 extensions that will wrap around the handles. The pattern is pretty clear- work the first group of stitches, then bind off 3, then the second group, then bind off 3, then the 3rd group. At this point, you will just work each of the 3 sections, one at a time, and bind them off. The back is done! You work the front the same as the back... so you will need two of these.

Now, a few words about blocking. Remember- I own a quilt shop and I also love to knit. If you talk to someone who owns a yarn shop, and she tells you something different- believe her and not me. I hate to block my knitting, but I see the folly of my ways when I cut corners and don't bother. Knitting is so much more professional-looking when it's blocked. We are going to line this and it will be tricky to sew up the sides and get a neat lining while fighting with curly corners. My back piece in the above picture was flattened out around the edges with a steam iron. Here's my understanding of blocking and steaming. Chime in if you have words of wisdom to offer! Blocking shapes a piece to the exact size you need. If you're making a sweater and you need the sleeve to actually FIT you, you really need to block it. When you block knitting, you wet the piece and pin it to a blocking board that is marked with the outline of the pattern, or with a grid that has size markings on it. As it dries, it ends up in the exact size and shape you need it to be- with no curly edges. With this purse, we are going for shape. I don't care if it's an inch bigger or an inch smaller than yours. All I care is that the front and back are about the same size, and that it looks pretty. So... I took a steam iron and ran it over the corners where it was curly. I DID NOT mash down on it with the iron! I just held the iron really close to the knitted piece and pressed the little steam puff button on my iron and gave it a shot of steam. Then I shaped it with my fingers, gave it another shot of steam, another finger shaping, and back and forth a few times until I was happy with it. I emphasize- this is the "cheater" way to "block" the bag. If you're a purist and you know what you're doing- by all means- you should actually block it. Also note that I am working with a blend that can be washed- if you're working with 100% wool, you don't want to accidentally felt it. Be careful with the steam.

I'm trying to work fast to get this done by next week so you will have the rest of the month to work on it at your own pace. Don't worry if you're not keeping up!

Monday, January 5, 2009

January Bag- Rows 10 and 11

When you get to rows 10 and 11, you come to the stitches that make the little poofy triangle part of the pattern. It's not hard- just a little odd if you've never done it before. In row 10, the pattern reads: "P7 wrapping yarn 3 times for each stitch". To do this, you are working 7 purls. But instead of inserting the needle, wrapping the yarn around it and purling the stitch off, you are going to insert the needle, wrap the yarn around the needle 3 times, and then purl it off. (I use my left thumb nail to "catch" the yarn against the needle as I do the 3 wraps- otherwise they tend to fall off). You'll end up with 7 triple loops on your right needle.
When you get to row 11, when you get to the triple loops, the pattern reads, "slip7 wyif dropping extra wraps, then insert left needle back into these 7 stitches and p7 tog". Don't panic! It's not as bad as it sounds! "wyif" means "with yarn in front". When you purl, the yarn is in front- so they are setting you up to do a purl. As you reach each of the triple wraps, slip them from the left to the right needle. They all come unraveled and you have one giant loop. Do this for all 7, and you'll have 7 giant loops on the right needle.
Take the 7 giant loops and put them on the left needle. Squish them all together and treat them as one loop- and purl them off all together. It feels awkward- but just do it. Trust me. They'll look a little tidy-er in a few rows.
By the time you do a few more rows, you will see the pattern develop. You might want to gently tug down on the whole piece and it will look better. Now you see why I want to line this thing! Yes- it's full of holes! Not to worry- just keep going. (remember- click on the picture to make it bigger).

Follow the pattern. When you finish the first 26 rows, go back and do rows 3-26 again. Mark each end (I just tie a piece of scrap yarn around the first and last stitch) and then do 3-11. You put the markers in to let you know how far up to sew the sides when you get to that point.

You'll have a total of 59 rows (rows 1-26, 3-26, 3-11) completed. There should be 51 stitches on your needle.

Did you know?

Did you know that, if you click on one of the pictures on this blog, it gets REALLY big???

January Bag- We're on a roll!

Nine rows done! I said in an earlier post that this is supposedly for intermediate knitters but I thought if you knitted before that you could do this. I've been thinking about that... it might be a little difficult to "see" how to get back on track if you go off course if you're a new knitter. Anyway- if you're a new knitter and want to try a few other projects before tackling this bag, rest assured that it will still be here in the archives if you want to try it later.

I also have a tip for making sure you STAY on track. Leaving the "tail" from casting on at the beginning can tell you if you should be on an even or an odd row. If you cast on with the "long tail" method, the tail will be at the beginning of an odd row. If you cast on with the "loop cast on" method, the tail will be at the beginning of an even row. You can note this on your little cards and get in the habit of looking when you start each row to make sure you aren't working the same row twice or skipping a row.

Another note, in case you hadn't noticed: You started by casting on 67 stitches, but that doesn't stay constant from row to row. The number of stitches on each row varies- there aren't always 67 stitches on a row. (I had to do a double take on this at first).

Sunday, January 4, 2009

January Bag- Getting Started

Before starting to knit, I'd like to suggest a tip that makes knitting patterns like this a LOT easier for me. It will take you about 10 minutes, and you'll be happier for hours to come! For this pattern, the diamond pattern is worked on 26 rows. The stitches are not complicated, but each of the 26 rows are different. I don't know about you, but my eyes never remember where they looked last on a pattern page like this! I know- you can use a ruler and pull it down the page- but then the ruler goes flying when the dog walks by and wags his tail over the page. You can use a stitch counter, but then you still have to look down the page to find the line. You can mark it with a pencil, but you need to repeat the diamond pattern over and over and the page gets messy fast. I like to make myself a little pattern booklet. For this pattern, I cut 26 pieces of heavy paper and punched a hole in the top left corner of the stack. I wrote one pattern line on each piece, then tied them together with a piece of scrap yarn. After working a row, I flip the "page". I always know that I need to start with the page that is currently showing. Really- it just takes a few minutes to do this and you'll be smiling for hours. You have to work these rows 6 times- so it's really worth the 10 minutes!
This pattern is for the "intermediate knitter". I don't know exactly what that means. If you'd knitted before, you can do this. If my little pictures aren't enough, check out the Lion Brand website (where you got this pattern) or Ravelry. I'm really hooked on Ravelry. If you like to knit or crochet, you HAVE to check out Ravelry! Aside from basic knit and purl, there are a few different stitches used in this pattern. Above is M1 (or Make one). There is a horizontal stitch right below the next stitch to be knitted. I have my thumb nail on it in the photo above. Lift it onto the left hand needle and knit it--- and you've "made" an extra stitch (increased one).
This photo (above) illustrates p2tog, which means purl 2 together. It's just like a purl, only you take 2 stitches together. It effectively decreases your row by one stitch.
This photo (above) illustrates p2tog-tbl, which means purl two together through back loops. It's the same as purl 2 together, only you do it through the back. With yarn in front, take your right hand needle and insert in the next 2 stitches on the left hand needle in the back- going in the direction of the point. In other words, you are actually poking it throught the second stitch before the first stitch. Then just wrap your yarn and purl them off together.

There is one other unusual group of stitches that will come up in row 10. I'll show them to you when I get there.

So- we're starting with the back, casting on 67 stitches, and working the first 9 rows of the diamond pattern.

I'll try to work through this project in the first few weeks of the month, giving you time to complete it in January if you want to keep up with the bag of the month. I'm excited- I think this is really a cute bag!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

A Dozen Bags- January 2009

Here's the first of a dozen bags for 2009. This is a free pattern that I found on the Lion Brand yarn website. It's called "Lion Brand Wood-Ease Purse (pattern number 60402)". To get the free pattern, log onto the Lion Brand website. You'll need to register with the site and create a password. I have been registered on their site for over a year and haven't gotten junk mail or anything. It's a really good site. They have a lot of free patterns, as well as beautiful patterns for sale. If you have any trouble getting onto the site or finding the pattern, let me know and I'll see if I can help. I also want to note that they have a help feature on this site, which I've used. I got hopelessly stuck on a pattern once and sent them an email. Within a day, a very nice lady sent me straight with just a few sentences!

I'm making mine with the Lion Brand Wool Ease yarn in wheat, just as it calls for in the pattern. Wool Ease is a worsted wait yarn. It also calls for 11 1/2 x 4 1/2 in D-shaped bamboo purse handles. The pattern calls for size 9 (5.5mm) needles. Circular needles would be great. I'm using straight needles, which my 20-something niece refers to as "old fashioned". She got me to switch to circular needles several years back, but I still revert to my old ways from time to time.

I love this pattern. I think it's really different. I can't imagine using it, though, as my pens and nail files and all the loose change at the bottom of my purse would fall right out the holes! I'm going to line mine, and I'll show you how I do that when I get to that point.

If you want to knit along, go to Lion Brand and download the pattern, get yourself some worsted weight yarn and some size 9 needles, and we'll get started tomorrow. (You won't need the handles until the end).

A Dozen Bags- 2009

The New Year has given me a brainstorm! I love handbags. I grew up in the northeast (Philadelphia). I always remember referring to the thing we girls drag around as a "pocketbook". When I moved to Texas in my 20's, the other women looked at me like I was crazy when I called it a pocketbook- they said, "You mean your purse?". (Somehow, the Texans managed to get two syllables out of p-u-r-s-e) So... I started calling it a "purse. When I moved to Oregon, I noticed that most women call it a "bag".... or maybe a "handbag", although I sometimes heard, "purse". But I haven't heard, "pocketbook" until I was talking to Andrea from New York a few weeks ago. She was going nuts looking through her "pocketbook" for a fat quarter I sent her and I was laughing. I had to tell her I wasn't laughing at her missing FQ, but the fact that I haven't heard "pocketbook" in YEARS! (She said, "What else would you call it?")

OK-- whatever you call it-- I just love to make, buy, and collect carrying containers of all shapes and sizes. So here's my New Year brainstorm: Let's make a bag a month on the blog! Every month, I'll make a new bag and blog about it. I'll find 12 totally different bags- knitted, quilted, or ??? You can make them along with me, or just read along. I'll tag each posting "A Dozen Bags" so you can search for them all together if you come in mid-year.

I'm going to start a few other series projects that you can work along with me this year, too. Stay tuned!

Speaking of projects- I'm still working on my Winter Project (AKA December project). Have no fear- you'll see more of it soon.

Friday, January 2, 2009

January Giveaway

Time for another giveaway. Comment on any post on the blog during January and you'll be entered in a drawing for my LAST 2009 calendar in stock. It's a really pretty one. If you've already commented yesterday or today- you're already entered! I'll let you know on February 1st who the lucky winner is.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year! And the wnner is....

The winner of the blog giveaway book is Susan Cahill of Niagra Falls, NY. Everyone who commented on a posting on the blog or who send me an email is getting a fat quarter and Susan will also receive a book. I'm sending her a copy of America From the Heart.

We're enjoying a relaxing New Year's Day here at home alone. It's a good time to get the decorations put away, and I have to finish up my year-end inventory. I received my very first internet order last January 12th, so I am coming up on my one-year anniversary with the website. It has be a wild ride this first year! I am looking forward to 2009. I have learned so much in 2008, and I welcome the opportunity to learn and grow even more in '09.

I'll be back to blogging later on today- I have photos, another fun giveaway, and a project of the month to tell you about. I just wanted to check in and congratulate Susan and wish you all a VERY happy new year!!!