Monday, May 31, 2010

hand embroidery is love

When her children were very young, my mom used to do a lot of embroidery.  Cross-stitch, mostly.  I remember watching her sew and I remember her finished pieces framed and hanging on the wall.  Over time, she lost interest I suppose and I ended up with her embroidery floss.  Two boxes, this size, of which I have used sparingly over the years: 

It's kind of exciting, having this rainbow of thread ready to use at a moment's notice!  Thing is, I never want to use it (because if I use it, it won't be there for me in the future) and besides, I seldom have a use for it.  Then I started working on a quilt for Elvie, my friends' brand new baby, and the quilt required embroidery in two blocks.  Here is a tiny peek at one of them:

I can't reveal the design until Elvie and her parents receive the quilt, but I am so excited about it!  I really love embroidery.  Everyone talks about how relaxing it is... to me, it's relaxing because it allows me to sew while I am doing something else, usually watching a movie with my sweetheart.  My sewing machine is located directly across the room from the couch; oftentimes I find myself gazing longingly at my machine, my fabric, my projects-in-progress rather than paying attention to the television.

I used a simple split stitch to embroider the letters.  The stitch looks braided and textural, which is why I chose it over a backstitch.

If you don't use John James needles already, do your fingers a favor!  They are nickel-plated steel and incredibly strong.  I don't know what size needle you're supposed to use, but this was my only choice at the store.  It's a bit large but I worked with all six strands of floss and the eye accommodated the bulk just fine.

Also useful was this odd-looking spring embroidery hoop.  It's marketed to machine embroiderers, but works just as well for hand work.  My old hoop was this crummy plastic number I bought at a chain store.  It didn't fit together well in the first place, was difficult to load, and only seemed to keep the fabric stretched taut for a few stitches.  Enter the spring hoop!

Step one:

Lay your fabric on top of the outer plastic hoop.  (You may want to load it right-side down so your fabric sits toward the top as with a traditional hoop.  I find it doesn't make a whole lot of difference, as the hoop itself is rather slender.)

Step two:

Squeeze the metal ring by its little handle things and lay it inside of the plastic ring.  Release and ta-da!  Your work is perfectly stretched and ready to be embroidered.  And it took about two seconds.  These hoops appear to be kind of rare in internetland, but you can ask for them at your local quilt shop.

Do you all have any embroidery tips to share?  Notions you can't live without, stitches you love, techniques that are real time-savers?  And how do you secure your stitching--do you knot it or do that thing where you weave your thread ends through other stitches?  What about six-strand embroidery floss vs. perle cotton?  I still don't really understand why you would use one or the other.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

fabric haul: Fabric Depot

Last month I spent some time in Portland, Oregon, as blogged before.  My mom, two aunts and I spent a day shopping for fabric.  We kicked off our tour with Bolt, which I wrote about last.  Next up was Fabric Depot all the way out on SE 122nd Ave:

Pictured from upper left: a sizable remnant of Meadowsweet; a nice little green dot remnant; two 1/2 yd cuts from Lizzy Dish; and another anonymous remnant of Kona solid

I bought more than 3 yards for around $20.  Dang!  The remnant section is the place to be; these pieces of fabric are some kind of insane deal.  50% off maybe?  Fabric Depot is a vast and overwhelming store, containing fabric of all types.  Much of their offerings are quilting-weight cotton, grouped by collection or designer, sometimes manufacturer, and eventually by theme.

Fabric Depot is not a quilt shop per se and as such does not have that welcoming, inspiring atmosphere.  It's bustling and warehouse-like with long lines at cutting and checkout, but that's the cost of buying fabric on the cheap!  Their fabric seems to always be on sale a little, and it's a good place to go if you have an idea of what you are looking for.  Chances are Fabric Depot has it, and at a discounted price.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Stitch Magazine has a blog!

And I am in it!  They featured photos of the bag I'd made from Rashida Coleman-Hale's pattern in the Spring 2009 issue of Stitch.  Go here to read the article.

Oh boy, I made this bag a long time ago... last October I think?  I recall a surge of adrenaline as I cut holes in the bag to fit the grommets.  Panic!  This was my first experience with big-ol' grommets, and I was worried I'd make a mistake and hammer them wrong somehow.  It turns out I lacked the brutishness required to properly set them, so Steven strongarmed them for me.

The twill stripe was a vintage fabric, and I was intrigued by the hand-lettered selvage describing the dye process.  I fused it to the interior pocket (not included was the text indicating the fabric was treated with Scotch-Gard).

The article on StitchBlog gives suggestions for departing from a pattern's original design.  I really loved Rashida's original fabric choices, and considered copying her signature linen/cotton look; I ended up working from my stash because the local quilt shops are all closed on Sunday, which is when I do much of my sewing.

Thanks, StitchBlog, for using my photos of my work!  I always find Stitch an inspiring read, and the blog is no different.  Check it out!

Friday, May 21, 2010

two kinds of cactus

For the little ones:

The beginnings of a cactus-shaped rattle, with French knots for spikes, and an embroidered face!  I think I'll post a tutorial if it turns out alright.

And for me, a ric-rac cactus, newly acquired from May's Greenhouse.  I had admired this plant for some time because of its weird Seuss-like antlers.  When I discovered it was named for the perennial trim favorite, I knew it had to be mine!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

I've been blogged!

Remember this?  It's the picnic quilt I made from a Botany layer cake and a little solid yardage.  I wrote of it when it was still 'in-progress', meaning I had not accepted that it was, and would remain, imperfectly quilted and bound.  After all, it is the canvas for many years' worth of potato salad stains!

Well, I contacted Lauren Jung (half of Botany's talented mother-daughter design team) via her blog, and was happy to learn she wanted to share photos of my work on her blog!  Good news, huh? 

You can check out the very kind post (with more photos) here.  Thanks, Lauren! 

Pictured above: the Botany picnic quilt, two picnic placemats made from Botany and a linen/rayon blend, and me in my version of Simplicity 2443... pattern review coming soon!

Have you all made anything with Botany?  I keep finding more and more things it'd be great for.  Now I am thinking summer garments--Moda fabric drapes so well for a 'quilting-weight' cotton!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Welcome to the world, little Elvie!

My dear friend (and Owlette partner) Jessica, and her husband Aaron, welcomed their new daughter last night!

Meet Elvie Olivia, born Sunday May 16, 8 lbs 1 oz, 19.5 inches long.  My, what a cute and chubby baby!  Her parents chose not to find out the sex til she was born, but we all had a feeling Jessica was carrying a girl.  My mom even dreamed it.

This photo of Jessica and me was taken about three weeks before Elvie exploded onto the scene.  Can you tell?  Congratulations to the new and very proud parents and grandparents!  Elvie couldn't ask for a better family.  And now, let the baby sewing begin!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

fabric haul: Bolt

Last month I spent a couple weeks in Portland, Oregon visiting family with my lovely mama.  We devoted an entire day to fabric shopping; also part of the fabric safari was my aunt Debe (who quilts), and my aunt Connie (who does not, but exercised boundless patience in the role of chauffeur).  I figured I'd break down the fabric haul by shop.

Here are my spoils from stop #1, Bolt Fabric Boutique on NE Alberta:

Pictured from upper left: 2 yd Little Folks voile; 1 yd of oak trees and 1/3 yd of a nice irregular herringbone from Modern Meadow; 1/3 yd of a versatile helicopter dot from Timber; 1/2 yd of pastry line dobby stripe from Little Folks.

You can see I was trying to keep myself in check.  I decided 1/3 of a yard is the new 1/4... 12" is far more usable than 9" for quilting, but it still feels like I am being conservative in my stash-building.  My first order of business was seeking out Colette Patterns' Sencha blouse.  I didn't find it, and asked a staff member who kindly produced the last copy from their back stock.  What luck!  The Little Folks floral will some day become a Sencha blouse.

I like Bolt; I've said it before!  The shop is compact, but has lots of quilting-weight cottons and a substantial inventory of home dec-weight prints.  They also have a really nice, carefully curated selection of garment fabrics, which I appreciate although I didn't buy them.  Like wool jersey.  And other beautiful fabrics, of different weaves and fiber content, which I cannot recall. 

Portland, I envy your access to amazing fabrics!  When in Portland, plan a trip to Bolt.  And unlike me, make time to visit Modern Domestic, Bolt's BFF business a few blocks away--they offer classes and open sewing for a small price.

Sadly, Bolt does not offer online shopping.  But like all great fabric shops, they have a wonderful and inspiring blog!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Good Iron is Hard to Find

Last week my iron of five years gave up the ghost.  I was just ironing along when suddenly, it shut itself off.  It has an auto-off function, so I thought perhaps it was confused.  When I brought it back up to temperature and began ironing again, it started flashing on and off and beeping wildly.

After calling various 800 numbers regarding my beloved iron, I discovered that nobody repairs irons anymore AND my model was discontinued some time ago!  Ack.  Here it is:

A Black & Decker Digital Advantage D2020, 1500 watts of glory, with 7 temperature settings and fully adjustable steam (that little wheelie-thing above the handle).  I often fogged up my glasses while ironing with the steam at the highest setting.  Ah, memories...

I checked Consumer Reports and user reviews all over the internet, and realized that the ironing needs of the average consumer are different from those of the sewing maniac.  If you quilt, you know the importance of lots and lots of steam and very high temperatures!  (Though I do use a dry iron for setting seams and persnickety piecing.)  In my garment-sewing experience, high temperatures are critical depending on the fabric, and steam control is a big deal--or perhaps I am steam-obsessed?

So how hard can it be to find a decent replacement iron?  Well. I had the best, and was forced to try the rest.

This was my first attempt at moving on.  It is a Shark Lightweight Professional: 1500 watts, electronic with an auto-off function, four temperature settings, anti-drip feature (akin to advertising "This iron does what an iron is supposed to do!"), stainless steel soleplate, and a wheelie-thing for adjusting the amount of steam.  Sounds pretty good, right?

No!  It never got, you know, too hot to handle.  What I mean is I can touch the soleplate for a second and not burn myself.  Which is bad.  The so-called "variable steam" wheelie-thing does not noticeably change the amount of steam produced, and, on occasion and without reason, it does not steam at all.  You have to raise and lower it again to remind it to do it's thing.  I used the burst of steam button constantly to achieve crisp seams.  I guess if you just needed to press a dress shirt every now and again, it would do just fine; however, this iron is going back to the department store from whence it came.

Next up is Black & Decker's Classic Iron, which has a charmingly retro look about it: 1100 watts, auto-off function, seven temperature settings, anti-drip system (again!), aluminum soleplate (kinda draggy), and automatically generated steam but with a button to disable it.

I tested the two irons in steam and dry ironing, and concluded the new Classic Iron gets much hotter than the Shark, and with more steam.  I am happy to report I burned the heel of my hand on it in preparing to take these photos!  No word yet on the foggy glasses.  It also feels very solid to use, which is also to say it is HEAVY--a big deal for those of us with joint ailments, but something I can live with.  I think I'll stick with this iron for now, though I am still looking for The One.

Any suggestions?

Further reading:
My New Iron and I Always Do My Collars First by Kathy @ Pink Chalk Studio (the comments on each post are especially illuminating!)

Edit 05/13: This post from Ann Champion details the history of the iron, with great photos to accompany!  Check it out.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

on flooding

Nashville flooded over the weekend, but you probably already heard.  Nashville is where I grew up, and is still home.  My parents and brother now live just south of town.  On Saturday, while at work, I received a text message from my mom:  "This storm is awful.  Barely got home.  [Main access road to the house] closed.  YMCA flooded.  Up to roof on cars."

I spent Saturday checking in with my friends and family, and searching out any kind of information about the extent of the flood.  It was still very early on and the Cumberland River had not yet crested.  The first images of destruction began to appear: a man carrying a 10-year-old girl through waist-high water (caught on video); a portable schoolroom (not a trailer) swallowed up by floodwater on I-24.

Sunday, my mom called on her cell phone to let me know they had lost power around 7 am and had several inches of water in their basement/garage.  After about eight hours, they were back on the grid and accumulated no more than a few inches total.  They were lucky.  I stopped worrying for them.  My dad observed that it is the kind of thing you see on the news happening in other cities... not your own.

The river crested at its highest level since 1937; downtown Nashville flooded.  Most sources place the death toll from the flood at 29 and rising, around 10 of those in Nashville proper.  President Obama declared this four-county region a disaster area.  [Edit 05/06: a TEN-county region.]

Over 900 people are in Red Cross shelters across the mid-state, with the Nashville Red Cross providing over 3,000 meals each day.  These numbers are difficult to imagine, but what's harder is living them.  There is so much to say about the devastation, but the thesis is this: do something.  You can help. 

Donate to the Nashville Red Cross.  Check here and here for more photographs.  (Having spent over a decade in this one place, I can't begin to explain how surreal it is to see it underwater.)

If you're in the Nashville area, visit this site and this one for a list of ways you can help.

I am compiling a list of crafty relief efforts, which so far is very short.  Get in touch if you are crafting for Nashville!