Frances posted another quilt fiction story on her website Quiltfiction.com! If you haven’t read the last one, it’s called The Off-Kilter Quilt–I encourage you to pop over to read that one as well. This new story is called A Quilt for Dr. Wallace and I loved it from the first sentence. It’s a quick read and after you are done, leave a comment on her blog post to be entered in a sweet giveaway for this fabric bundle:
Here we are again for Week 2 of the Machine Quilting Blog Hop. To recap–a few blogging friends and I are quilting our way through The Ultimate Guide to Machine Quiltingin an effort to improve our machine quilting skills. It’s been a lot of fun so far and I’m already seeing progress! Click here to start at the beginning.
I made about a million more quilt sandwiches to practice on this week.. No piece of ugly fabric is safe from me anymore! I’m actually regretting donating a bunch of fabric that I didn’t love to charity last fall. I could really use it now.
This week the focus was on two new designs–pebbles and a wood grain motif. Now, I know a lot of people do pebbles, and they act like it’s no big deal–but (ahem) I beg to differ. Pebbles are hard! I’ve been training for this for months, doodling pebbles while in boring meetings. But still . The struggle is real.
The first night, I filled up a full fat quarter with pebbles. And I have to say–I actually saw progress from the beginning of the night to the end. The part that I find the hardest is traveling back over the original line to start the next pebble. I’m often all over the place and it just looks…sloppy. I learned pretty quickly that I just need to Slow. Down. This is the story of my life–trying to do things too fast. Going slower gives you more control–when will I learn this? I also started making the pebbles a little bigger, which helped. I found this interesting, because last week I found that making spirals smaller made it easier for me. Go figure.
So, after practicing them for a while, I decided to try them on a practice piece with more of a blending thread–which is a lot more forgiving. Not forgiving enough, I’m afraid. They still need work, but that’s what this challenge is all about! In fact, I plan to continue practicing each motif each week–and I’m excited to see what my pebbles look like at Week 10.
Next, onto the wood grain motif. I’ll admit–I was intimidated by this one. So much so, that I also watched Christa’s Craftsy class, where she demonstrates this motif (actually most of the motifs in the book are covered in her class–it is a treasured resource for me!). The first thing I did was practice on paper to start to figure the design out and start to establish the muscle memory. Here’s what that looked like:
Then I hit the machine. I found this motif so much fun! I actually tried quilting the design horizontally at first, but eventually found that it was much easier for me to quilt it vertically. So much of machine quilting is finding what works for you–so I was pleased to figure that out. I can totally picture myself using this motif in the future! It looks much harder than it is and creates such a cool look.
Here is the other thing that that I found out this week–I want to try an open toe free-motion foot. I feel that the foot I have makes it hard to see what is happening (pictured below). Leah Day has a video on how to modify a foot like this for better visibility. But I was a bit hesitate to do that in case I actually broke the whole foot. Instead, I have a metal, open-toe free motion foot on order at my local sewing machine dealer. I suspect I will like that one better, and I will then try the modification that Leah suggests on my existing foot. I will let you know what I think of the new foot once I have a chance to play with it.
I should confess right now that I don’t have an ideal quilting set up. Like many of you, I’m sure, I sew at the dining room table. I have a Sew Steady extension table for my Baby Lock sewing machine and I actually sit on a yoga bolster to get to a comfortable height when I quilt. So, there is no high-end sewing machine sunk into a custom-fit cabinet for this girl (maybe someday?).
This first week is all about filling horizontal or vertical spaces with quilting. I created a couple of practice pieces with some stash fabric and just spray basted them. I used black fabric because 1. I have a lot of it and 2. the stitching would show up well on it. I probably won’t do that again because boy, it does not photograph well! So please excuse all the lint on these pieces that I did not actually see in real life. Also–one last tip: wind a whole bunch of bobbins!
I drew some long lines with a chalk pencil on the fabric to create different sized channels to quilt in.
First up was a simple, curved switchback motif–not too hard, even for me.
We then moved onto a freehand zig zag. I’m still holding my own, in my opinion. I’m thinking, “I can do this–I’m not actually that bad.”
Then I moved onto square chains. Hmmmm. These were not as hard as I expected–and if I had done this with a blending thread, it could still be passable. I practiced these for a while using two different techniques. But you will have to get the book to find out what they are 🙂 You can see them a bit in the photo below.
Onto the spirals! Hold the phone. These are not as easy as they look. I learned quite a few things with this design. First, I was doing them in a channel that was too big to start with. Smaller was definitely easier. Also, I realized that I was focused on the edge of the darning foot and not the needle as I was creating the spiral. This resulted in me not filling the entire space at first. Once I started focusing on where the needle was, I was able to fill the entire channel with quilting. I also realized that I wasn’t filling in the spiral enough at first. They started to look better when I filled them a little more densely. I still won’t win any quilting awards with this design, but I see definite improvement and again, if it had been done with a blending thread, I think it would create a lot of nice texture.
I will admit, that putting my amateurish quilting out there is a bit out of my comfort zone–but I’m encouraged with my progress. I really need to spend an evening creating a big pile of practice pieces so that I can spend just 10-15 minutes a day improving my skills.
So, how about you? Are you following along? If so, don’t forget to share on Instagram: #machinequiltingbloghop
Also–any advice? I’d love to hear it! Just leave it in the comments.
Lastly, don’t forget to visit the other bloggers who are quilting along!
I am thrilled to share my Colorwave quilt, which is featured in the Summer issue of Quilts and More magazine! I was happy enough about that–but then, a couple of weeks ago I found out that it made the cover! What?!
The full pattern is inside–don’t they do absolutely beautiful photography?
There is also a wonderful little surprise inside this issue–a feature article on my friend, neighbor, and Sew Illustrated co-author Minki Kim! I feel compelled to tell you that those are my hands doing the hand sewing in that picture on the bottom. 🙂
So, feel free to pick up a copy–it hits the stands today!
Lastly, in case you don’t follow me on Instagram (and you should!)–here is a fun picture that @allpeoplequilt, the publishers of Q&M, posted on their Instagram stories yesterday. Wow! This quilt is more well-traveled than I am!
Thanks for indulging me today–I’ll stop the navel-gazing now 🙂
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again–piecing is my favorite part of the quilting process. And over the last couple of years, I’ve put in the effort and practice to become quite a bit more accurate. I smile every single time that I get some perfect points on my blocks. But the quilting part. That’s a different story.
I’ve simply just never practiced enough free motion quilting to feel confident and proficient at it. I’m sure I’m capable of it–I just need to put in the time. In the last year or so, I’ve kind of fallen in love with straight line/walking foot quilting. And I’ve finished at least a half a dozen quilts with various forms of walking foot quilting. But I want to have the skills to free motion decently when I think the quilt calls for it.
Enter the book The Ultimate Guide to Machine Quilting by Angela Walters and Christa Watson–two of the reigning queens of machine quilting. As a sort of challenge to myself, I hatched this plan of working my way through the book practicing the free motions designs. In the book, Angela does longarm designs and Christa’s designs are for a sit-down domestic machine. So I will be following along with Christa. There are actual quilts in each chapter that are specifically designed to practice the motifs–but I will just be putting together practice pieces to work on. The real point of this is just to practice. I have a couple baby quilt tops sitting on a shelf, and I may try a couple of the designs to those to finish them up.
I fully expect the first few weeks to show how unskilled I actually am at free motion quilting–but at the end of ten weeks (ten chapters=ten weeks), I hope to see some significant progress in my skills.
And to add to the fun–three of my blogger friends are joinging in as well! Each Monday, we will each post our thoughts and adventures as we work our way through this wonderful resource.
We are kicking off on May 1 and would love it if you would like to pick up a copy of the book and join us! If you do–be sure to show us your work on Instagram with this hastag: #machinequiltingbloghop.
I think that every home cook should have a few meals up their sleeve that they can put together without a recipe. I am a very recipe-driven cook–I sometimes still check the recipe for meals that I have made for years, but when I sit back and think about it, I actually do cook without a recipe fairly often.
Stir fry is one of those meals that I have done enough times that I know the format of it–the road map, if you will. Basically, you cut up everything first. Then you cook the meat, and when it’s done, take it out and set it aside. Then cook the vegetables, adding the hardest ones like carrots and peppers first, and softer ones like mushrooms later, and the most delicate, like spinach and green onions last. Put the meat back in, add a sauce and simmer until it thickens. Stir it up and it’s done! Change up the meat and the veggies and it can be a completely different meal. I love to make stirfy on Fridays, because it is a great way to use up the veggies in the crisper before I shop on the weekend. And it’s a crowd pleaser around here. Here is the basic recipe for the most common version I make. Use the meat and veggies here as merely suggestions–it is such a flexible dish.
Beef Stir Fry
3/4lbflank steakcut into strips
1Tbblack bean sauce(found in the Asian section of the grocery store)
2pepperschopped (I like to use red, yellow, or orange)
1 8ozcan water chestnuts
1head of bok choy or napa cabbagethinly sliced
4green onionssliced on an angle
1 1/2Tdry sherry(optional)
3Toyster sauce or soy sauce
1 1,2tspsesame oil
Prep all ingredients first. Mix together sauce and stir with a whisk. Sprinkle meat with 1 T. of cornstarch and mix together.
In a wok or large frying pan, add oil (peanut or canola work best). Add half of garlic and ginger, stir and cook for about 20 seconds and then add meat. Stir fry the meat until it is no longer pink. You can add a little soy sauce while it is cooking as well. Remove from pan and set aside.
Add a bit more oil to the pan, then add the black bean sauce and the rest of the garlic and ginger. Cook and stir for about 20 seconds, and then add the carrots and peppers. Stir fry those until they start getting tender (3-4 minutes), and then add the mushrooms. Cook until the mushrooms soften (again, 3 or so minutes), then add the can of water chestnuts, snow peas, and the greens (bok choy, cabbage, or even spinach). Cook for a couple minutes and add the meat back in.
Make a well in the center of the pan, by pushing the mixture toward the sides of the pan. Give the sauce a quick stir and pour it into the well. Let it cook and bubble until it starts to thicken, stirring often, and then mix it into the stir fry. Cook for a couple more minutes to make sure everything is heated through. Add the green onions and give it one last stir.
Serve it over rice, or if you are low-carb, try it over cauliflower rice or even by itself. Enjoy!
Have you joined me in a 30-day challenge? I’ve heard from a few of you–taking on challenges of your own. I still have my streak going of tracking my food with My Fitness Pal everyday. It hasn’t been easy though. More than once I’ve had to “backtrack” the previous day –and we all know that is never going to be as accurate or effective as tracking your food as you go. But that was a lesson in itself.
My own challenge has brought to light several interesting insights. The first is, as expected, my portion sizes have gotten out of control. This always seems to be the case, no matter how long I’ve been at this. At some point I start deluding myself about what a reasonable portion size looks like. Weigh, measuring, and counting have brought this in high relief and it’s no wonder I’ve been gaining weight.
The second is that on days where I would have said, “I had a good day. I ate very reasonably”, turn out to sometimes be my highest calorie days. For example, the day I drove down to San Diego to pick up Chloe for spring break I ended up eating two meals on the road. The first was a very calorically responsible breakfast sandwich from Starbucks and the second was a less responsible pita sandwich–but no fries or anything else with it. When we made it home, I had a (well-deserved) glass of wine and pasta and salad for dinner (no bread). This day clocked in at over 2100 calories! I had no snacks and what I thought were reasonable portions. Yet, it was one of my highest calorie days.
In contrast, the day we celebrated Chloe’s birthday at Cheesecake Factory, I did some decent planning. I ordered Chicken Tacos from the Skinnylicious menu and we all shared a few pieces of cheesecake. I tracked that I ate 1/3 of a piece of cheesecake and this day came in at several hundred calories lower that the day I picked up Chloe. It just shows that a bit of planning really goes a long way to staying on track.
I haven’t dropped a bunch of weight (or really any) yet, but it is getting easier to spot the areas that I need to focus on to get some success in this area. One area that I am going to focus on is tracking in the moment (not leaving it to the end of the day) and being more accurate in my tracking. When things are hard to track I sometimes do a mental tally and then throw a big number at it–like 500 calories for a lunch out. At least I’m paying attention enough to do a mental tally, but this is happening to often and I need to get more diligent with tracking the actual foods.
So, how about you? Have you kept your 30-day streak going? What have you learned? Let me know in the comments.
I’ve always known that I like hand work–I love to bind quilts, I knit and embroider a little–but I really had no idea how much I would love hand piecing. When I started this crazy idea, I wasn’t at all sure that I would be able to see it through. About halfway through my first block I thought, “What have I gotten myself into?” But I pushed through, and now, a mere three months into this project, I can very clearly see my progress.
The actual motion of hand piecing is becoming second nature, and it feels so good to just slow down. I tend to do things very quickly–I walk fast, talk fast, and do most tasks as if I am getting a medal for speed. I’ve made a big effort this last year to slow down my machine sewing as well. I am always working on improving my accuracy, and slowing down is a big part of that for me. I hear about these sewing machines that sew 1500 stitches a minute and wonder how in the world someone can sew that fast without careening out of control.
Hand sewing takes time–something that always feels in short supply these days. I do all my prep work up front–I cut out all six blocks for the Patchwork Quilt Along and then mark the stitching lines on the back of them (I wrote about my favorite hand piecing tools here). This takes a good evening or two–usually while listening to a podcast or watching Netflix. Then I just keep everything I need to hand sew in a basket.
I drag this basket from room to room–or even in the car, using found moments to sew a seam or two. I think that this is one of the most unexpected parts about hand sewing–all the memories that are being sewn into this quilt. I will always remember that I worked on it in the car as we drove up to do a college tour for Jonah, that I binge-watched and cried my way through the entire season of This is Us, and that I worked on it pretty much every night when we gather as a family to share a TV show together before bed.
At first hand sewing a whole quilt seemed a little daunting, but now I realize that just like everything else–it is so much more doable when you break it down into small chunks. In this case, six blocks a month. I seem to need to be reminded of this over and over again–break it down and tackle it one bit at a time.
Nineteen years ago I was a first-time mother who just went through twenty-one hours of labor, astounded that I was about to be entrusted with a tiny human life to raise into a responsible adult. And as cliche as it sounds–I cannot believe that it has been nineteen years since I brought that little girl home. And yet, here she is, a responsible college-attending young adult.
Born at the end of March, Chloe has had the charmed privilege of never having had to go to school on her birthday. It somehow, magically, always falls during spring break. and this year was no exception. I was hoping she could take the train home from college, but since we inexplicably had not planned ahead, the trains were sold out. This is not really a huge problem because I have a very flexible work schedule and I actually love to drive down to San Diego. Hand me a latte and a phone full of podcasts and I am set for a 3 1/2 hour drive. Plus, the return trip is another 3 1/2 hours to sit and chat with my girl, whom I have been missing. So, not a problem at all. She did, however, take the train back 🙂
I am so grateful that even at nineteen she doesn’t seem to mind spending her birthday with her mom. We started the day with high tea at this charming little tea house. We discovered this gem right before she left for college, when we spend her last month home having mother-daughter adventures like having high tea, visiting the Getty museum, and making a return visit to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The tea/lunch was so beautiful and delicious we knew we wanted to come back again soon.
After tea, we headed over to the movie theater to see Beauty and the Beast (so good!), and a quick stop for coffee on the way home. The boys had spring break last week, so they still had their normal activities going on this week–which means that Jonah is gone every evening until 9:30 preparing for opening night of the high school production of Les Miserable (he’s playing guitar in the pit band). So we had a simple birthday evening at home of dinner, cake, and gifts. Chloe requested one of her home-cooked favorites–homemade pizza and yellow cake with chocolate frosting.
I tried something this year that I’ve never done before. I cook respectably well, but baking cakes is not my strong suit. I’ve tried mixes, I’ve tried from baking cakes scratch, but they just are never impressive. I even picked a copy of the Cake Bible at a yard sale. So years ago, I let go of my preconceived notion that I had to make homemade birthday cakes. And since then, I have been happily outsourcing birthday cakes to Costco. But this year Chloe wanted the yellow cake with chocolate frosting of her childhood (and mine).
So I bought two boxes of yellow cake mix (sadly I had to bake them separately, since I only have two round cake pans). This gave me four cake layers to work with. That seemed a bit excessive, so I wrapped up one round for the freezer (for the day in the future that I will pull it out, thaw it, whip up a quick chocolate glaze and feel so very smug).
Back to the birthday cake: I made a three layer yellow cake with homemade chocolate frosting–and having that third layer made the whole thing so much more…impressive. It didn’t look like the sad little homemade birthday cake that I have been making all these years. I feel that I have discovered the secret–one box of cake mix is not enough! Buy two! And not only do you have a great looking birthday cake, but a little secret dessert ready to go in the freezer. And it tastes pretty good too. Though I think that the other secret is to make twice the amount of frosting than you think you need. You can never have too much frosting.
I still cannot believe that I have a nineteen year old child– and I could not be more proud of this girl. She is so smart and kind and hardworking. I can’t wait to find out what she does with her talents. As hard as it is to accept that these children of mine are growing up–it’s true that every age has its own special wonder. And at nineteen it involves coffee, tea, movies, and lots of great conversation.
I have never felt great about my decorating skills. Over time I think that I have created a home that is fairly cozy–but I have never decorated a room and thought, “Done!” It is always a piecemeal affair with grand plans for some future date when I will be more grown-up and confident in my decorating skills. Because of this, I always take advantage of the free interior designer service when we buy furniture. In the past, this has worked fairly well, but I never really completed whatever plans they set out–which usually involves buying $10,000 worth of furniture.
As I pieced together our family room over several years–one year replacing the sofa and a chair, another year another chair–I began realizing that this room was not coming together. We have a neutral sofa, and a dark brown leather chair. This was the first problem–I felt the sofa was too light and the chair was too dark. So we bought a “medium” chair to fill out the room and to help bridge the contrast gap. Well–that chair sort of read “gray” when the sofa was reading “tan”. Ahhh! This room was not coming together–even with the help of an Ethan Allan designer and a bunch of expensive furniture.
I can’t afford to start over–so I invited my friend Terri over for tea one day. She has a model-home perfect house and just has a knack for this type of stuff. I don’t know why I didn’t get her involved earlier. The first thing she noticed was that the throw pillows on the sofa were contributing to the problem–they highlighted the tan in the sofa instead of the gray than is actually in there.
Next stop–Pottery Barn to look for throw pillows to solve my problem. (Full disclosure: this “next stop” actually happened about a year later.) This was actually a hilarious scene, as we found a neutral sofa in PB (not hard) and Terri started grabbing pillows from all over the store, trying them in different combinations. Several sales people approached us to help, but backed away once they realized that Terri seemed to know what she was doing. I fully expected that I would get some pillows that added some color to the sofa (isn’t that what throw pillows are for?!)–but ended up with more neutral pillows that actually bridge the gap between the tan and gray.
I was skeptical. I kept telling her, “There is no way my husband is going to go for all these pillows! He hates throw pillows! The kids will just throw them on the floor! (Is that why they are called throw pillows?)
Terri assured me that these were feather pillows and made the sofa more comfortable (she was right! Our old pillows are as hard as rocks compared to these). Also, we realized that we have enough color going on in that room with the oriental carpet, brink fireplace, and paintings, that keeping the sofa a bit more neutral actually helped to calm things down a bit.
My next neurotic fear was that now that we have five (!) pillows on this sofa that are all scrunchy, comfy–I was going to spend the rest of my life fluffing them. Because this is what it looks like when everyone leaves in the morning.
And I think it may be true about the constantly straightening (sigh). But they really are so comfortable and I now feel like I’m living in a PB catalog. And I was already folding all those quilts that everyone leaves on the floor each morning anyway–so what’s a few (5!) pillows.
I mentioned over on Facebook the other day that Terri also took down all my decor items in the family room and living room and put back half of them. And it all looks so much better now. Everyone should have a Terri.
Now that I have solved the Throw Pillow Problem, I guess I can move on to other life and death matters like why I can find a rug the right size for the living room. First world problems 🙂 Oh, and I found the perfect place for those pillows I love–in the living room aka my office. And Teddy loves them too.