30 Apr

When I’m Queen

I don’t know about elsewhere, but on the public radio station I listen to, the President’s address on Saturdays is followed by what the announcer calls “the Opposition response.” This annoys me to no end. Response is for debates and conversations, not addresses. I find this very disrespectful to the position of POTUS. I’d rather hear the “Opposition” give their own address later as a stand alone statement without staging it as a refute.

I am saddened that Obama’s call to stop oil subsidies (you think gas is expensive NOW, it’s subsidies that keeps it so low. Europe pays twice as much than we do and it has forced them to live a lot more sustainably. If the US paid the real cost of oil instead of the cost lowered by subsidies, then solar, wind, and bio would be much more competitive price-wise) was met with pushback that we should be paying less. I believe that, as Thomas Friedman writes in “Hot, Flat & Crowded,” we are driving in a car with poor brakes, in the fog, towards a cliff. The Opposition today seemed to think that we should continue full speed ahead and somehow the cliff either doesn’t exist, or we’ll have time to change our habits as we plummet off the precipice. Yeah, that’s what’s bugging me today.

Had I sat down to write this a few days ago I would have started with my annual contribution check to hubby’s and my IRA accounts. We use our tax refund each year to help with the contributions to either our retirements or our kids’ college funds. We’d write those checks even without the tax refunds, but they do make it easier. What I don’t do is put that refund back into the economy with purchases. So, I wonder, how many people are actually stimulating the economy with their tax savings as the politicians insist is happening? And that top bracket that’s supposed to be using the savings to create jobs — is it really their personal tax savings they would be using? Wouldn’t it be business taxes that define better when jobs could or could not be created? Am I misunderstanding that taxes to businesses and taxes to individuals are different? Do the Bush tax cuts apply to everything equally? Because I’m thinking that yes, it’s unfair to tell the top bracket that they personally are making too much money and should give some back in the form of letting those tax cuts expire for them only. Let my bracket pay too. The Clinton years weren’t so bad. I say let the Bush era cuts expire for everyone — with the exception of the very lowest tax bracket only — because THESE are the people who really could use a little extra cash in pocket.

When I’m queen I’ll let the tax cuts expire for all but the poorest; I’ll cut or at least modify corn, soy, and oil subsidies; I’ll invest in public transportation, wind, solar, and finding a way to use all that fryer oil we create to run the cars we love; I’ll cut military spending, not by asking the military to do more with less, but by rethinking just how and where we want to use the US military (see Weinberger), and by reinstating war bonds or a war tax; I will give women choices; I will recognize civil unions for matters of legality like property, taxes, child custody, and medical decisions, and let marriages be recognized only as spiritual unions governed by individual churches, temples, and other places of worship (so they can define it however their books require); and I’d like to make universal health care a reality, though I don’t really know how to do it (I’m pretty sure vouchers that are not inflation-proof is not the answer, and maybe capping pharmaceutical prices or bulk purchasing power is).

Since I’ll never actually BE queen of the United States, now all I have to do is vote for a politician who’s platform comes close to what I’ve outlined above. Ha. I might as well renounce my citizenship and move to Canada right now.

29 Apr

Shameless Promotion

You may remember that inspiration and creative living blog Crescendoh’s Jenny Doh, spotlighted some of my work recently in her Legato feature.

Now Crescendoh, is hosting a 4-week special feature about the authors of Twelve by Twelve: The International Art Quilt Challenge. Artwork and essays are presented by us Twelves as they rotate in three at a time. This week the spotlight was on ME, Karen, and Helen. Check in next week and the week after for words from the rest of the group.

27 Apr

Aloha Pineapple Quilt Along: part 11 — Pau!

Project Introduction here

Part 1 (supplies) here.

Part 2 here.

Part 3 here.

Part 4 here.

Part 5 here.

Part 6 here.

Part 7 here.

Part 8 here.

Part 9 here.

Part 10 here.

“Pau” means “finished” or “done” in Hawaiian and that’s pretty much where we are with our Aloha Pineapple quilts! After tying the three quilt layers together, all that’s left is binding. I’ll post photos of the process below, but there’s already a glut of excellent tutorials on the web, so links may suffice. First though — to the quilts!

Mine looks great on daughter’s bed, but I have a family in mind I’d like to give it to.
Aloha Pineapple Quilt -- finished!

Jason’s turned out great and really honors the Aloha shirts that gave their lives for the project. I hope he enjoys many happy years under this quilt. (You gotta click these photos to see them big.)

Katie’s bold man-quilt will be for her guy when he returns from deployment. What a great reminder it will be of their time here in the islands.

Lynn brought her top, but has the backing and batting already laid out at home so I know she’ll be done soon. Her’s is a gift for a friend who loves the soft, country colors. I hope that it too, provides years of enjoyment.

I am so incredibly proud of my students. Deb and Kathleen are still working diligently on their quilts and I can’t wait to see their finished masterpieces. We’re already talking about the next class in September. We are going back to a variation of the last project class. It will probably be a pillow and a tote or table runner. One applique project and one pieced project. Yo-yos will be involved. When I teach these classes, my main goal is to familiarize my students with some basic construction skills so that when they see a pattern in a magazine or store, they can say, “that’s applique and I do/do not like that,” or “I see the half square triangles in that design and am confident I could do that,” or “paper piecing sounds daunting, but I actually like it.” What really excites me is when my students take the skills I’ve taught them and branch out on their own.

Katie and I put our heads together to enlarge the half square triangle pillow and make an Aloha baby quilt for a fellow service member and new mom:
Aloha Baby Quilt

Flush with her baby-quilt-making skills Katie also went off on her own and whipped out this blue pineapple quilt for another baby friend:

Jason’s working on a quilt for his niece who’s about to have a baby too. Pink, brown, and butterflies were his instruction. It’s gonna be adorable when done!

So, on to the binding. I usually just cut 2.5″ wide strips from the width of my fabric and sew them end to end (at a 45° angle to reduce bulk), but I hear anecdotally that bias binding wears better in the long run. Marcia Hohn’s Quilter’s Cache (a great resource in and of itself)  has a nice tutorial for both methods and two ways to sew the binding on as well.

Start with a square of fabric and put two pins in opposite sides. Cut the fabric on one diagonal.
Continuous binding 1

Pin together those two sides with the pins, right sides together, and sew with a 1/4 inch seam allowance.
Continuous binding 2

Starting on one long side, mark the wrong side of your fabric with the desired width of your binding (I like 2.5″). I use pencil on light fabric and chalk liner on dark fabric. If you have a skinny strip left at the top, just cut it off.
Continuous binding 3

Pin the two short ends together, lining up your drawn lines, but offset by one row. Also be sure you are lining up the lines not at the edge of teh fabric, but 1/4″ down, where the seam will be sewn. Sew with a 1/4″ seam allowance.
Continuous binding 4

Starting with one of the off-set end rows, cut along your marked lines to make a continuous strip of bias binding like magic!
Continuous binding 5

Iron your strip in half and you are ready to sew it on to your quilt.
Continuous binding 6

I like french binding sewn on with mitered corners. It looks good and it pretty much the default method. Heather Bailey has a nice graphic tutorial here. She talks about glamorous corners, and I have to say, I think mine are more glamorous these days, but that’s just years of practice. The more accurate you are at the corners, the more square they will be.

To sew your binding on, first mark or trim your edges nice and straight and make sure your corners are square. I was confident that the edges and corners of my quilt top were where they wanted, so they are my guide. The batting and backing are left rough so that they don’t accidentally pull back and not get sewn into the binding on the back of the quilt. If I do have to trim the top of a quilt, I tend to cut all three layers since, in general, your quilting will hold everything in place. Align the raw edges of your binding strip with the raw edges, or marked line, of your quilt top. Start somewhere in the center of one side. Leave about a 6″ “tail” and sew 1/4″ from the edge. I’d basted my border 1/4″ from the edge, so I moved my needle position a few clicks to the left to make sure I would hide that basting in the seam allowance. Oh, and if you have a walking foot for your machine, now is the time to use it! Stop sewing 1/4″ from the corner (see my pin). The more accurate this stop is, the more glamorous your corner will be.
Sewing Binding 1

Pull the quilt out from under your needle, but you don’t necessarily have to cut the thread — just give yourself a little room to work. Fold the binding away from the quilt making a 45° angled fold. The raw edges of the binding will now continue the line of the next edge of the quilt.
Sewing Binding 2

Fold that binding back onto the next side of your quilt, making sure the fold aligns with the raw edges of the first side. It will cover up that pretty little 45° fold underneath.
Sewing Binding 3

Rotate your quilt 90° and continue sewing your binding, starting from the fold, along this next side of the quilt.
Sewing Binding 4

Continue around your quilt like this until you approach where you started. Stop about 10,” or even a bit more, from where you started and remove the quilt from your sewing machine — this time cutting the threads. Lay your binding tails smooth on your quilt top and overlap them. Cut the end of one tail square, and cut the other one so that their overlap is the width of your unfolded binding (in this case 2.5″).
Sewing Binding 5

Pin those squared binding ends, right sides together, at right angles.
Sewing Binding 6

Sew corner to corner across that overlapped box of binding. Test it to make sure you sewed across the correct diagonal before you cut off the excess fabric!
Sewing Binding 7

Trim excess fabric 1/4″ from your seam line and finger press the seam open.
Sewing Binding 8

Fold the biding back in half and sew this last section onto the quilt. You’re now done with the sewing machine work.
Sewing Binding 9

Cut off any excess batting and backing, leaving a nice 1/4″-ish of quilt material in the binding seam allowance. Fold the folded edge of the binding over to the back side of your quilt and sew it down by hand near or on the machine stitched seam using a blind stitch. Some people machine stitch this too, and Ricky Tims has a very schamncy way of doing this, but I like the clean, invisible hand sewn method and find it a quiet way to spend and evening or two on the couch.
Sewing Binding 10

When you get to the corners, sew your first side down all the way out into the seam allowance of the next side, making that boat-like angle fold as close to 45° as possible. Folding over the next side will bring that angle over what you’ve just sewn down and should make a nice mitered look both on the front and on the back. Tack that fold down and then continue on blind stitching the next side. I think that traditional quilt show competitions want that miter tacked down on the front side too, but I never bother since they seem to hold up just as well for me this way and I like to just power away at sewing the back side down.

Your quilt has been handled a lot at this point and might want to be washed. I use the gentle cycle on my top-load machine, cold water, and a textile friendly soap like Eucalan. A bed quilt I will more often than not put in the dryer too, on a low-ish heat and finish off the drying outside on the rack. An art quilt that has surface design that can’t handle the stress of the machines, I will soak in the tub and dry flat on towels on the floor.

Enjoy your quilt — you are PAU!

24 Apr

Process and Stash

Felted Soap Rocks

It starts with an idea, of course. This one was an apron that looks like stone. So, a little over a year ago, I bought some lovely stone colored rovings and experimented with wet felting.

Dye Day

On my last dye day, I included some rocky colors and a variety of materials pulled from my fabric, interfacing, and old lace stash. The colors were somewhat dictated by the dyes in my “stash.” I was pretty sure that wet felting would give me the right look, but it can get thick and stiff. So, I also bought the needle felting attachment for my sewing machine thinking maybe I would needle-embellish a variety of textiles into my apron. It’s good to have options.

After much rumination, I finally settled on Nuno felting, where the wool is wet felted into a loosely woven fabric base. I’d seen this done for incredibly gorgeous scarves and wondered if it would work for my vision. Between what I’d bought and dyed specifically for this project, and some likely additions in my stash, I was feeling good. Finally, I got down to work.

I had been procrastinating both because I wasn’t sure which process I’d use, I wasn’t sure how I’d guesstimate the expected shrinkage, and because I was waiting for a nice day to take over the lanai with wool and soapy water. Ends up I have a much better space inside on the kitchen counter, and after 30 minutes of carefully placing wisps of roving, I was glad I didn’t have wind to contend with either! I’ve wet felted before here and here, and felted my knitting here. I’ve done a little needle felting too. But this Nuno stuff was new. It worked great though. My first try shrunk too much, but at least I had a starting point and more supplies (the wool stretched surprisingly far). My second try was the right size, but I was too heavy handed with the colors.

No worries, I figured I’d even things out with more roving and the needle felting attachment on my sewing machine. The attachment works great! It was great fun to let it purr all over my wool apron. However, it didn’t blend quite as well as I wanted for the stone look, and I wasn’t liking how the backing fabric poked through to the front when I felted from the back side (which would be necessary for better blending). So, though I like this technique, it’s not right for this particular need.

I am really loving the drapey qualities of the Nuno. But, I needed to go a little heavier with the wool for the best blending, and wouldn’t you know it, I ran out of the grey roving about three quarters through. I also had to piece together the last bits of my scrim for the backing, but that worked fine. I pulled my favorite bits of lace off the first two tries and resurrected them here. The apron is so soft and feminine, even though it looks a lot like a rock.

Some of the wool (particularly where I ran out of grey) still looked too streaky for my taste. I wasn’t happy with the needle felting, so — what to do? French knots! I’d envisioned a little embroidery on it anyway, so why not a little more? I thought about a trip in to town to Fiddlesticks to see if they had an grey variegated Valdani cotton. But I had no other reason to drive all the way to Honolulu. So I checked my stash. Ooh! I had several greys from a grab bag purchase. Almost two days, and an entire hank of embroidery floss later, it was looking great, but I needed more, and I wanted more dimension. I was thinking Fiddlesticks again and crewel wool. Then I remembered I had stoney grey wool in my knitting stash. That couldn’t be too different than crewel wool, could it? OK, it’s denser and a bit thicker, but it was perfect! The knots are zooming along now, as is the ball of yarn.

Moral of the story — be open to the process and let your stash lead you. Of course, a good stash is important, which is why I buy not necessarily for a specific project, but when I see something I like, or that speaks to me. It takes some will power not to go overboard, but I like the freedom my stash gives me to experiment and to arrive (sometimes circuitously) upon wonderful outcomes.

23 Apr

Sugar High Me

Inspired by a photo and brief instructions in the newspaper, my daughter and I made marshmallow treat “sushi” and musubi. It’s my concession to Easter in some strange way (the colors and Peeps, I guess). (Though we were in the neighborhood of Leonard’s Bakery today and they had Hot Cross Buns, so I got those for Sunday. We ate the malasadas already.)

Peep musubi and makizushi.

I even pulled out the sprinkles to try replicating my favorite nigiri-style spicy ahi in sweets.

More marshmallow sushi

As long as we had Peeps in the house (a very rare occasion), I pulled out the never-used edible markers and made a couple into Pokemon. My clever son dubbed them Peepachus! He made one too, and my daughter just dressed up a Peep bunny.

We’re on a sugar high this weekend.

21 Apr

Military Families

OK, so I watched the episode of The View with Michelle Obama and Jill Biden. One comment stood out for me: unlike in WWII when it seems like everyone understood the sacrifices for the war effort, nowadays there’s a disconnect. I think it was Barbara Walters who said maybe it’s because not too many people know anyone serving in the military (thus the importance of Mrs. Obama’s and Dr. Biden’s cause). She suggested we search out military families and offer our help (a good idea). But, I’d like to add that maybe it’s because, unlike in the 1940s, nothing has changed for us. Sure there’s all the national security theater post 9-11, but that’s more connected to the event than to our military. The last time I wrote about this, my friend Fitzy suggested bringing back the War Bonds, and I think she’s absolutely right. War tax and higher gas prices to reflect the real cost of our involvement in the Middle East and Africa, and war bonds to pay for some of the cost of war. Oh, and let’s drag out the Weinberger Doctrine again and re-evaluate if really even need or want to wage war. We need to make some hard decisions — do we want life to be cheap and easy (then stop the warfighting and the spending as much on our military as the rest of the world combined and use some of that to pay down our debt), or do we want to protect our overseas interests (oil) and be the world’s policemen (and therefore suck it up and pay more to bankroll it rather than less)?

Anyway, enough of that rant and back to connecting with military families. It probably is a good idea to share our stories. Not the “my life sucks more than your life” competition, but just the everyday anecdotes about the differences. Today I was talking about Powers of Attorney with my kickboxing teacher. She’s never had her life so dominated by a Power of Attorney as I have, and we both laughed at the absurdity of me needing one when hubby and I were first stationed in Germany to pick up my vehicle from the processing place — my vehicle that I had before I even met him (and was actually instrumental in our meeting), that I had paid for with MY money, and that was in MY name — but still I needed his permission to pick it up. So there’s a little slice of military life shared.

In a small bit of cosmic alignment, when I was driving home from kickboxing there was a military related story on the radio. It was about the filmmakers who filmed Restrepo — documenting a year in the life of soldiers at a remote Afghan outpost. If you haven’t seen this movie, DO. It’s raw. I thought it was sad — we don’t get the Afghans and they don’t get us — it all seems so pointless. It’s another story shared.

I have a happy story too. When we were stationed in Wiesbaden, there was a whole cabal of captains who hung out together and supported each other professionally. They all went to war together in 2002 through 2003 (yes, you read that right — at the end of 2002 we were in Kuwait preparing for invasion into Iraq) and I think that experience forged strong bonds. One of those former captains just had a baby, and another one is here in Hawaii with us. Actually two are here, but one is in my quilting class — and she wanted to send a bit of Aloha to the new baby. We worked together to use some of her new-found patchwork skills and made this Aloha Baby Quilt which should be on it’s way to proud mama and babe right now. (This is the first entire quilt I’ve quilted on a longarm machine — thanks to a generous friend from the guild who has one and is married to the military herself.)

Aloha Baby Quilt detail

So there’s a few stories shared about the 1% of Americans who serve in the military. Let’s go find some more and bridge that disconnect.

20 Apr

Gas

I just paid $4.29 a gallon for mid-grade gas. Less than six months ago it cost me about $35 to fill my gas tank. Now it costs $60. Do I want my government to tap into strategic oil reserves so as not to stress my household budget during “these tough economic times?” Absolutely not! I want Americans to realize what the Europeans figured out a long time ago — gas IS expensive and there ARE alternatives to two+ cars per family and lifestyles that revolve around driving. This morning I heard a report about a Danish firm working on creating ethanol out of agricultural by-products. I like the sound of that. I had a plan for the US stimulus money that would train unemployed auto industry workers to convert gas engines to run on biofuel not from newly grown corn, but from french fry an other post-consumer oils. Other stimulus money would go to local businesses to be trained to gather and prepare the post-consumer oils for market — establishing an industry standard. Job creation and renewable energy! I figure we’ve got so much fried food that we should keep all that oil from being dumped into the environment and get a second use out of it to fuel our cars as well as our bodies.

No one asked me for ideas though.

18 Apr

Aloha Pineapple Quilt Along: part 10

 

Project Introduction here

Part 1 (supplies) here.

Part 2 here.

Part 3 here.

Part 4 here.

Part 5 here.

Part 6 here.

Part 7 here.

Part 8 here.

Part 9 here.

Oops, I skipped ahead to the tying without covering borders as I had promised. After all your pineapple blocks are finished and sewn together, and the foundation paper is removed, give the whole thing a good press. Now you can add borders if you’d like. These pineapple blocks are pretty intense, and though I don’t always add a border to everything I sew, I think this really calls for something to finish it off.

Katie’s was pretty straightforward. The solid color in her pineapple blocks is black, and the background in her border print is black. All the colors coordinate, and the scale of her border fabric is a nice contrast to the scale of the pineapple blocks. So a nice wide border was all she needed.

The rest of us liked the look of a thin border of our solid fabric, followed by something that pulls it all together. I used the last scraps of my fabric to piece this piano key border. I made four strips of “keys,” each long enough to lap at the corners.

Almost done!

Remember Deb’s plan with the thin red and then a border of the fabric she’d been using within the blocks? She’s still looking for the right fabric, but I love the this idea of showing in the border what’s been hinted at in the blocks. I also think that this bold leaf design will compliment her bold colors.

Jason has really got the concept of borders down. He’s used a thin orange-ish border on his quilt front, followed by the turquoise fabric he used for the center of each block (ties it all together). The backing fabric he wanted to use wasn’t big enough, so what did he do? Added borders until it was large enough, of course! I like how the skinny inner borders mimic the borders on the front of the quilt.

Adding borders is relatively simple. There’s just a few tips to keep in mind. If the sides of your quilt are different lengths, then simply adding borders the same length as each side will only emphasize the wonkiness. The solution is to ease opposite sides to the same length.

If you are confident that your blocks are accurate, then you would know, for example, that a side with 9 blocks that finish at 7″ each, would mean your border strip would need to be 63″ long, plus 1/4″ seam allowance at each end, for a total of 63.5″ long.

If your blocks aren’t quite such an easy number, or you think your seams aren’t very consistent, then you need to measure the quilt top. I like to start with the long sides, so measure the longer dimension of your quilt on each side and down the middle. The measurements should be within an inch of each other — less if it’s a smallish quilt and if you are a consistent sewer. Take the average of those three measurements and cut two strips of your border fabric to that length and your desired width for that border (we chose 1.5″ for our skinny borders, and 3.5″ to 7.5″ for wider ones).

Pin each end of your borders to your quilt and then add more pins along the length, gently easing in any discrepancies. Sew, using a 1/4″ seam allowance, with the puffier fabric underneath (whether that’s the border fabric or the pineapple blocks). The feed dogs on your machine will help take up a little extra fabric, making it easier to sew a smooth seam.

Now measure, average, cut, pin, and sew the shorter sides. Voila, you have a border. If you want several borders, like Deb’s proposed thin and wide ones, sew the first (thin) border on all four sides, then repeat the process and sew on the second (wider) border. For my piano key border, I sewed four strips of piano keys longer than I needed them, then trimmed the length to size when I was ready to sew them on, as if they were one solid fabric. I made mitered corners, which I won’t explain here, but can write up separately if requested (a tutorial can probably be googled, and instructions are in many quilting books).

Lynn is working on half square triangles for a border. Because you don’t necessarily want to cut a triangle off willy-nilly (it will look markedly different than all the others in the row), a pieced border like that will require a little advance planning. I like to add a thin border first that will take the quilt to an easily divisible number, like two (which will be the finished size, in inches, of the half square triangles). Then divide the length of the sides by that number and you’ll know how many to make. plus four for the corners.

Happy bordering!