Friday, August 31, 2012

moving on, moving out

I have been checked out of blogland for a little while now, and doing very little sewing -- except for a quick little bias-cut skirt made from raspberry Hope Valley "thistle leaf" for my dear friend Freda (yes, I have multiple Fri/edas in my life, as I do Melindas!).  Other than that hour of sewing, my machine have seen very little action.

The semester is gearing up, I have been on campus to do advising over the past two weeks (the university where I work, for those who don't know me well, is a 75-minute commute from my home...and with bad weather or any kind of slow-down on the highway, it can easily take me two hours to make the drive).

It was also my birthday this week and my sweet husband arranged for us to overnight on Algonquin island, which is one of the Toronto islands -- just a ferry ride from the financial core of Canada, but also a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of our city.  We rode our bikes to the docks, took long rides on the island -- illuminated by the full moon, drank a bottle of champagne at lakeside, and had another great bike ride the next morning.

birthday full moon, Ward's island

heading home from Ward's island

homeward bound
good morning, Toronto!

Once we were back home, we thrown back into the madness that has been brewing (of necessity) chez nous -- prep for my son's move to university.  Eek.

We have a very small house for a family of 5, so we can't maintain a room for Jackson while he's at university; instead, he has had to sort through a lifetime of hoarding, mountains of artwork and computer gear, trying to figure out what he wants/needs in residence, what he would like to store back at home, and what can be tossed or given away.  I have been pretty concerned about his (in)ability to do all this and do it quickly, but he has definitely risen to the challenge.

getting ready for university move-in day -- not a pretty sight
I will admit that I lost my mommy-cool at one point yesterday, but he is in good shape today -- and now we have very full garbage bins, a few bags of giveaways, and a mountain of stuff in our living room, ready to pack into the car.

And finally, although sewing time has been scarce, I have been dreaming about future projects in fabric and paper, poring over Heather Ross Prints, which is better than I expected, full of project ideas and crafting instructions.  Little Frida adores it.

we like Heather Ross's new book

I also have been knitting a bit -- truly enjoying it again after a long hiatus.  I don't think I want to tackle a large knitting project this Fall: I can't even start to count the number of sweaters I have knit over the past 30 years, and although all were well-made, relatively few were very well-used...many felt more like crafting challenges, intellectual projects -- if that makes any sense -- than processes that produced useful items. I just don't feel like heading down that road again, at least not right now.  So for now, I'm back to making socks!

diagonal lace socks, still in progress

These are the "diagonal lace" pattern from Wendy Johnson's  Socks from the Toe Up, made from yarn I have had in my stash for over five years.  Stash Love, yarn edition :)

And now it's time to rouse The Boy so he can finish packing up his room.  Best to all!

Friday, August 17, 2012

fancy work

Still a bit under the weather, so I'll be brief.

Sewing: I did a little stitching on my Loulouthi hexies last night before bed. That project is coming along really nicely now, almost done...if not for that one row that really needs to be moved....Photos soon.

But wait, there are photos: before I got sick I made a little skirt for Frida, the girl who (generally) wears dresses only.  I really wanted to use my Oliver + S Music Class pattern, which Frida approved of in the abstract, and I also wanted to finally use up (most) of a couple of Echino prints which had been stashed for a couple of years.  I didn't have enough of one single print to cut the pieces for the whole skirt, but fortunately they coordinate and this pattern has side panels that are just asking for special treatment.  So here it is....

Music Class skirt in Echino

She's a happy girl, as you can see.
she's wearing a skirt! Yay!  This is the Oliver + S Music Class skirt from stashed Echino

And as for Washington Square? Done.

I'm happy not to know the critical literature on this novel; it's nice to have a break from that larger discursive realm sometimes, especially when I'm reading to pass the time while sick. Here's my take on it, this novel that feels more like an extended sketch, so small in its scope but with characters so well drawn: ultimately we can admire Catherine and only Catherine, as obstinate and plain as she may be described to be, she also achieves a kind of autonomy. Those around her are revealed to be such fools, all so narcissistic in their individual ways.

The novel ends with Catherine "picking up her morsel of fancy-work," which I'm sure many critics have taken as indicative of both her conventional femininity and a certain pathos and futility. I know that's how most of my students would read it.  But (without spoiling the ending) I would like to think that James has a more nuanced understanding of what a woman's needlework might signify. And it's lovely to have an audience for whom I don't need to spell that out...!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

State of the Stash, August 2012

Thanks very much for the words of encouragement about my vow of stash fidelity!  I feel especially motivated right now...having just brought a new-to-me piece of sewing equipment into the house: my early birthday present was a secondhand Janome Coverpro 1000CP.  If I wasn't feeling under the weather today I would be making sample hems all day long...but I'm not good for much other than sipping tea, reading, napping and (now) blogging.  Soon enough....

Anyway, in what now looks like a burst of pre-cold energy yesterday I organized my fabric cupboard to make room for the new machine.  Here is the State of the Stash, August 2012.

With the exception of long cuts (neutral solids and also prints I can use for backings), my quilting fabric is in a 3-doored Ikea cabinet in the dining room.  My machines are there too, although the 1947 Featherweight (the black box propping the door open in this photo) currently lives on the floor. The Coverpro is the upper Janome in this picture:

state of the stash, August 2012

state of the stash, August 2012

Solids, a few special collections (Birds and Bees, Habitat, Sherbert Pips, AMH voile, My Folklore, Far Far Away II) and dec weight odds and ends are on the shelves above the serger in the right hand cabinet.  As you can see, I have plenty to work with over the next six months.

And in the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that there's also a rubbermaid container full of garment fabric (including cotton knits) in our laundry room and a couple of cuts of shirting cotton in my  clothes closet.  It's a lot.  You perhaps can see why I want to stop the inflow for a while and just create from what I have!

All of this leads me to Stash Love dilemma #1: what if it's free????!!!!

The kind woman from whom I bought the Coverpro gave me about 20 pounds worth of two-way stretch fabric -- about half of it stretch cotton, the rest synthetics including some stretch lace, but the high-quality stuff that dancewear is made from (she had been making dancewear with the coverstitch machine).  She also gave me loads of thread (wooly nylon and metallic) and some elastic.

Zoinks!  What was I to do?  

Stash Love dilemma #1: free knits

Of course, I accepted it. Do you think I'm crazy?

I'm going to figure that this kind of opportunity cannot be overlooked.  And although I had to wash it all twice (even three times in a couple of cases) to get rid of garage-storage mustiness, there's hundreds of dollars worth of fabric here (and one large cut of dark red fabric was still hanging outside at the time I took this photo).  This is all well worth it.

Finally, knowing that I have to look at my Stash Love button for at least the next six months and also that one or two of you might actually want to join me on this journey -- please do! I can promise lots of encouragement from this end! -- I gave button-making another try.

There's less info now (the expiry date of Valentine's Day is no longer there), but at least it's legible!

The Enchanted Bobbin

Back to a pot of lemongrass tea and Henry James's Washington Square.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Stash Love

I am taking a pledge.

It is going to be a little tough, but also worthwhile: I am going to play with my stash -- and only my stash -- for the next six months.

No new fabric purchases for me...until Valentine's day 2013.  

Notions and batting...yes, these need to be replenished, I am under no illusions about that.  But I have loads of fabric for making both garments and quilts and I want to use them!  I want to start to see some clear space in my fabric cabinet.

Of course, the fact that this year we will have a child in full-time daycare and one in university makes a "fabric diet" an appealing prospect too.  But I am going to focus on the positive: I am not denying myself new fabric, I am committing to make nice-nice with the beautiful fabric I have.

I don't expect anyone else to jump on board -- please keep having fun with your fabric collecting, and do tell me about it....But if you happen to be in a similar boat to mine, with a strong desire to explore what you have without taking on any new cargo (I am resisting the image of a sinking ship...there's no shame here), then please feel free to grab my very amateurish little button (there's a code to copy off in the left hand bar...but perhaps I should try to improve this little button since I'll be looking at it for the next 6 months. Why are blog buttons so tricky to make, anyway?! Hrumph).

I'll certainly be happy to provide lots of encouragement to any fellow voyagers -- and could use some myself.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

little dresses

Miss Frida has remained pretty adamant about dresses being the only appropriate garb for her.  We have managed to get her into shorts and tee shirts a few times this summer, but dresses are definitely her apparel of choice.

She recently outgrew a few dresses and has also had some moments of rebellion against the ModKids Frida dresses that dominate her homemade wardrobe ("No dresses with bows!").  Oh well.  Most of her MK Fridas are getting too small anyway, so I suppose it's time to move on.  (I have one more Frida cut out, from a lovely Anna Maria Horner fabric, but I'll try to adapt it so it is a bit different from the usual MKF.)

Looking through my patterns I had the sudden revelation that a few of my Oliver + S patterns -- and they're ones that I had not touched -- top off at size 4.'s now or never (now or wait for granddaughters!).  I cut out fabric for an Ice Cream dress and a Hopscotch dress, straight away.

Fabrics were Frida's choice, which means PINK, lots and lots of pink.

Since I am officially on holiday, I took all day yesterday as a garment sewing day, using patterns and fabric from my stash (which is extremely satisying). I finished off both dresses...and in the evening I made a pretty slinky pencil skirt (from Sew U Home Stretch) for myself.  If it's tricky to get Frida to model a dress (she's wiggly and impatient), it's going to be even harder to get one of me in my new skirt.  But maybe I'll give it a try.

For now, here is Frida in her Ice Cream dress, slightly disappointed that it didn't come with an ice cream cone as pictured on the pattern envelope, but very happy nevertheless.

Oliver + S Ice Cream dress

Oliver + S Ice Cream dress

She wanted to try this one on right away!

And we are both especially pleased with the Hopscotch dress, which I made on my (relatively new) Janome serger (I even used wooly nylon in one of the loopers, I was feeling adventurous!).  This dress is a big success and super comfy in a Michael Miller cotton interlock.

Oliver + S Hopscotch dress

She wore this dress at dinner last night, to the playground, she slept in it AND she's wearing it at school today.  I think she likes it!

Oliver + S Hopscotch dress

I don't own the larger size range of Hopscotch, so I'm going to whip up more size 4s while she can still get use out of them.

 I have (or had) a fair collection of interlock, from a sale last year on, so this morning I cut out pieces for two more short sleeved dresses and two long sleeved ones.

Four more Hopscotch dresses underway

I hope no one is alarmed by the sight of an Oliver + S pattern cut (rather than traced): I'm using the largest size and these pattern pieces have no size-line overlaps, so there's nothing sacrificed here.  I had to trace the Ice Cream dress pattern pieces, and you know what?  I really don't enjoy tracing I'll cut this corner where I can.

The Hopscotch dress is a great, easy pattern -- I recommend it highly!  If you have access to a serger, that's great, but since knits don't fray you really could make this on a regular domestic sewing machine with a stretch or small zig-zag stitch.  Liesl provides some "sewing with knits" guidance in her instructions, and adresses both types of machine.   

I have to admit that all this sewing with knits is making me hungry for a coverstitch machine; the hems you can make on the Janome 1000CPX look so amazing (yes, I watch youtube videos of people sewing hems...doesn't everyone?).

The Hopscotch skirt is adorable...if one were sewing for a little girl who would consider wearing something other than dresses.  Frida has been known to wear a skirt and top on occasion, so I might just have to make one and see if I wrestle her into it....

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

North Star, free motion quilting experiments, and a long overdue review of Connecting Threads cotton quilting thread

As July turned to August I started to take stock of what I have stitched up this summer, and what I still wanted to get done.  It may not all get done, that is fine, but still it felt good to enumerate the projects that are in progress and the ones that I'm itching to finish.

One of those was "North Star," my quilt top from the Made in Cherry QAL last January.

star points for the Made in Cherry QAL

BIG STAR for Made in Cherry QAL

North Star quilt top (Made in Cherry QAL)

I pieced this very quickly over the course of two evenings, and didn't do a brilliant job of it despite the fact that it really is a incredibly straightforward project.  Little inconsistencies in the piecing would haunt me when it came to quilting, and I ended up with a few puckers in the front of the quilt (something that usually bothers me, and that I avoid at all costs) but I was undaunted this week.  What I wanted most of all was to get this quilt top out of the closet and into full, usable quilt form.

I didn't have a destination in mind for this project, so I used this as an opportunity

(1) to keep using up things from the stash and
(2) to experiment.

The batting: at present, I have three queen sized wool battings on hand -- and I am pretty stubborn about using wool only for really special projects.  This to my mind was not one of them.  In the realm of cotton batting all I had were scraps...a mountain of scraps of Hobbs Heirloom cotton.  So I set to piecing a Frankenbatting of scraps.

I'm happy to report that using the techniques shown by Jeanne Harwood in this video I was able to use my remaining Heat Press batting tape much more successfully!  I'm really pleased with this product, although I didn't have quite enough for the whole batting-piecing-task (I think I used about 10 scraps of various sizes) and had to zig-zag stitch the remaining seams when I ran out.  But this tape is something I am definitely going to restock.

As for the quilting: I have a long story to tell below, so feel free to skip over it...but it may be helpful to someone out there, so I will get to it.  First here are some shots of North Star, quilted and bound.  I was inspired to experiment a bit by Free Motion Quilting with Angela Walters.  I love this book!!

I started with an orange peel design in the star (using the dimensions of each square as guide lines), and then divided the four solid blue triangles into sections with some straight line quilting.  I filled them with  "back-and-forth," "double loop swirls" and an odd feathery-fan thing of my own divising.  The corner blue squares feature more double loop swirls.

North Star, quilted

North Star, in use!

North Star, quilted at last

North Star, out of the dryer and right into use
Frida and I both love the yardage of Holiday Happy Gnoma on the back of this quilt!  
So here's my FMQ saga:

When I started this quilting adventure 2 1/2 years ago, free motion quilting was of the things that drew me in right away.

I moved from my little Kenmore machine to a Janome Horizon two years ago (I had the Horizon on layaway from the time it was released here in Canada until September 2010) -- and I had some FMQing successes right away with that machine.

But then I had a run of trouble with it last winter, when the bobbin case started to rebel, popping out of place, jamming, causing endless thread breakage.  It was terribly frustrating, and I ended up bringing it in for a repair (still under warrantee) and a full cleaning.  It was like a new machine when I got it back, but I didn't do much FMQing with it until this summer.

And then it started acting up again, the top thread breaking repeatedly and just not making the prettiest of stitches.  One day while I was working on the border of Bear Pa it jammed. I couldn't sew at all.

I was really panicked and depressed, wondering if maybe I had made a big mistake buying this machine.  Luckily for me, when I called my shop I found that the woman on duty that day was herself a tech and seamstress.  Bleary-eyed and anxious, I drove across town feeling pretty certain that my machine was going to have to go in for another repair.

Long story made short(er): the problem was solved by replacing my needle.  My needle!  I was stunned.  I had been using a Schmetz topstitch needle, I believe it was a 14 (maybe a 16) because I had read somewhere that the larger eye of those topstitch needles would help avoid thread breakage.  But it was actually messing up my machine.

Now that Ms. Horizon and I understand each other better, I am getting some really great results.

quilting detail, North Star
I used blue thread in the needle and white thread in the bobbin here -- and was really happy with my tension blue showing through on the back!  Hooray!

So one thing I have learned about the Janome Horizon is that it works beautifully if treated just so -- it is a bit finicky. Now that I am closer to understanding its particularities, it is quilting like a dream. Here's what she wants from me to be on her best behaviour:

*fresh needles, and the right ones.  I am now using Janome "red tip" needles for quilting with a thick-ish cotton thread like Connecting Threads brand. This is what my tech recommended, and it is the only needle I am going to use from now on.  (For quilting with fine threads like Bottom Line  -- when used as the top thread that is -- she recommended Janome "blue tip." I now have those in my toolbox too.)  In retrospect, I think I should have replaced the needle halfway through quilting North Star, since my quilting stitches towards the end were not as "clean" as those as the beginning (the bobbin thread, which was white, was starting to show through a bit on the top and I got a few loops of blue on the bottom.  I played with the needle and bobbin tensions, but it didn't help.  It dawned on me -- too late -- that I probably needed a fresh needle).  Needles are everything!

*perfectly wound bobbins.  This had been an ongoing problem for me, since following the exact steps shown in the Janome book and video was not producing perfectly tight even bobbins for me.  Jackie showed me a way to feed the thread (actually skipping a step) that works perfectly!  My bobbins are now great. If anyone is interested, I could post about this.

*a clean bobbin area -- no surprise there.  Every machine wants that, and Connecting Threads cotton does produce a fair bit of lint, so repeated cleaning of the area under the bobbin case is essential.

And finally there are a couple of things I already had in my repertoire, like the Supreme Slider to make to easier to move the quilt, and these cotton quilting gloves for getting a grip.

I'm happy to report that free motion quilting is fun again -- and I'm hoping I can improve my skills as I work my way through some more projects.

But for now there are a couple of little girl dresses calling my name, and of course a big hand quilting project is in front of me.  So it looks like my sewing time will be characterized by multitasking for the foreseeable future.

Finally, I would like to offer a little review of Connecting Threads cotton quilting thread, which I have been using since I started quilting -- and which I feel like I rediscovered this week.  I am so happy with how this thread behaved for me in this project.

*it is strong!  I had no breakage at all, no matter what direction I went.
*it is cheap!  I have a whole shoe box full, bought over the last couple of years -- and the low price means it's easy to justify a rainbow collection. Fun!
*it is thick! This may or may not be a plus for you, but if you like nice defined quilting stitches, this is a good thread to use.  It is said to be 50 wt, but it is much different from an Aurifil 50 wt, which I use for piecing since it is so sleek and fine.

*it is linty. You need to clean the machine frequently.
*it is a bit inconsistent in quality. Over the past two years I have experienced two Bad Spools (they kept breaking and causing all sorts of headaches). I threw both of them in the trash.  But since the thread is really well-priced, I feel okay about my odds.

Happy stitching!

Monday, August 6, 2012

goodies from Jo-Ann's

A couple of weeks ago I posted excitedly about the news that Jo-Ann's now ships (most items) to Canada -- and I promised that I would post again when my package arrived.  Well, it did, and quite promptly: it took about 10 days (that's 10 calendar days, not 10 business days) from order to delivery, and the order was trackable with the taxes and duties already wrapped into the very reasonable shipping cost. I'm a happy girl, and I think my buddy Melinda (who has dibs on the Denyse Schmidt yardage and one of the two pounce pads) will be too.

I haven't been posting as regularly as I could/should, and could/should have posted about this a week ago...but without any further ado, here it is....

oooooo, it's here!First peek in the box.

good mail day

mail!!!!What have we here...?

My share: a dresden and a pyramid/traingle ruler (I have ideas for each of these), some quilting pins, a pounce pad and extra chalk -- for transferring stencil designs for hand quilting, some "betweens" (hand quilting needles), some thimble alternatives (sticky pads, which will hopefully save my fingers while quilting the Farmer's Wife.  I had some pretty nasty scabs and calluses from the quilting of Bear Pa!).

And of course, there are the DS prints -- most of the ones available for shipment to Canada, which are all from older lines, and a really nice range of oranges, green, reds, and grey-blues.  There are some great prints which I could not get (there must be some licensing problems) but I'm so very happy with these!

Jo-Ann's delivers to Canada -- even some of the older DS prints, on sale! Yippee.

The irony of coveting products from Jo-Ann's is not lost on me, as someone who lived 11 years of my adult life in the U.S. -- in particular areas where big box shopping was one of the few forms of recreation readily available.

There are times when I am frustrated by the fact that some seemingly basic items can be tricky to find in downtown Toronto, or are much more expensive here than they are in the States, but generally I actually like the fact that I don't have such easy access to everything I might want or need. It makes the hunting and gathering so much more of a sport, and makes a little package from Jo-Ann's feel like the very, very special delivery that it is!

Now if only they would put the Lisette twills on sale....