Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Borders for the 9-Patch and 3-2-1 Cake in a Mug

I was hoping to put the borders on the 9-Patch Cars quilt and quilt it before taking photos, but it isn't going to happen.  I did get the borders on, and cut the binding strips, but will not have time to quilt it this week.  You can see on the right that I decided to add a yellow border next to the main part of the quilt to help make the yellow in the pattern "pop", and then a white border next to the yellow, and I will bind it in dark red, as you can see on the upper right of the Cars photo.  
 I also took photos of a couple of other ways to join the 9-patch blocks, and with a couple of other color combinations.  The two quilts in the blue pattern I made last year but never finished them with quilting and binding.  One is now completed.  This quilt pictured above left uses only two colors, and the binding will be in the print fabric.  The quilt on the left adds one more color, and it is finished. The binding is not done until the quilting is completed.  After completing the quilting, I trim the backing and batting to the same size as the top.  The binding is made up of 2-1/2" strips that are joined to make one long strip, and then I iron it, wrong sides together, in half.  I sew the binding to the quilt from the back side, being careful to catch all three layers in the seam. 

I miter the corners.  I'm sure there are some good videos on how to do that on the web, if you need help.  The last step is to fold the binding over to the right side and topstitch very close to the edge.  There are other ways to bind a quilt, but this is the fastest and requires no hand-sewing.  An additional plus is that I think the doubled binding makes it more durable, and the machine sewing will be stronger than hand sewing and it can be washed and dried many times without any problems.  The purple quilt to the right is also done in three colors, but set a bit differently.  The 9-patch blocks are set alternately with print blocks.  Below is one more example of a 9-patch.  This one is called 9-Patch Plaid.  Each 9-patch is bordered in this quilt.  These should give you a few ideas of the possibilities of a basic 9-patch!  Decide if you want to make a 2-color, a 3-color, or scrappy quilt, and get started.  

If this is your first quilt, I would suggest that you make a baby quilt  or pillow, so that you don't feel too overwhelmed.  There are really no rules... you can be as liberated as your imagination allows you to be.  I would love to see photos of your quilt!
When your quilt is finished, treat yourself with this cupcake recipe.  It's great for people who live alone, and especially handy for children who are old enough to make themselves a snack.  It's quick and easy!

3-2-1 Cupcake:
Mix an angel food cake mix with any other flavored cake mix of your choice.  I made a strawberry mix today.  Combine them in a zip-lock bag and shake and turn it gently until both cake mixes are well blended.

Combine 3 Tablespoons of the cake mix with 2 Tablespoons of water in a cereal bowl or mug.  Mix well. Microwave for 1 minute.  Just remember... 3, 2, 1!  In one minute your cupcake for one is finished, and you can put your feet up and enjoy it with a cup of coffee or tea.  Now it's time for true confessions... I made one the way the recipe is listed and it was fine, but not as light textured as a cake.  The next time, I replaced the water with whipping cream... it took a little more cream to make a smooth batter, but the texture was much better.  I would think you could also try it with milk instead of water... lots of combinations.  If you must have frosting, buy some frosting in a can and keep it in the refrigerator between cupcakes.  I think sliced strawberries on top would be good, too, or other berries or fruit. Dark cherries on chocolate cake... mandarin oranges on white cake... rhubarb sauce on lemon cake... what combinations can you come up with?   Be sure to keep your bag closed tightly so it doesn't get moisture in it, or the dreaded ants don't come uninvited to the picnic!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Basic 9-Patch for the Beginning Quilter

If you are new to quilting, please read through the prior post, Quilting 101, to get a basic understanding of what quilting is and the tools needed.  Obviously you do not need anything more than fabric, scissors, and a needle and thread to make a quilt, and if that's what you choose to do, you will be in fine company!  My mother makes gorgeous quilts, and no rotary cutter ever  touches her fabrics.  That's the only method our ancestors had, and it's the way I started quilting many years ago.  But then I discovered rotary cutters and rulers... and my quilting life was forever changed!

In this blog, you will learn how to make a 9-patch block, step by step.  You will get an idea of how much fabric you need to make your first quilt.  Understand that the photos will show the tools I use now.  For a baby quilt this size (30 X  42 before borders), you will need the following yardage of fabrics.  I have broken it down, so if you choose to use more than two colors shown in this quilt, you will know what to buy.
Main color (color 1):
Four 2-1/2” strips, for the 9-patch blocks, or 10 inches
Eighteen 6-1/2” squares for alternating blocks, or three 6-1/2” strips, 19.5”
Four 2-1/2” strips for the border, or 10 inches.
Four 2-1/2” strips for the binding, or 10 inches.
Total main color yardage:  1-1/2 yards (you will have a little left over for your “stash”).
Coordinating Color (color 2):
Five 2-1/2” strips for the 9-patch blocks, 12.5”
Four 2-1/2” strips for the border, or 10 inches.
Total coordinating color yardage: ¾ yard (you will have left over fabric for your “stash”).
 With borders and binding, this quilt will measure approximately 38 X 46, a nice sized child’s snuggle quilt.  If you double the yardage and make it twice as big, you would have an adult sized sofa quilt, 46 X 76.  You could use fat quarters, but you would need more to adjust for more waste in the cutting.
The photo above shows cutting these strips using a June Tailor Shape Cutter ruler.  It is not necessary, but makes fast work of cutting strips.  You can see it has slots for cutting every half inch, up to 12" or 18", depending on which ruler you have.

You will need to cut five 2-1/2" strips for piecing the 9-patch blocks, and if you choose this as one of your border colors, you need an additional four 2-1/2" strips for that.

The photo to the above left illustrates how to "fussy-cut" the alternating blocks using a 6-1/2" square ruler, if you have chosen a print that you want to have centered on the block.  If you do this, you will need additional yardage, however.  If you have an all-over print, you will need to cut three 6-1/2" strips and four 2-1/2" strips for the 9-patch blocks.  If you choose this print for one of your borders and the binding, you will need an additional eight 2-1/2" strips for that.  Lay your 6-1/2" strips on the cutting mat, and cut them into 6-1/2" squares.  You will need eighteen of these squares.

You will need to join the long 2-1/2" pieces together, in the way they are shown in the photo to the right.  Row one will be color 2, color 1, color 2. Row two will be color 1, color 2, color 1.  And row three will be the same as row one.  Sew these seams with a 1/4" seam. After joining your first two strips, color 1 and color 2, press the seam from the wrong side, dark side up.  Then carefully flip the dark color up and press the seam from the right side.  Join color 2 to the other side of color 1, in the opposite direction of the way you sewed the first seam.  This avoids the tendency of the fabric to bow when stitching a long seam.  Press as you did with the first seam.  Make another section with the same fabrics so that you have two of these.  The photo above right is the center section.  
Looking at the completed 9-patch photo to the left, you will note that there are two rows that are the same.  The center row is different.  For the center row, you will reverse the colors, as shown.  Press toward the dark fabric again.  Since we are alternating colors, the seams will "nest" against each other and will not require pinning if you align them carefully.  You may pin if you choose to, however.  Now you are ready to cut your strips.   Lay your strip section for row 1 down on your cutting mat, right side up.aligning ends and edges carefully.
I position the section at the place where I want to start cutting on a line, as you will be cutting the selvedge off to even the left side before cutting your rows. After cutting, they will be in the correct position for sewing. Lay your strip section for row 2 face down on top of the first section.  Finally, lay your last section on top, right side up, again aligning edges and ends. 

The photo below shows cutting the selvedge ends off, and then cutting the strips into 2-1/2" segments.  You should get about 17 segments if your fabric is 44" wide.  This pattern is designed using seventeen 9-patch blocks.
You can begin chain piecing the rows.  Remove the top section for attaching later.  Take the two bottom sections and note that they are already right sides together, ready to sew.  Place them under the presser foot, and using a 1/4" seam, sew them together, checking to make sure the seams are nesting against each other as you sew.  You don't need to clip the thread after sewing each section, but just put the next section under the presser foot and continue to sew.  This is called "chain piecing".  When all of your sections are joined, snip the threads between them; set the seam and press it from the right side.  Next, join the last strip to the first two, making sure that you attach it to the right section.  
If you put it on the wrong place, you will be singing the froggie song... rip-it, rip-it, rip-it!  Chain piece those sections and when you are done, press to set the seam and then press it from the right side.  Your 9-patches are done!  They should look something like the photo above that shows the completed 9-patch block. The next step is to join the 9-patch to the main color block.  Again, join in a 1/4" seam, and press it toward the main color block.  I find it's easier to sew the two together with the 9-patch block on the top, so you can make sure you aren't twisting your seams.  When you have joined 5 blocks, alternating the 9-patch with the main color block, you have made a complete row.  Join the rows together, again alternating the 9-patch blocks with the main color blocks.  

This is the first time I use pins, as shown in this photo to the left, to pin where the seams come together on the rows.  Join all seven rows in the pattern you have planned, and your top (or flimsie) is finished!  

Below, you will see a photo of the finished quilt.  Notice how the color 2 squares form a chain across the top of the quilt. As you lay your rows out, be sure yours form the same pattern.  Also, notice that every other row begins and ends with a main color block, and the alternating rows begin and end with 9-patch blocks.  You need to pay attention to that detail when you are laying out your blocks and strips, so that your quilt looks this way, too.  You don't want to be singing the froggie song ALL the time!
The next blog will show you how to attach your borders and binding in the easiest way.   And I may even have this top quilted and have some photos of other combinations for you to view.

I hope you enjoy your quilting experience!  Remember that it isn't nearly so important to be perfect as it is to have fun!  Even a quilt with a few mistakes will warm the body as well as the heart of someone special in need of a hug.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Quilting 101

This information is geared for BEGINNER quilters, so if you are already quilting, it will probably not teach you anything new.

Quilting 101... Just the Basics!
Quilts have been made for centuries, utilizing salvageable parts of worn-out clothing or bits of fabric left over from sewing clothes in order to make something useful for the home with what was available.  Their makers took pride in putting together the pieces, creating decorative designs that have survived the test of time, with names that often reflect their origins, like Ohio Star, Road to Kansas, Sukey’s Choice, Lincoln’s Platform, Tennessee Waltz, etc.   While it is fulfilling to create new and unique designs, it warms the heart to work with antique, traditional patterns that have decorated homes for hundreds of years, connecting us with the past while interpreting these patterns in new and exciting ways.  We’ve come a long way since our ancestors painstakingly pieced their quilt blocks by hand in the lamplight.  We have electric sewing machines, rotary cutters and mats to facilitate cutting and sewing, and rainbows of fabrics to choose from in designing our masterpieces.  

One of the simplest blocks to make is a 9-patch, which consists of 3 squares set in 3 rows, and that is probably one of the first traditional quilt blocks that was made.  It certainly was one of the blocks most often made in early times.  I use modern methods of piecing, using a rotary cutter with a special cutting mat designed for rotary cutting.  You can do the piecing by cutting individual pieces, but it takes a lot longer than “strip piecing”, as it is called.  You can also hand-sew when piecing the blocks, but it will take a lot longer.

Supplies Needed:
Sewing machine          Fabric     Thread & bobbins
Rotary cutter & mat       Scissors/snippers     Seam ripper
Cutting rulers/guides       Quilting pins and pincushion          Tape measure
Sewing machine needles

Quilting fabric is traditionally 100% cotton, preferably in a broadcloth weight.  A blend of cotton and polyester may be used, but it is often a lighter weight fabric that’s more difficult to work with.  It ravels more easily, and the firmer fabrics are easier to sew.  Start by selecting at least one fabric that you love, and use that to choose coordinating colors.  You’ll be looking at those fabrics for a lot of hours, while creating your quilt!  It’s more enjoyable if you like the colors and fabrics you are using.  If you become “hooked” on quilting, you will find yourself joining those of us who frequent the fabric counters, stockpiling the fabrics we like and think we might use as a main or accent color.  Some people purchase “fat quarters”, which are ¼ yard but cut into a size more easily used in a variety of patterns, 18” X 22”, rather than 9” X 44”, which is the actual ¼ yard.  Some experts suggest buying 2 yards of a fabric you like, and if you LOVE it, buy 3 or 4 yards or more!  Neutral fabrics are always handy to have in your stock, as well as muslins, both bleached and unbleached.

Scrap quilts use a variety of colors and prints in the same quilt, seldom making each block of the same fabrics, but repeating the same fabric in the block or throughout the quilt.  Charm quilts do not repeat any fabric in the quilt, and quilt groups often exchange small squares of fabrics with each other, in order obtain the greater variety of prints and colors necessary to complete a Charm Quilt, which may take thousands of different fabrics. Sampler quilts use a different pattern for each block, usually the same size, such as a 12” block.  They may use the same fabrics in each block, or may use coordinating yet different fabrics in each, creating a uniform design to the finished quilt, with sashing strips or plain blocks separating the pieced blocks that bring the quilt together.  Medallion quilts feature a center portion that is the focal point of the quilt, with various methods of framing the center to set it off to best advantage.

In order to determine the amount of fabric needed for the quilt, first decide on the size of the completed quilt.  Choose the pattern, and break it down into colors and sizes.  For instance, if you are making a 6” block, and it will be made up of three 2” squares in 3 rows, it is what is known as a 9 patch.  For a 2” finished square, you will need to cut a 2 ½” strip of fabric, and then cut that strip into 2 ½” squares, allowing ¼” seam allowance on all sides.   If the fabric is 44” wide, there are 16 or 17 squares per strip.  Use this method to calculate the amount of yardage needed, depending on the size of your quilt and how many times you will repeat this fabric in each block.  Repeat your calculations for each color you want to use in the quilt, and always add a little extra to allow for errors.  The leftover fabric can be used in a future scrap quilt.

To wash or not to wash the fabric is your choice.  Most colored fabrics are now dyed using methods that will not bleed the colors when they are wet, and they are treated to retain their size without shrinkage.  Machine piecing and quilting is easier with unwashed fabric, which still has the sizing on it.  In fact, fabrics are often starched to facilitate quilting by machine.  If hand quilting, the softer finish of washed fabric is desirable, however.  If you are in doubt about the fabric being colorfast, cut a small square of the fabric and put it into warm water in a clear glass.  If any color seeps from the fabric, it is best to pre-wash the fabric until the water is clear.   Washing the quilt after quilting is completed gives it more of an antique look, as it creates a bit of puckering around the stitching.  I machine wash my quilts on gentle cycle, and hang them over a clothesline to dry, wrong side out.  Remember the sun can fade colors.

Rotary Cutters, Rulers, Mats & Other Notions:
There are a variety of mats, rulers and cutters available.  Self-healing mats are by far the best investment.  Although they are a bit more expensive, they will probably last a lifetime, whereas the cheaper mats will wear out quickly.   The mat should be large enough to fit comfortably on your cutting surface, and be marked in a grid of inches with markings of at least ¼” included.   You may want to have a large mat on your cutting table, with a smaller mat next to your sewing machine for trimming the blocks as you sew.

The style of the cutter depends on what feels most comfortable in your hand.  Some cutters have a retractable blade, which some may find is a benefit.  Rotary cutters are extremely sharp and should be used with care, and kept out of reach of small children.  Take care not to hit the blade against the ruler, as it will dull the blade very quickly.  Replacement blades are available for most cutters, and it is necessary to change the blade when it begins to skip areas when cutting.  Rotary blade sharpeners are on the market, and worth the investment, as blades are expensive.  A 45 mm blade/cutter is fine for most jobs.

Rulers are necessary to have as a guide for the cutter, and come in a myriad of styles.  A ruler that has a “lip” to hook onto the cutting mat is a good ruler to start with.  Smaller squares are also handy, for trimming a 2-1/2”, 4-1/2”, 6-1/2” block.  Square rulers 8-1/2” ,10 ½” or 12-1/2" are handy for squaring up blocks, but are not necessary.  Some are sold in sets of various sizes.  Sandpaper or rubber “dots” are also available to prevent rulers from slipping on fabric while cutting, and a necessity for neat cutting.  One of my favorite rulers for strip cutting is the June Tailor Shape Cutter, which is marked with cutting slots every ½”, and comes in a 12” or 18” size.

Final tip:  Be sure to have a sharp seam ripper handy!  Even the most fastidious seamstress will have an occasional seam that needs to be undone.  Thread snippers next to your machine and/or ironing board are also helpful for clipping loose threads.

Sewing Machine and Thread:
Any machine is fine, as long as it produces an even stitch.  A shorter stitch is often used for machine piecing, providing a stronger seam (I set my stitch length on 2).  For piecing, it is not necessary to use 100% cotton thread, although some feel it is best for quilting by machine.  Cones of thread are more reasonable in price than spools, and thread holders are available for them.  Check your stitching, and adjust the tension, as needed, to get neat stitching on the top and bottom.  Consult your sewing machine manual to accomplish this.  It’s a good idea to have your machine cleaned and serviced regularly.

A machine that has a needle up/down selection and a speed control may be preferable for machine quilting.  A walking foot may also be necessary for machine quilting, as that foot feeds the fabric from the top as well as the bottom feed dogs, so the fabric is evenly fed on the top and bottom.   The walking foot is fine for straight-line quilting or even a slight curve.  A free-motion foot is necessary for free motion quilting, such as feather designs or circular designs.  The feed dogs on the machine are lowered, and the fabric is guided through the machine solely with the hands.  This technique is more difficult to master, and takes a lot of practice in order to have neat quilting patterns.  You may need to use a longer stitch and adjust the tension for machine quilting.

It is necessary to calibrate your machine before you begin to piece your quilt blocks.  Most machines have a foot that is used for piecing, with a leg that measures ¼” from the needle to the outside of the foot.  These do not necessarily give a ¼” seam!   Cut 3 strips of fabric, each 2 ½” wide by 6 ½” long.  Join each strip, using a quarter inch seam.  When completed, press the seams to one side and measure your block on your cutting mat.  It should measure 6 ½” from side to side, and the center strip should measure exactly 2”.  If it is narrower than that, your “quarter inch” seam is wider than ¼”.  If it measures more than 6 ½”, your seam is too narrow.  When you find the place that does give a near-perfect quarter inch seam, it may be helpful to place a line on masking tape, directly on your machine bed, to help keep your seams uniform.

If your stitching is not even, if threads catch and pull, or if your machine begins to sound noisier with a “thud” as it stitches, your needle may be getting dull.  Have extra needles handy to change your needle readily while you are piecing your blocks (I use Schmetz 80/12).   It makes a BIG difference to have sharp needles!   Another handy trick is to wind at least four bobbins before you begin to piece your blocks, so they are ready to pop in whenever you run out of bobbin thread.  It usually takes 4 or more bobbins of thread to complete a full-sized quilt top, and another 4 or more to quilt the top.

Chain and strip piecing facilitate the piecing process.  Cut the pieces for several blocks at the same time.  If you are making a 9-patch scrap quilt, for instance, cut 3 strips of equal width in contrasting colors and sew the long strips together.  Alternate sewing the strips, starting the second seam from the opposite direction of the first seam, which helps to alleviate the natural difference in the way the fabric feeds, which can create a “curve” in the seam.  This isn't as much of a problem with fat quarters, as the length is only half as much. Press the seams toward the darker fabric.  After sewing and pressing the unit, THEN cut it into the size desired.  For example, cut three 2 ½” strips of fabric, and join them in the manner desired.  Press the seams, then cut into 2 ½” segments.  You will probably have 16 or 17 pieces that measure 2 ½” by 6 ½” each.  Repeat this two more times, alternating light and dark colors each time.  Sew the three different cut and pieced strips together, and you will have a completed block, 6 ½” square.  Since your seams are ¼”, this will give a finished block size of 6”.  Trim and square up your block to measure 6-1/2”, if necessary, before joining them.

Press As You Go:
 A good steam iron is essential to successful patchwork blocks.  Press each seam toward the dark fabric whenever you can.  In some cases, the dark seam may show through the light fabric on a finished quilt.  Set the seam first by pressing the seam from the wrong side, directly on the stitching line, with the dark fabric on top.  Flip the dark fabric up and press from the right side.  The seam will be pressed toward the dark fabric automatically and will be more likely to stay in place neatly. Alternate the direction you press the seams so that the seams butt against each other when joining the segments of the block.  A soft pad on the ironing board also makes pressing easier, so change the ironing board pad when necessary.

Most fabric shops have sales regularly and quite often have half-price off rotary cutting tools, fabrics, and other notions, so watch for the flyers, or search online.  Sometimes they have coupons for 50% off one item, as well.

Next time, I’ll show some photos of 9-patch quilts, to give you some ideas, and give some instructions on piecing your first quilt.  In the meantime, you can Google “9-patch quilt patterns” and you’ll have enough to keep you busy looking for a LONG time!  

WARNING:  Quilting is known to be addictive, and I will not accept responsibility for your addiction!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Life is an ongoing lesson; Split 9-Patch

Life certainly is an ongoing series of learning opportunities.  We learn from friends, family and possibly most often through our mistakes and experiences!  My phone batteries are getting bad... whenever I put it on speaker, the line will go dead almost immediately.  Evidently, it must take more power to use the hands-free option.  My youngest son replaced one dead battery for me a few months ago, and another phone was completely dead now, so I hobbled over to Radio Shack to get a new one.  I'd noticed a few weeks ago they had a sale... four AT&T phones for $59.99.  That sale was done.  Batteries are around $20 each, plus tax.   The cheapest phone they have right now is $79.99 for a pack of 4 V-Tech phones.  They do everything my old phones do, plus the screen is easier to read, so I got them.  Three new batteries would have cost $60, so I figured it was a good buy.  Plus... they told me if I buy a warranty for $10.99, I can bring all 4 phones in before the year is up and they will install all new batteries in them.  Hmmm... $11 versus $80 for 4 new batteries... my mother didn't raise a fool, so I got the warranty.

The clerk told me NOT to leave the phone on the base, as that runs the battery out.  Apparently, I need to leave them off  the base and hang them up only when they need recharging.  I didn't know that.  I always leave my phones on the base so I know where they are and I don't have to run all over trying to find the phone.  That, my friends, is one of the perks of living alone.  You can always find the phone... or have only yourself to blame if you can't!  Since the whole point of having multiple phones is to have one nearby wherever I am, I don't plan to trek up and down to the upstairs and basement to hang my phones up, so I will disregard that piece of advice and leave them on the base, and bring them in at the end of a year to get new batteries.  My daughter, Tricia, asked me why my phones are going dead (I've had them almost 4 years) and hers aren't... and that is the reason.  Mine are always on the base.  When I call her, the answering machine picks it up before she can find a phone to answer.  I'd think maybe she just checks the caller ID and doesn't answer when she sees it's me, but she always calls me back when she finds a phone.

A beautiful brand new Viking Mega Quilter has been sitting in my basement since I moved.  I have never set the frame up yet, although I bought the machine before I moved to Ohio.  I didn't realize that the machine can be used on its own, as well as a long-arm quilter.  Several people on my quilt list have them and love them.  It has a knee lift for the presser foot, needle up/down positions, a big quilting surface with an extension tray, and it quilts in the ditch without a walking foot.  I searched for a week, and found three boxes of parts for the machine, but not the foot pedal or power cord.  My children came two years ago and organized all the boxes in my garage (from the move) and put most of the sewing-related things in my basement rec room which will be my "studio"... someday.  But not the box with the foot pedal and power cord.  They wrote: QUILTING MACHINE on the little box with a black marker and then hid it between a bunch of bins and boxes... not in my sewing room and not on a shelf in the garage, where they neatly organized a lot of other things.  I think it was a trap to see if I would finish sorting through the boxes!  I was ready to order new parts, and gave it one last shot... and about 4:30 in the morning, I found the box!  I was ecstatic!!!  Now all I had to do was haul that heavy monster up to my family room, where I am set up to sew.  One step at a time... but I finally got it up.

Next lesson... basting spray.  Another thing I learned from fellow quilters.  I'd been pin-basting the tops to the batting and backing, which is a very time-consuming process.  Then the top is quilted and the pins have to be taken out.  505 basting spray was on sale online at JoAnn's with free shipping, so I bought some.  It works like a dream!!!  I laid down some sheets to protect the carpet and furniture from overspray... I didn't want to sit on a chair and be glued down... and clamped the backing to my cutting table and sprayed.  There was very little offensive odor, as there is with some brands of spray.  The first quilt I did was a baby quilt... Split 9-Patch... that I had sewn last year.

A photo of the block is on the right.  At the top of the photo is an example of the middle row.  I used the same fabric in the center of all the blocks to provide some unity.  There is a light on one side of the center square and a dark on the other side.  Below that you see a complete block.  The top row consists of two dark prints plus a half-square triangle, half light and half dark.  The bottom row consists of two lights with a half-square triangle.  Care needs to be taken to position the half-square triangles so that the dark is touching the dark squares and the light is touching the light squares, which forms the pattern.  It is a 9-patch with two split squares, hence it is a Split 9-Patch.  The squares are all 2-1/2", finishing at 2", and to cut the half-square triangles, you need to add 7/8" to the finished size, so 2-7/8" squares, cut in half diagonally.  I prefer to use 3" squares, and then trim them to size after sewing.  The block is pieced with 1/4" seams, and results in a
6-1/2" block, which finishes to 6".
The photo on the left shows the finished baby quilt, and this measures about 44 inches square.  The blocks are set togther in a "barn-raising" pattern, like log cabin blocks can be set.  I've made this pattern in a queen size and also in a full-bed size.  The latter is done with lots of reds, and is for my grandson, Charles, but I haven't quilted it yet.  Perhaps he will get it for Christmas this year, if I get the quilts made for his sisters, too.  The baby quilt was made with leftovers from the queen sized quilt, and I still have a few more blocks for "starter" for another one. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to e-mail me, and I'll be happy to help you, if I can.

I also learned a new method of binding... I joined the strips (I didn't use bias strips), pressed the strips in half, wrong sides together, sewed it to the back side of the quilt, then flipped it to the front and top-stitched. No hand sewing.  And it makes a doubled binding, which is always the first thing to wear out on a quilt, it seems.

And now, I'm going to go and spray another flimsie!  Oh... flimsie is a word I learned from my quilt groups... it means an unquilted top.  Quilters have a language all their own, I'm finding out.  UFOs are unfinished objects, not alien spaceships.  I certainly have a lot of those... unfinished objects, that is.

I hope your batteries are full and your fabric stash is, also!  And, in the words of an old friend, remember... just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Breads and Babysitting

I had a great time in Minnesota babysitting my three grandchildren, ages 10, 7 and 3.  While there, my son took us to a comic book store where they were having their annual "free comic book day".  I am not very mobile, so I didn't know how much I would enjoy walking around... and there were wall-to-wall people filling the store and the parking lot outside.  Many customers were in costumes... mostly super-heroes... and there were many "super heroes" greeting the people as they arrived in the parking lot.  When we drove up, a red face grimacing with fangs appeared, banging on my window!  I had no idea who he was, but he was incredibly realistic looking... and appropriately terrifying!  Then he opened my door and with a gentlemanly swoop of his arm, invited me out, saying he also could work with the good force!
My son told me he was Darth Maul, and one of the group that uses the dark force on Star Wars.  Mark said the look on my face was priceless.  To the left is a photo Mark took of Quentin and Charlotte with some of the Star Wars characters.  Now tell me YOU wouldn't be a little bit startled if that guy with the red face banged on YOUR window!  The kids wet heads are due to the fact that we had just come from their swimming class.  

I was hobbling around the store with my cane in hand when an older man came up to me, pointed, and said, "I know who YOU are... I'll bet you walk into a closet and come out as Wonder Woman!"  It was a fun experience, all in all, and I urge you to go to one of those next year, if there is a comic book store near you.  Mark said they have them nationwide, sponsored by the comic book companies.  I can't say it was on my bucket list, as I'd never heard of it before, but I'm glad I had the experience.  The Star Wars characters looked very realistic, as did a few others... but some of them were not exactly as I'd have expected.  Indiana Jones, for example, had just about doubled in size, and didn't look in the least bit swashbuckling, and Wolverine looked nothing like Hugh Jackman! 

The little girl from Kick Ass was there, and she was a hoot (see photo at right)!  Her father was also dressed in costume, but didn't do or say much except stand by looking proud.  Ava wasn't in the photos, as she was on a camping trip that weekend.

Other than swimming lessons and forays into the fantasy world of comics, we were busy all the time.  Between homework, cooking, baking, and keeping a three-year-old occupied, I barely had any time to work on the knitting project I'd brought along.  We did a little beading together, did Charlotte's "homework" of flash cards, coloring, and reading every day, but Charlotte and I did have time to squeeze in a nap every afternoon, even though she thinks she's too big for naps.  After I'd left, she told Mark she was glad she could go back to school and didn't have to take care of Grandma anymore!  Quentin, on the other hand, told Mark if I would move in and live with them forever, he would gladly give me his room.  It was a joy to spend those two weeks with them, and I'm looking forward to summer vacation when they will be coming to stay with me for part of the time.

We made bread sticks (a favorite of all the grandchildren), French bread, cinnamon rolls, pizza dough, dough gods (fried bread dough) and Peasant Bread, using up two bags of bread flour and one of all-purpose flour.  They have bread sticks and rolls in the freezer, and a roll of chocolate chip cookie dough in the refrigerator to bake another batch of fresh cookies... or eat the dough.  I've mellowed out in my old age... I used to scold my kids when they snatched cookie dough while I was baking cookies... now I invite the grandkids to "taste" it!  Here's a great recipe for bread many ways in the bread machine:

All-Purpose Bread Dough:
Place in the bread machine pan in this order:  1-1/2 cups warm water, 1 Tablespoon Olive or other vegetable oil, 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar, 1 teaspoon salt.  Add:  4 cups bread flour.  Sprinkle 1 Tablespoon instant yeast over the top of the flour.  Put on dough setting and press start.  Check to make sure the dough is firm enough as it processes without being too hard... flours vary, and humidity has a bearing on it, too.  When the dough is done, shape it as desired and let it rise, covered by a tea towel so it doesn't dry out.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes or until done.  Brush crust with butter after removing from the oven.  This can be rolled and stretched out for pizza dough, or shaped into dinner rolls (makes about 1 dozen lovely rolls baked in a greased muffin tin), a loaf or two of French or Italian style bread (I make two smaller loaves, rather than one big one.)  Sometimes I add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of cracked wheat, and that's delicious, too.  You don't have to adjust the bread flour. You can fry small chunks of dough and then shake them in cinnamon sugar for dough gods, a poor man's doughnuts!  The following recipe for Peasant Bread is my favorite bread of all time!  I just put whatever I have handy into it, and it is a delicious artisan-type bread with a crunchy, chewy crust and moist interior.

Peasant Bread:
5 cups bread flour
1/2 cup rye flour
1/2 cup wheat flour
1/2 cup flax seed
1/2 cup oat bran
1/2 cup cracked wheat
1-1/2 Tablespoons instant yeast
1-1/2 Tablespoons salt
Stir to mix dry ingredients.  Add:
3 cups tepid water (or a little more to make a nice wet dough)
Stir well.  This dough should be wetter than a normal bread.  NO kneading!  Cover the bowl with press & seal, let sit for 2 hours.  Dough will rise up almost double.  I took out half and formed it into a round loaf.  Let sit on a lightly floured parchment paper covered with a tea towel for about 45 minutes or until about double in size.  Heat the oven to 450 degrees, with the casserole in the oven.  Put dough into the HOT casserole, slash the top, cover casserole and bake for about 20 minutes covered, then uncover the casserole and bake another 5 or 10 minutes.  I put the remaining dough on a floured tea towel and just rounded it up a bit on the flour so it could be handled lightly, then put it into a plastic bag and it can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks before baking.  When you are ready to bake it, put the dough on lightly floured parchment paper covered with a tea towel, and proceed as with the first loaf. 

You can use just about any kinds of flour you like.  My youngest son thought sunflower seeds would be a good addition.  I think you could also add dried raisins or dried cranberries for a variation, but haven't tried that yet.  While I was in Minnesota, they had wheat flour and a 7-grain breakfast mixture that I used, and that turned out great, too.

It's good to travel and spend time with the grandkids, but it's always good to be home, too.  I have been busy cutting strips and sewing on four quilt tops, simultaneously.  I'll put pictures up when I'm finished.  The two Scrappy Squares are getting borders, and I'm finishing a framed 9-Patch that I made a long time ago for a class sample.  The fourth quilt is a scrappy heart pattern using 1-1/2" pieces... 16 of them to form the 4" body of the heart, set on point.  And there are others already forming in my mind!  My mind is so much faster than my hands.  

I hope it's sunny wherever you are, and there is just enough rain to make your garden happy!  

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Addendum to Scrappy Squares

A quilting friend asked if this pattern could be adapted to 1-1/2" strips, so I worked up a sample this morning.  Here is a picture of the Scrappy Square block using the smaller strips... each square is about 3-1/2", finishing to 3", so the completed block would finish to 6".  I started with strips that were only half the width of the fabric, and got 7 squares from the half width, plus a little more... so you could possibly get 15 squares from the whole strip width.  That would make 3 blocks with 3 squares left over.  The photo to the right demonstrates the cutting process plus 4 squares set together (not yet sewn).  Now to experiment with 9-patch blocks separating the Scrappy Squares... I think it would be pretty with a fussy-cut rose in the center of the 9-patch.  I'll keep you posted!  Happy sewing!

Monday, April 16, 2012

April Showers and Scrappy Squares

It's already mid-April, and our weather has been alternating between rain and sunshine.  I prefer sun, but I know we need the rain. It's certainly better than northern Minnesota, where they had another wet snowfall over the weekend!  The rain also brings time to think... time to remember... time to ponder the scraps of my life... all the bits and pieces that have been joined together to fashion who I am.  I think of the people who have moved through my life and added the color, the laughter, and sometimes the tears.

Families fashion who we are, as well.  I watch my grandchildren moving through their lives... sometimes hurrying so fast to grow up that they fail to appreciate the importance of living in the moment.  Growing up doesn't always bring with it the ability to be responsible... that is a lesson we learn through the choices we make, by sometimes stumbling and being forced to make different choices, and sometimes simply by being wise enough to recognize the examples others might provide for us, whether those examples are positive or painful.  As parents (and grandparents) we come to know that we cannot prevent the pain, any more than we can provide the happy endings.  Always, we can surround them with love and support their decisions... with praise when their choice is made with wisdom, and oftentimes with silence when it is not.  If we believe in a higher power, we can pray that they will receive the protection that we cannot provide.

The rainy weather gives me a chance to hibernate in my house and work on projects, since I'm not inclined to venture out in bad weather.  My current project is a Scrappy Squares quilt... a pattern I've been wanting to execute in fabric for a long time, but have been procrastinating.  I have projects already bagged up waiting for the finishing touches, and didn't need another one... or so I kept telling myself.  But there are days when my energy level just isn't up to hunkering down and doing the work it takes to finish them up.  I keep telling myself that one of these days, I will feel energetic and able to be on my feet for long enough to get some quilts pinned, ready for machine quilting... and one day that will happen.  It's happened before, so I know it's possible!  But today isn't that day.  I always seem to have more ideas than energy, and the creative urges are strong within me, and so I create... believing that some day the mundane finishes to the creativity will happen, also.  

Scrappy Squares Quilt:
2-1/2” strips of light pattern fabric
2-1/2” strips of dark pattern fabric
Tools needed: 
½ square triangle ruler
6-1/2” square ruler
12” square ruler
Rotary cutter and mat
Sew one light strip to one dark strip.  Set seam by ironing on wrong side, dark side up.  Then lift dark fabric up and press from the right side, and the seam will be pressed toward the dark fabric.  Make two sets.  Join into a tube, alternating dark and light fabrics.  Press tube flat.   See photo at the right.
Cut triangles with a right angle ruler. See photo at the left.  There will be just a few stitches at the top of the angle.  Open these stitches… you probably won’t even need a seam ripper.  Again, set seam on triangle by ironing the stitching, dark side up.  Lift point and press from right side, pressing the seam toward the dark fabric.  You should get 8 triangles from each strip.  When pressed open, they form 6” squares.  Square them up using a 6-1/2” square ruler.  Each square should measure 6” when finished.  Join in sets of two, alternating light and dark points.  Photo below shows 4 strips joined before joining them into the tube, and also what the square will look like and how they should be joined to form the block.
Work gently, as you will be working with bias sides on your square.  Join 2 sets of two  to form an 11-1/2” square.  Square this up, if necessary.  To make a scrappy quilt, each strip should be of a different fabric.  It takes 4 of the 6” squares to make the large square.  Note that each “tube” of 4 strips, 2 light and 2 dark, will yield eight 6” squares, or two 11-1/2” blocks when joined.  Figure how big you want your quilt… for example, if you want your quilt to be a lap quilt for your sofa, you might want to make it 55” x 66”, and therefore need 30 squares (5 squares wide by 6 squares long).  You can add a border to extend the size somewhat and frame your quilt blocks.  Since we know it takes 4 strips (2 light and 2 dark) to make 2 full squares, in order to obtain 30 squares, you will need 15 total units, or sixty 2-1/2” strips, half light and half dark. 
 Join the 11-1/2” squares in rows, making sure to butt them to opposite colors.  See photo at the left, which shows 16 blocks.  Try to space the squares in such a way that each one is next to a different color.  Add borders, then quilt as desired. If you like, you can make the pattern in just two colors.  I chose to use jewel tones for my quilt… purples, blues, and greens in various shades.  This is an easy quilt to make, even though the sides are bias.  I pinned them carefully without stretching, and it worked up beautifully without distortion.  I plan to put a light 2-1/2” border all around the quilt top, then add a piano key border to each side, binding in a darker color, and will probably quilt in the ditch with a walking foot.  

There is usually a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment when we can convert our thoughts and ideas into fabric.  Our friends give us praise for a job well done.  We gratefully accept their accolades... feeling fortunate to be able to release the artist within us by working with fabrics as well as other mediums.  But perhaps the highest accolade we can receive is from our children... at least, it is for me.  My oldest son and I were dancing to It's a Wonderful World, the Mother/Son dance at his wedding, and he whispered in my ear that when he hears this song, it reminds him of how I raised him to see life.  I think that may be the highest praise I've ever received.  

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Dandelions and Caramel Apple Puffed Pancake

My yard is a riotous patchwork of color... filled with patches of violets and golden dandelions.  I'm sure my citified neighbors don't appreciate the fact that I refuse to put weed killer on my yard.  These so-called weeds are wonderful healers... whether in tincture form or flower essences.  The Native American root doctor, Tis-Mal Crow, taught that the plants know before we do what we need, and to watch for the plants that "volunteer" in our yards.  I am not yet familiar with the plants in this area of Ohio, but I do know the value of Dandelions!  

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), rich in minerals, was probably introduced into European medicine by the Arabian physicians who were writing about its virtues in the tenth century, and it has sustained its strong medicinal reputation ever since!  Young maidens used the feathery seed balls of the Dandelion to determine if their true loves were really true: a maiden would blow on the Dandelion three times and if at least one of the fuzzy seeds remained, it meant her sweetheart was thinking about her. Dandelion leaf is a good natural source of potassium, rather than depleting the body’s potassium supply as is the case with diuretic drugs.  It makes an ideally balanced diuretic, and modern herbalists still value it as the diuretic of choice for treating rheumatism, gout, edema, heart disease, high blood pressure and in inflammation and congestion of the liver and gall bladder.  Dandelion has a reputation as a blood-cleanser and is considered helpful for many eczema-like skin problems that result when the kidneys or liver don’t remove impurities from the blood, as well as being a specific in cases of congestive jaundice. It is also suggested for women’s hormonal imbalances and PMS, and has been found to reduce blood sugar.  Even the most serious cases of hepatitis have rapidly been cured, sometimes within a week, with Dandelion Root tea, taken 4 to six cups daily with a light diet.  Young dandelion leaves are traditionally eaten in salads for their taste.  The roots may be roasted to produce an excellent coffee substitute that is naturally caffeine-free.  All parts of the plant are used for wine or tonic beers.  About 93 species of insects visit Dandelion for its nectar, and it is an important honey plant.  Possible side effects:  The fresh latex that appears as white sticky liquid in the root and stem can be caustic and cause skin irritations.  One advantage of this property, however, is that it removes warts if applied religiously a few times a day. Since the pain in my ankles and feet is especially bad today, I think I need to go out and pick some of those fresh leaves and flowers and brew myself some tea!  

As a flower essence, Dandelion may be beneficial for compulsive 'doers' who tend to cram too much into their lives, pushing themselves and leaving little time for relaxation, Dandelion releases the physical and emotional tension that accumulates in the body, particularly in the neck and shoulders; brings courage and endurance to those who feel worn out or discouraged. Dandelion reminds us we have right to be here. An excellent essence for those who are hindered by their own shyness. Excellent purifiers of intention, allowing us to look carefully at our deepest motives and impulses.

A few months ago, my daughter took me to the Original Pancake House, and she ordered a German Caramel Apple Pancake.  It reminded me that I used to make a similar oven puffed-pancake when my children were young, so I came home and dug up the recipe and tried it several times!  My daughter-in-law made these Caramel Apple Puffed Pancakes for brunch today for her family. It's a cloudy, gloomy day here in Cincinnati today, so it's a good day to put this recipe up on my blog!

Caramel Apple Puffed Pancake:
Put 3 Tablespoons butter to melt in a 9" glass pie plate in oven while oven is preheating.  When melted, add 3 Tablespoons brown sugar and stir well.  The butter will still separate a bit, but that's okay.  While butter is melting, peel and thinly slice 1 or 2 tart apples (I used Gala). You can add a Tablespoon or two of white corn syrup to make a softer caramel topping, if desired.

Mix in small bowl: 
2 large eggs, whisked until well blended
Add & whisk together:
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup flour
1 Tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
few grinds of nutmeg (or can use ground, about 1/8 teaspoon), optional
Pour batter over butter/brown sugar mixture. Put sliced apples on top of batter. Sprinkle lightly with cinnamon.
Bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes. Pancake will be cooked and puffed around the edges.
Turn onto plate.  EAT & enjoy!  

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Rag Quilts and Ramblings

It's hard to believe that just a few days ago I had the air conditioner on... and now I have the heat going again!  I finally gave in and turned the heat on when the thermostat in my house dropped to  62 degrees and I was freezing.  We have warmer weather on the way again, but evidently the circuit board for my air conditioning unit hasn't come in yet, as the repairman hasn't been back to fix it.  He rigged it so it works, but the fan runs continuously.  He said it is actually preferable to run the fan always, as it circulates the air better whether it is heating or cooling, and is minimal in cost, estimating around an additional $15.00 per year.  He also said it is less stressful to the furnace or air conditioning unit to run the fan continuously.  My oldest son was here when the repairman came, and he said from an energy standpoint, he thought it's preferable to put the strain on the unit rather than further deplete our energy sources!  He's the quietest of my children, but has always been an activist for human rights and our environment.  He's the one I go to for advice, politically, also.  He's informed and not shy about expressing his opinions to me.  

Cool weather brings thoughts of quilts again.  Our quilting group at church has made a lot of Rag Quilts for Project Linus, which distributes them to babies in hospitals.  A few of us do the actual sewing, while others do the pinning and snipping.  I have learned through experience NOT to wash and dry them in my own laundry room, as I clogged the dryer and had to have a repairman come and fix it.  Next time, I will bring them to the laundromat and do them there... and save my appliances.

Supplies needed:
sharp scissors
rotary cutter
cutting ruler/guide
cutting mat
sewing machine
neutral colored thread  (white or off-white)
quilting pins

You will need:
7" squares of flannel for the front and back of each square and 6" squares of batting to sandwich between.  You can use any weight, but should be consistent throughout the quilt.
You might want to use the same fabric for the backing squares, with a variety of prints for the front.  This is a quilt where just about anything goes and you can use up your leftover fabrics and pieces of batting left from other projects. 
 Amount of fabric needed (Figures are based on fabric that is 44” wide):
Each 7" strip of fabric will yield 6 squares, and your finished block size will be 6", with 1/2" seams on all sides.  You can compute the total yardage needed by figuring out how big you want your quilt, how many squares of fabric you will need, and multiplying it out. 
Baby quilt, 36" square:  36 squares of backing flannel and 36 squares for the front, plus 36 batting squares = 6 squares per 7” strip, and since you need 36 squares, that is 6 strips, so you will need a total of 42” of fabric each for the backing and front (7” strips yielding 6 squares each, 6 strips X 7” = 42”), approximately 1-1/4 yards each, front and back.  Baby quilt, 36 X 42":  42 squares of backing flannel, 42 squares front squares, plus 42 batting squares.  Fabric needed:  approximately 49” (approximately 1-1/2 yards each).
Of course, you can make them bigger, using these guidelines to figure the amount of fabric needed.
Sandwich batting square between a back and front square, with the right side of both pieces of flannel facing out and the batting on the inside.  Pin at each side of the square through all thicknesses (4 pins parallel to the edges) and sew diagonally across all thicknesses, stitching an “X” on the square, corner to corner.  When all “sandwiches” have been completed, sew them together in strips (I use 3 pins on each seam, with the 1/2” seam on the right side.  The back side will look finished when it is sewn.  Sew strips together to form the quilt, and sew around all four outside edges, ½” from edge.  Clip ALL seams just to stitching, every ¼”, including the outer edge.  Be careful not to clip into stitching line, but clip as close to the seam as possible.  When all seams have been clipped, wash and dry your quilt to form the shaggy look.  
 Note:  You can use any size squares or rectangles you wish.  Just make sure your batting is about 1” smaller than the front and back, and that the front and back are the same size.  You can also use denim or homespun, as these will fray easily, as well.  I do not pre-wash any of the fabrics.  

I found some special "snippers" at JoAnn Fabrics made especially for snipping these types of quilts, and they really simplify the job and make it much less stressful on the "scissor hands".  These quilts are soft and as colorful as you want to make them.  Since I quilt, I like having a pattern that uses up all the little pieces left over from quilting bigger quilts.  I sew pajamas for my grandchildren and lounge pants for my children, so the leftover flannel is put to good use in these Rag quilts, also.  My granddaughter, Maddie, made one of these Rag quilts for her nephew when he was born, almost a couple of years ago.  It was a fun project for her, and a good way for a beginner to learn to sew.  

I was planning to make a trip to Minnesota this coming weekend to help Quentin celebrate his 7th birthday on April 2nd, but cancelled my plans today.  (The photo to the right is Quentin Howard with my father, Howard, his namesake.  It was taken about 3 years ago... would you believe my dad was just a few years from 90 there?)  I will go at the end of April instead, and babysit all three of my Minnesota grandchildren while their parents take a romantic weekend trip together.  They think I'm doing them a favor... and I KNOW I am the one on the receiving end... they are giving me a wonderful opportunity to be a live-in grandma, enjoying my grandbabies for that time!  Perhaps I will have to do a little spoiling, while I'm at it!  I hope you have children around you, too, reminding you to look at the world through their eyes of innocence and wonder.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Blogging and Time

Tax time again... I don't know why I tend to put it off for so long, when I could just take the bull by the horns and tackle it on February 1st... or 15th... or even at the end of the month.  But... I wait until March rolls around... and rolls... and then before I know it, there's only a couple of weeks to the deadline!  And I am feeling stressed.  There really aren't many reasons for me to be stressed these days.  I'm retired!  And it's the best job I've ever had.  I can do what I want to do when I want to do it and for as long as I want to do it... or not.  I can work on a project until 4:00 a.m. and sleep until I wake up (or the phone wakes me).  Retirement can lead to a lack of scheduling altogether, and perhaps that isn't such a positive thing.  It's far too easy to put things off.  When I was working, I was forced to make better use of my time.

Now I have time... time to write a blog and read others' blogs. One blog that really caught my eye today is Michele's "With Heart and Hands".  Today's blog was especially appropriate, I thought... Coloring Outside the Lines:
Too often we restrict ourselves by staying inside the lines, and it's good to give ourselves permission to stray outside occasionally.  And while you're at her site, read about her  Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative.  The quilts can be no larger than 9" by 12", and they are auctioned off to support  Alzheimer's research.  Hers is a very moving story, and introduces us first-hand to an extremely worthy cause.  All that's needed is the time it takes to sew a lot of love and hope into a little bit of fabric.  There are pages of photos of quilts that have been donated.  Michele's site also links to a  lot of free block patterns.

Another blog that I enjoyed today was Laurie's KniceKnitties:
Laurie's blog today teaches you how to crochet Scrunchies... so colorful, cute and easy!  Both of these blogs link to other pages, as well.

Blogging might be seen as a waste of time to some, but for me it's a lifeline to the outside world.  Moving from the small town of Chisholm on Minnesota's Iron Range to the big city of Cincinnati, Ohio, I missed my friends of over 40 years terribly!  My telephone and computer keep me in touch with most of them.  And unlike years past when we had only snail mail or expensive telephone bills if we wanted to communicate with friends and family, today we can be in touch in an instant.  With Skype, we can even see our loved ones while we talk to them.

If you like making use of your time by multi-tasking, try crocheting these nylon net Scrubbies while you watch TV or visit.  They have many uses:  my youngest daughter says they are great for scrubbing foot callouses.  My youngest son loves them for cleaning his white-wall tires.  Most of us find them nearly indispensable in the kitchen or bathroom.

Cut 1 ½” strips across the width (72”) of stiff nylon net.   I usually get 2 yards of each color and put cut ends together to make a 1-yard piece.  Fold in half lengthwise, and again, in quarters, so you have a piece that is 1 yard long and about 5” wide when folded.  It works well to use a rotary cutter and ruler.  Each 2 yard piece makes 4 or 5 scrubbies (depending on how wide you cut your strips), with a few extra pieces leftover, which can be put together with other colors to make “scrappy scrubbies”.   Each scrubbie takes 8 strips.  Size J crochet hook.
Tie 8 lengths together with tails about 6” to 8” long.  If the net isn’t really stiff, I tie longer tails so it is more firmly stuffed when finished (the tails provide stuffing for ball).  Wind them loosely into a ball before beginning, if you choose.  I usually cut and wind all the balls before I begin to crochet the scrubbies.  Place them all in a bag and you are ready to go whenever you need some “pick up” work. 

Chain 3.  Join with slip stitch. Chain 1 (1st single crochet); Work 2 single crochet in the top of each chain (6 stitches). Row 2 & 3:  Work 2 single crochets in each stitch around for 2 more rows (24 stitches around). 
Rows 4 and following rows:  1 single crochet in the top of each single crochet around. 
When 6 tails (7 strips) have been used, turn right side out and using 8th strip, begin to decrease, working one single crochet in the top of every other single crochet until top is closed.   End with slip stitch in last stitch.  Pull remaining end through to knot and hide in center of ball.

When I was visiting my son and his family last year, his cats got into my tote bag of nylon balls waiting to be crocheted... and there were bits of colorful nylon net shredded all over the floor!  What fun they had!!!  I'm glad I could put some joy in their life, however unwittingly.  Gabriella and Griffin helped me clean up the mess, all of us laughing hilariously while we worked.  The cats sat innocently on the sidelines, pretending not to notice us.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Marching into Spring

Cincinnati didn’t have much winter weather this year!   Here, in mid-March, we are having record-breaking high temperatures in the 80s.  Unbelievable!  The Bradford Pear trees on my boulevard are blossoming.  The bushes and trees that border my back yard are leafing out, once again giving the impression that I am alone in the “woods”, as they block out the view of any houses beyond the trees (see the photo below).  The Forsythia bushes around my deck are blooming, and the bright yellow blossoms are a welcome sight and good eye candy.  Squirrels scamper along the cables beyond the deck, performing on the high wire.

Today, there was someone mowing across the street from me, but my grass isn’t long enough to mow yet.  The weather has been dry, and I lost 2 majestic pine trees in the last two years.  The lovely Dogwood tree in my front yard died the first winter I was here, and I haven’t replaced it yet.  I would love to put in some fruit trees… dark cherry and peach… but I am sure the squirrels and birds would eat the fruit before it ripens enough for me to pick.  It wasn’t warm enough in northern Minnesota to plant any fruit trees other than apple, and I had three varieties of apple trees in my back yard there. There are berry trees edging my back yard here, and we’ve only tasted the berries a time or two… otherwise, the birds and animals pick them clean. 

My children were all here this past weekend, and it was so hot we turned the air conditioner on.  By Monday, it had stopped cooling and I had to call a repairman (thank goodness for home warranty insurance!).  He "hotwired" it to work, but had to order a new circuit board.  Without the air conditioning, our allergies were having a hay-day!  Now, it's nice and cool again, and the air is allergen-free.   

This is the season for allergies and colds to flare up.  I have atomizers in my bathrooms, and fill them with Thieve’s Blend Essential Oil, especially when I have company coming.  If I feel a scratchy throat heralding a cold, I tuck a tissue with a few drops of the oil into my shirt, so I am inhaling it all day, and it usually wards off the cold.  Herbal legend tells us that robbers looted homes during the Black Plague, and the blend of essential oils prevented them from contracting the disease, hence the name “Thieve’s Blend”. Here is the “recipe” I use.  I use the dropper in the oil to measure each one.  I don’t count out drops, but fill the dropper about ¾ full, so the balance between all oils is roughly accurate.

Thieve’s Blend Essential Oil: 

18 droppers Clove essential oil
9 droppers Lemon essential oil
9 droppers Cinnamon Leaf essential oil
5 droppers Eucalyptus essential oil
5 droppers Rosemary essential oil
Combine in 1 oz. bottle. NOTE: NEVER use the essential oils directly on your skin.

Another natural remedy that is available to everyone is Garlic.  We use fresh minced Garlic on our salads daily, as well as in many of our foods. We love the flavor fresh Garlic adds, so it's easy for us to include in our daily diet.  Garlic supplements are available over-the-counter, if you prefer to take it in that form.  My younger sister told me that people mentioned to her that she smells like Garlic, and offered her breath mints!  She looked at the bottle of Garlic supplements that she was taking, and it was not odor-free, as she had thought.  So be aware that is available in odorless or regular form.  

I looked for a photo of some of the herbs in my garden in Minnesota, but didn't find any of the plants in this essential oil blend.  I did find a picture of the prettiest flower in my garden... granddaughter Madelyn, who loved to sit on the terrace and smell the flowers.  Now that lovely flower is blossoming into womanhood at 13, but I think she would still enjoy smelling the flowers.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Artisan Bread and Poetry

It isn't sunny in Cincinnati today!  In fact, it's been raining most of the day... softly pelleting the earth, not hard and angry as is sometimes the case.  I just heard that one of my good friends lost her mother, and it reminds me of a short poem I wrote once, many years ago:

It’s raining in my heart
Soft, liquid love
Seeping iridescent drops
feeding rainbows of the soul.

Rest well, blessed lady... you have enriched many lives, and will be missed by many!

A rainy day cries out for the comforting smell of bread baking... and here is a recipe for delicious artisan bread that  my son discovered on the internet, from an old newspaper article.  I've tried for years to  make a good artisan bread without success, so this was a wonderful place to begin making breads that are even better than the expensive European breads in the grocery store!  Unfortunately, it isn't low-carb, so I don't make it very often... mostly just when company is coming so I'm not tempted to eat the whole loaf by myself!  The photo is one my sister took of one of her first attempts, and it tastes even better than it looks.  The crust is crisp and chewy and the inside texture is actually moist, reminiscent of the inside of a cream puff.  We've experimented with different flours and additions, so you are only limited by your imagination.  It takes only moments to mix the batter up. 

No-Knead Artisan Bread

3 cups bread flour 
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1 to 2 teaspoons salt, according to your taste
Cornmeal or bran as needed.
1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.
2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.
3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball.  Sprinkle a piece of parchment paper with flour, put dough seam side down on paper and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. May score the top with a sharp knife, if desired.  Cover with a cotton tea towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than doubled in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.
4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 2 to 6 quart heavy covered pot or casserole (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven and take cover off.  (Don't burn yourself!)  Lift paper with the dough carefully and put it in the casserole, leaving the dough on the paper.  it may look like a mess, but that is okay.  Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 5 to 10 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.
Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.
The dough is slightly sour from raising for so long, and I have left a bit of the dough in the bowl and added the new ingredients to that, using the left over dough as sourdough starter.  I've also developed a delicious multi-grain recipe that I will share in another blog.  Try variations:  about 10 or 12 whole peeled garlic cloves stuck into the raw dough before it raises, folding it over itself to enclose the garlic cloves; Greek olives sliced and sprinkled with grated cheese, laid on the raw dough before raising, then folded over itself to enclose them.  I haven't yet tried dried red and green peppers in the dough, but wouldn't that be a beautiful holiday bread?  There are so many possibilities... tell me what you've tried!

My break time is over... time to get some laundry done and do some more housecleaning.  I have company coming this weekend, and all of my chicks will be back in the nest!  Nothing makes me happier than when all of my family is together.  Last August was the last time we were all together, and my oldest daughter took some family pictures.   One of my favorite Christmas gifts was the framed enlargement (about 18 x 24) that she gave me of most of the grandchildren... one granddaughter was missing from the portrait, because she was working... but nine of them are included in the photo.  They range in age from 3 to 22, and each one of them is a delight!

Have a wonderful day where ever you are.  Make a phone call or visit to someone you love... we never know how long we'll be together.