Monday, November 25, 2013

Snowman Ornaments


I picked up my repaired Janome sewing machine a few days ago.  There was a one-day sale at Hancock’s on a sewing table the same day, at about half the regular price.  It has a cut-out for a machine that can be raised or lowered.  I was excited to have the table for my machines, as the folding table I’d been using was not heavy enough and it vibrated a lot when I sewed… especially when I was sewing pedal to the metal, which is my speed of choice!  We measured the machine, measured the opening, and there was plenty of space for my Janome.  The Opal is a few inches longer, so I was confident that would fit, as well.  I called my son to stop by on his way home from work to carry the heavy box in for me, which he did, and I anxiously unpacked it… no assembly required, the box promised.  Well, we had measured length and width, but did not measure depth!  My Janome sunk about an inch below the table top.  I looked around my house for something that could bring it up to the correct height, and spotted a cardboard bolt with fabric on it.  Perfect height!  Again, I measured and cut one end off so it would fit lengthwise.  But there is gap on the back side of the machine.  I think it will still work okay.   I plugged the machine in, turned it on, sewed the final seam on a quilt top… and it began to chirp.  It chirped just a bit at first, then worked itself into a frenzy, a constant barrage of chirping!  Clearly, it did not want to sew!  The machine is obviously not fixed.  I will return it to the shop and have them leave it turned on for a while so it can chirp its little tune for the repairman. 

So, the Opal was returned to service.  It wasn’t too long for the opening on the table… there was barely enough room lengthwise (I measured again!) but it would fit.  However, it is almost ½” too wide and will not fit in the opening. I tipped it one way, then the other (have you ever tried bringing a box spring up a narrow, curved staircase?)… and it just will not fit.  I am extremely disappointed, to say the least.  I can still use it with the cut-out portion up, but then it will be higher, which is one of the reasons I wanted the table with the recessed opening for the machines.  It is sturdier than the folding table I had been using, so I think I’ll like it better than what I had before.   Some days, it’s like taking one step forward and two back!

 I have told the saga of my iron and the sewing machine.  Now I have added my printer to the list of necessary equipment that has failed!  It flashes angrily at me, saying the printer’s ink pads have reached the end of their service life.  I contacted Epson, and they said it would not be cost-effective to replace them, as it isn’t something most people are able to do without a technician.  They also said that there is a preset number from the factory, and when a person has printed that many pages, they will get an error message… but they could send me a “fix” for that in an e-mail (how ridiculous is that… a preset stop point!).  I was told to follow the instructions and it would reset the count, but it would not fix the ink pad problem, and the quality of my printing would be affected until I replaced the pads.  I did as I was told, and when I tried to run the program to override the count, I got another error message!  An error message for an error message… so I bit the bullet and purchased another printer just like it so I can still use the ink cartridges I have purchased. 

I also got a new ironing board cover, and after more contortions of pulling and stretching, finally got it installed on the ironing board, so I can now press with better results.  While I was at Walmart getting the ironing board cover, I bought some infant crew socks to make these Snowman ornaments.  They are adorable, and easy to make… I have at least 20 to make, and I did seven of them tonight.  They are simple enough to make that even children can help, making it a fun family project. 

Snowman Ornament: 
Infant sock, size 6-18 month is the size I used.
Cut off sock at heel line, see photo.
This doesn’t have to be perfect, so don’t stress out over it.  Thread a needle and double the thread with a good, big knot.  Hand stitch around the cut edge of the sock with a running stitch.  Pull stitches tightly and stitch across the gathered stitches a couple of times, to close opening completely.

Stuff the stocking with poly fill.  Using a sturdy string or strong cotton yarn, tie tightly about a third of the way down from the gathered edge.  This is the head of your snowman.  Stuff the body portion more fully.  Using a double thread again, stitch around the bottom “hem” of the stocking, using a running stitch.  Pull stitches tightly.  Again, stitch across several times to secure the gathers and completely close the opening.  Your snowman is finished and ready to be dressed and embellished. 

Take the part that you cut off and trim foot/toe portion of sock straight across
as shown where the line is drawn in the photo.  It doesn’t have to be perfect… the snowman will not mind! This portion will be the snowman’s hat.  Turn the cut edge up twice, so the raw edge is not exposed, and put it on your snowman’s head.  I tacked the hat around to secure it.  The hat also covers up the gathered edge at the top of your snowman, and folding it up creates a sort of cuff to the stocking cap. 
Cut a piece of fabric of your choice about ½” wide by about 8 or 9 inches long.  Tie this around the snowman’s neck.  I snipped about ¼” into the ends of the scarf to create a fringe effect.  As an alternative, you can use a bulky yarn for the scarf.  For some of the scarves, I braided 3 strands of worsted weight yarn and knotted the ends, and for others I used 2 strands of yarn and knotted the ends.  Glue on plastic eyes, or sew on beads for the eyes.  If you want to spend another minute on your little snowman, you can sew him a bead mouth and put an orange bead on to signify the traditional carrot nose.   Glue or sew on two or three buttons, beads, or glitter gems for buttons down his tummy.  Actually, they look cute without faces and tummy decorations, too.  Knot a length of metallic cord on the top of the hat to hang the ornament on your tree. 

These ornaments are simple to make, a fun family project for children to help with, and not very costly.  A package of 10 pairs of socks costs around $5.00, and makes 20 snowmen.  Here's another view of the snowmen on parade, at the right.  This snowman shown below, with the stars on his tummy is the one my great-grandson, Lucas, liked best!
 
We have no snow on the ground here in Cincinnati, although we’ve had two snowfalls.  The weather has remained warm enough to melt the snow quickly.  I am keeping my fingers crossed that making these snowmen ornaments will not cause the Universe to think I am desiring snow and gift me with a whole lot of the white stuff, which I am NOT desiring! 
 
 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Sisters


Sisters come in all shapes and sizes… some you share parents with, and in that case, you play the hand you are dealt, so I can only hope that you have pulled some lucky cards out of that deck, as I have!  Others are friends that share no blood ties, but who share the most important moments of our lives… the women who are there from day to day, the women who understand what we are experiencing.  They laugh with us, sometimes they even weep with us, but they are always ready to offer advice, a shoulder to cry on, or just to listen when we need to talk things through.  Chance may have put them in our path, but choice has kept them close to us, and we have adopted them as sisters. 

I think some men also share those bonds with other men, but most of the men I’ve known are prone to keeping things to themselves, rather than choosing to talk about it with a friend.  Perhaps that’s why a lot more men than women I know have ulcers!  You know, my friends, that I am speaking in generalities here… there are women who are more reticent and men who are more forthcoming, but I can speak only from my own experiences, which may not be statistically sound. 

Sisters are happy to teach each other the things they know, and are flattered when someone asks for a recipe or a pattern or another slant on an issue.  My dear husband used to say… think outside the box.  But perhaps there is one way of thinking that surpasses even that box with sisters… we think not with our intellect or reason, but from our feeling center. 

And so… with Thanksgiving looming on the horizon… I think of the things I’m thankful for, and my sisters are at the top of the list.  I love my children but they have moved on with their own lives, and I am on the fringe, no longer essential to the daily movement of their lives.  But my sisters have walked the path beside me, whether we are near or far from each other.  We have shared our deepest hopes and dearest dreams… as well as our greatest sorrows.  And throughout every mountain peak or valley, one common thread is apparent:  we care.  We have found a place where we belong in each other’s lives, and perhaps a sense of belonging is one of the most basic needs we experience.  I am thankful for the sisters that have become part of my life.  Our bond is stronger than a physical connection; whatever your geographic location may be, you have taken up permanent residence in my heart! 

I wrote these poems in 1990… and they are still appropriate, perhaps to many of us.

Who Am I?

I am a mirror,
Reflecting colors of fey spirits,
Brushing close enough to touch,
Then drifting softly
Out of sight.

I am a sponge,
Soaking up fond memories
To squeeze alive when loneliness
Comes creeping, quietly,
At night.

I am a broom,
Sweeping out debris
Of fleeting moments spent
Pursuing promises that never seem
To light.

And, sometimes,
I just am.
And it’s alright.

 
 I Am

I am a moan,
The pain that knows forever.
I am a shout,
The joy that life can’t sever.
I am a sigh,
The hope that fears regretting.
I am a tear,
The thought that pleads forgetting.
I am a throb,
The heart that feels no longing.
I am a breath,
The life that craves belonging.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Decadently Delicious


Decadently delicious cookies and candies are not normally something I tempt my palette with, since I am a diabetic.  Most wheat products also fall into the decadent category, as far as I’m concerned.  But I love to bake bread and make scrumptious desserts, even though they are not on my “okay to eat” list.  Most of the time I can restrain myself, saving the baking urges for when company comes.

My sister told me about a cookie recipe she tried that she’d seen on Facebook.  I see things that look delicious just about every day on Facebook… it’s not a good place to browse, if you are feeling even a little bit hungry.  If you like Andes mints and are a fan of chocolate, then these cookies may be more than you can resist!  And they are so quick and easy, if you have the ingredients on hand you can whip them up in just a few minutes.  I have renamed them with a label more appropriate!

Chocolate Mint Decadence Delights:
 (I had a German chocolate cake mix handy, so I used that; my sister used Devil’s Food, another appropriate name, since they are devilishly good!)
Put in large bowl:
1 chocolate cake mix
2 large eggs
½ cup oil (I used Olive Oil, my one attempt to make them more healthy!)
Stir ingredients until well-mixed… it only takes a few minutes.
Place by spoon onto an ungreased cookie sheet.  Makes 24 cookies.

Bake at 350 degrees for 6 to 10 minutes, depending on your oven.
While cookies are baking, unwrap 24 Andes mints.  I think next time I’ll try cutting them in half… I think half a mint might be enough, because there is a lot of “frosting” with a whole mint.  When cookies are firm to the touch, take them out of the oven and place one mint on each cookie. 

Return them to the oven for a few seconds to soften the mints. 
Using the back of a teaspoon, swirl the mint on top of the cookie.  Let them cool, if you can, before trying to eat them.  I would hate to see you burn your mouth!  And then have someone hide them where you won’t find them, or you will eat more than you know you should!! 
 

I’ve made cake mix cookies before… and they are always good and easy to make.  I’ve used yellow or white cake mix, and dipped the cookie balls in cinnamon sugar, and those were good… almost like Snickerdoodles.  Chocolate cake mix dipped in powdered sugar before baking would be like Chocolate Crinkles.  Spice cake cookies with a little added ginger (or cut up candied ginger in them…YUM!) and dipped in granulated sugar would be almost like Ginger cookies.  The possibilities are as endless as your imagination. The basic recipe is always the same… 1 cake mix, 2 large eggs, and ½ cup of oil.  I haven’t tried adding chocolate chips or other kinds of chips or chopped nuts to them, but I don’t see why that wouldn’t work.  So be creative… invent other combinations.  But be sure to buy a box or two of Andes mints so you can try this recipe.

 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Floating Squares and Falling Rain

This is a perfect night for staying inside and sewing!  We’re in the red zone of a tornado watch. The wind is whipping rain against the windows with staccato-like rhythm, sounding cold and ominous, although the thermometer registered in the 60s today.  Both of my daughters lost their power at some point today, but I did not.   I’m not complaining… it’s less than two weeks until Thanksgiving, and we are still having lovely weather.  My northern Minnesota friends are already experiencing the beginnings of winter.  I have power, and therefore access to the internet, plus my sewing machine and iron are ready to be of service.  Life is good.

I have been finishing a lot of “flimsies” (quilt tops) with borders, ready to be quilted.  Today I finished the blocks for another Quilt of Valor, but have yet to join them into strips and border them.  An Around the World is half done, with the strip sets sewn for the remaining half.  Necktie blocks in my favorite jewel tones are neatly stacked at the end of my ironing board, part of them sewn and others still in pieces, and a Single Irish Chain top is completed, just waiting for a ribbon border.  I have a couple of Hidden Wells strip sets to cut and sew, as well, as you might have seen on a prior blog post.  I don’t know how many of these will get completed before I take my ironing board down to make some room for a family dinner.  The table with my sewing machine usually stays put, unless I am having more company than family and want my house to look nicer.  However… there are boxes of batts lining one wall in my dining room, ready to be sandwiched into quilts, and some empty boxes stacked on those, for packaging quilts, so my house is not anywhere near being a showplace!  This is a working house, a quilting house… and so it shall remain, as long as I am able to be a quilter. 

Three quilts are finished, ready to be quilted, using the same basic pattern I call Floating Squares.  This is truly a beginner’s quilt project, and can easily be done in a day or two, if you have the time to put into sewing.  One of them is adapted to use 5” charm squares, another is made with three coordinating rose patterned fabrics, and the third is made with one of the pieces of Michael Miller’s Flower Fairy fabric in purple.  I love fairies… and have a couple of Cicely Mary Barker’s books of Flower Fairies, so when I first discovered his fabrics, I HAD to buy some, although it was more costly than most fabrics I buy.  This pattern can be made with any sized center square you choose, just making sure your strip sets for the Rail Fence blocks will add up to the same size as your center square. 


The first quilt was made with 5” charm squares.  Since each square is bordered with a Rail Fence block, I needed to figure out the width of the
 strips I would use for that block.  I used a Batik jelly roll I think is called Dancing in the Rain for the center strips and the 5” charm squares are from that line, also, and since jelly roll strips are 2-1/2” wide, that meant my other two strips needed to be 1-3/4”, allowing for ¼” seams, to result in a 5” strip set, cut into 5” squares, the same size as the charms.  I first laid the squares out to see how they looked, and felt the batiks used both in the frame and floating between them didn’t show them to their best advantage.  So I used another charm pack for the framed centers, I think is called Crossroads, and liked that better. Note that the strips on either side of the jelly roll strip are the same fabric, in this example.  I haven’t come up with a name I’m really happy with for this quilt… maybe it should be called Autumn Rain Dance, since the colors remind me of fall.


The second quilt, in the three coordinating rose fabrics with black backgrounds, was made with 6-1/2” squares, and the Rail Fence block was made of three 2-1/2” strips, cut into 6-1/2” lengths.  The framed
row is shown above left.  You can see in the  photos that the Rail Fence blocks are alternated on
each row, forming frames around the larger rose print blocks and forming chains with the floating blocks.  The floating squares row is shown above, bottom left.  
I had bought a beautiful dusty pink fabric called Petals at the same time, and found a dusty green print in my stash that was perfect for the third color in the strips.  I think a good name for this quilt is Everything’s coming Up Roses!  The completed top with border is shown above, right.


The third quilt also was made with 2-1/2” strips for the Rail Fence block, and had a pretty blue and purple floral in the frames (I think they are hydrangeas), with the 6-1/2” fairy blocks floating above the  6-1/2” floral blocks.  I call this one Fairies in My Garden.  It is a quiet quilt… and probably well-suited for fairies, who are quiet, shy little creatures.  Here is what the Rail Fence  block looks like, with three 2-1/2" strips, cut into 6-1/2" lengths:

I used a pale blue on each side, with a purple strip in the center.

And here is the row with the hydrangea blocks, framed by the Rail Fence blocks, shown below.
And the fairy row, floating above the hydrangeas looks like this:


 And since the fairies like to hide in their surroundings and be inconspicuous, I did take a closeup of one of the lovely fairies for you to see. I hope that these fairies bring some magic to your day, and that you still have some part within you that is anxious to believe in that fairy magic.  Listen carefully, and you may hear the music of their wings, as they softly flit among your flowers.

 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Soup Time and Sewing Troubles


My sewing machine has been humming almost non-stop lately!  When I am in the midst of one quilt, ideas of another one… or two… or three are forming in my mind, and I can’t wait to make a few blocks to see them in actual fabric.    I feel as if I’m racing to get quilts pieced as if the hounds of hell are nipping at my heels, and perhaps they are.  I am getting older, day by day, and more aware of my mortality.  Many of my contemporaries have died or are going into nursing homes, and that is distressing to think about.  But I am still fine, able to live alone in my own home, and free to quilt as much as I please, and that is a good thing. 

My Janome 8050 had begun chirping, whether I was sewing on it or not, and I thought at first there was a cricket that had somehow decided to be my roommate.  However, when it chirped, it did not sew, so I quickly realized who was doing the chirping.  I brought it to my local sewing machine shop for repairs (is it an accident that it happens to be across the street from Hancock's Fabrics?), and discovered the repairs will cost about half the price I paid for the machine.  Now, I love that little Janome, but expected it to last longer than a bit over a year… just long enough to be out of warranty.  It stitches beautifully and had many features only found on more expensive machines. 

While I was at the shop, I was tempted to look at the machines now available on the market… it’s astounding what the new machines are capable of doing!  I think they can do just about everything but cook dinner and iron your clothes.  I was intrigued enough to ask about prices, and found out that most of those beautiful machines cost as much as a new car.  The owner asked me what I was willing to spend, and when I told her, she just looked at me in astonishment and said I would not get the features I wanted at that price!  I was looking for speed (my Viking Mega sews 1600 stitches per minute), scissor function, knee lift, needle up/down, speed control, long throat, and the capability to sew more than a straight stitch.  My Mega is a gorgeous machine, but only does a straight stitch, so if I want to do any mending I need to switch machines, and that is one heavy machine to hoist around.  I was informed that speed and decorative stitches are not compatible, so that was not an option.  After coming home, the owner called me and said she had a new Viking Opal that she could sell me within my price range.  It had all the features but the knee lift and maximum speed of my Viking, and had 200 decorative stitches and 4 fonts, so I could embroider labels for my quilts… plus one-on-one lessons to learn how to get the most benefit from the machine.  So guess who came home with a brand spanking new Viking Opal???  And it does sew beautifully, but when I use the scissor function, the thread will come out of the needle about half the time.  I was told to pull the thread a bit longer after cutting it, before sewing.  But that rather defeats the purpose of the automatic scissor function, in my opinion.   

And speaking of ironing, my lovely Rowenta iron began to smoke and had an internal fire… luckily the flames did not spread outside of the iron.  I carried the smoking gun out my kitchen door and set it on the cement slab and let it burn itself out, keeping an eye on it from time to time to make sure it didn’t start my house on fire!  And my oldest daughter and I went shopping for a new iron.  I wanted an iron that had enough weight to it that it would be good for pressing cotton quilt seams, high wattage, steam function with lots of vents in the soleplate, and no automatic shut-off.  I liked a T-fal, which was 1700 watts, but the automatic shut-off time was 8 minutes, and I thought that would drive me crazy when I was piecing quilt blocks.  Most of the irons did not have as many vents as I thought they should have, or were lower wattage.  I ended up getting a Shark, which was 1800 watts with a lot of steam vents and a longer period before automatically shutting off… 15 minutes, I think it was.  It was not cheap, but less than half what a Rowenta iron costs.   

So now I have a new sewing machine and a new iron… I just need to replace my ironing board cover, onto which the Rowenta tattooed it’s last breath, crisply leaving its mark in its last home.  Incidentally, the Rowenta people sent me a shipping label to send the melted machine back to its origins for its final resting place.  I was happy that they want to see what caused its demise so perhaps other people won’t suffer the same fate. 

Since my sewing was interrupted, I decided to make soup!  Fall weather is looming, with lower nighttime temperatures, so it’s a good time to have soup simmering on the back of the stove.  My oldest daughter loves Olive Garden’s Pasta e Fagioli soup, so I came up with a similar recipe we both like.  Also, I developed a cheesy potato soup, as well. 

Four Bean, Tomato and Pasta Soup
Ingredients:
2 pounds ground lean chuck
1 medium chopped onion
2 cups chopped carrots
4 stalks diced celery
2 teaspoons minced garlic (I use bottled)
1 Tablespoon Louisiana Hot Sauce
1 Tablespoon dried Oregano
1 Tablespoon dried Parsley
1 - 28 ounce can diced tomatoes, juice and all
1 (24-ounce) jar spaghetti sauce
1 can red kidney beans
1 can white kidney beans
1 can black beans
1 can garbanzo beans
3 quarts beef broth (I made mine with beef soup paste base)
2 cups macaroni (or other small dried pasta shape)
Instructions:
Cook the ground chuck in a large stockpot, breaking it up, until it starts to brown.  Even with lean meat, you shouldn’t need to put oil in the pan before browning meat.  Add the onion, carrots, celery, garlic, hot sauce, Oregano, Parsley, tomatoes and spaghetti sauce; cover and simmer for about 15 minutes. Add the beans and beef broth. Simmer until celery and carrots are tender, about 45 minutes. Add the pasta and simmer until it’s cooked. Makes about 6 quarts. (I think, if you can stand the heat, a chopped Jalapeno pepper would be a great addition.  I sprinkled some crushed red pepper on top of the soup in my bowl, and liked that, too.)

 Hearty Potato Soup:
6 to 10 slices lean bacon, diced and fried until crisply in large dutch oven
Add to bacon and grease:
 ½ cup finely diced onions
2 teaspoons chopped garlic (I used bottled)
Fry until onion is tender.
Add ½ cup all-purpose flour to mixture in dutch oven and stir until smooth, to make a rue from the bacon grease.
Slowly add, stirring to keep soup smooth:
2 quarts (8 cups) chicken stock (I made my own with chicken soup paste and water)
2 teaspoons Louisiana Hot Sauce (does not make the soup spicy hot, just enhances the flavor)
8 peeled and diced baked potatoes
1 teaspoon dried basil
Cook over medium heat until hot, stirring frequently.
Add:
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1 cup Mexican cheese blend
Stir until cheese is mostly melted.
Add 2 cups whipping cream.  Stir until heated through.  Do not boil.   Makes about 5 quarts.

I used my baking potato bag to make the potatoes, in two batches.  Let them cool, then peel and dice.  See one of my prior blogs for instructions on the potato bag.  It worked great for baking the potatoes for this recipe! My daughter said she didn't like the bacon softening in the soup, and would remove the crisp bacon and use it as a garnish when serving the soup.  I didn't think it was too soft the way it was.  I don't much like leftovers, but I ate this soup for a week and didn't get tired of it.  I think it's my new favorite soup, replacing Broccoli Cheese soup and Clam Chowder.

A neighborhood boy came looking for raking jobs, and so now my yard is raked clean of leaves.  There are still a few more falling, but he raked and bagged up about 15 big garbage bags full of leaves!  I was happy, he was happy… so it was a good day.  There are leaves remaining on most of the trees and bushes behind my house, still providing the illusion that there are not houses behind me!   We have had two light snowfalls that melted rather quickly, and the temperatures are back in the 50s and 60s during the daytime.  But winter is coming.  Are you prepared?

Friday, November 1, 2013

Hidden Wells Quilt Tutorial


Hidden Wells Quilt:

Choose 5 to 7 strips of fabric of varying widths.  This is your chance to show your wild and crazy side!  Horizontal stripes work well in this pattern, as do bright colors that don’t usually play well with other fabrics.  The most effective combinations alternate dark and light colors so that they stand alone in the design and aren’t completely lost in the mix, although sometimes you might choose to have fabrics that blend more and stand out less, as in the teal example below. If your fabrics are too different, they will not blend in the finished block and the pattern will be more pronounced and not as subtle.  I usually try to choose one focus fabric and then choose other fabrics that pick up the colors in my focus fabric.  I prefer using prints rather than solids so that they blend well together, but there are always exceptions.

The finished strips should NOT measure MORE than 10” across, when finished (10-1/2” with seam allowance).  Since your fabric strip set will usually be around 42” long, you can then get 4 blocks cut from each strip set.  That will give you 2 completed blocks.  You can make the strip sets wider, but will not be able to get 4 blocks from the strip and will need to sew more strip sets. 

Since I normally cut 1-1/2” and 2-1/2” strips and put them in bins whenever I buy new fabric, these are the sizes I used, for the most part.  I discovered that cutting the center strip 2” wide, with a 1-1/2”, 2-1/2”, and 1-1/2” on either side works well, as shown in the blue paisley sample below.  If I am cutting strips rather than using strips that I’ve already cut, I have used two 2” strips instead of a 1-1/2” and a 2-1/2” strips, with an additional 1-1/2” strip on one or both sides of the center strip.   The center strip is the fabric that will form the “X” in the design when the blocks are put together, and the end strip on each side of your strip set will frame each block.  Here are a few of my color choices.  Study them to see how the fabrics appear in the finished blocks.
 
Blue Paisley Set:
2” center strip (dark blue with white/brown print). The paisley fabric has blue, brown, and cream colors, so I have chosen fabrics that will blend with those colors.
And the blocks looked like this:
The light blue print frames the block in the Blue Paisley set, above left, as does the white print on the alternate block. The dark blue center strip will form the ”X” in the secondary pattern.
 

Bright Floral Set:
2-1/2” center strip
(gold/brown floral fabric)         
Hawaiian floral is 2” wide, as is the green print on the right side.  In this example, the Hawaiian floral is the focus fabric, and I chose other fabrics that picked up the colors in that fabric.


And the blocks look like this.  Note how the two end fabrics in the strip set above form the frames around each block.

The gold/brown center strip forms the “X” between the blocks in the secondary pattern.
 
Teal fabric set; Center strip is 2-1/2” wide. 
 


And they made these blocks:
 
I found that a 1-1/2” strip in the center all but disappears in the framed block and makes a thinner “X”, see purple set below.  A 2-1/2” strip in the center makes a wider “X”, as in the Teal sample, but is more visible in the framed square.
Purple Set on the right:
 
Notice the secondary patterns that emerge when 4 blocks are sewn together.  Be careful laying out your blocks so that you achieve these secondary patterns, both horizontal and vertical. Check and double check before you begin sewing the blocks together.  In this case, the center strip was only 1-1/2”, and is barely visible in the center of each framed block.  It is the fuscia print that forms the thinner “X” in the secondary block.




Red and Black Set:
The colors of the strip set are not as true as the colors shown in the block photo below.  The center strip here is 2” wide, the fan print and the turquoise and red print are 2-1/2” wide.  The other three fabrics are
1-1/2” wide.


After the strips are sewn together, press all seams in the same direction on the back side.  Press again from the right side. 



Gold/Teal strip set:
The center strip here is 2-1/2” wide, and you can see in the photo below that the X formed  by the gold in the secondary pattern is wider.  The striped fabric adds interest to the pattern.








Measure your strip set after it is pressed.  Trim off the selvedge edge, and cut the strip set into squares the width of your strip.  For instance, if it measures 10” side to side, then you will cut it into 10” lengths.  It takes 4 cut strip sets to make one complete section of 2 blocks.  It’s important that your squares measure the same both ways, so that they truly are square.


You will be making 2 separate layouts.  Choose one edge fabric as the one to “watch”, your focus fabric; in this case, it is the teal swirl with black and white.  Lay 2 of your strip squares with the same fabric at the top, with the strips going horizontally.  Then lay two more blocks with the stripes going vertically, with the focus fabric on opposite sides.  See photo at left for the way to lay them out.  Note that the teal swirl strip is at the top of both the horizontal blocks and on the left of one block and right of the other block on the bottom row.  Now place the vertical strip blocks on top of the horizontal strip blocks, with right sides together, one with the focus fabric on the left, the other with the focus fabric on the right. It doesn’t matter if you have your focus fabric at the top or bottom, as long as it is the same on both blocks.  You are making two separate blocks by alternating the focus fabric vertically on the horizontal blocks.  This is necessary to make the complete pattern formed by the two blocks.  Pin at the corners, matching up all four sides.

Sew a ¼” seam all around the block, sewing the two squares together.  Place your sewn block on the cutting mat… if you have a rotating mat, it will work best for this step.  

Cut the block diagonally both ways, making 4 triangles.  See photo below.  I haven’t had good luck cutting more than one block at a time.  You will have 4 smaller squares when you open up these triangles, and when you finish both strip blocks, you will have eight triangle units, or eight squares, enough for 2 complete quilt blocks, but be aware that they will be two different blocks.  The two blocks will form the complete pattern when they are joined.  I press these squares, setting the seam on the wrong side and then flipping up the other triangle and pressing from the front.  You are working with bias edges, so be very careful handling them, so you don’t stretch them out of shape.  Try to press by pushing your iron with the straight grain of the fabric to avoid stretching them.  I haven’t found it necessary to square up these blocks if I’m careful with the handling.  Some quilters starch the fabrics to keep them from stretching, but I have not had to do that.

Be careful in putting them together.  Study the photos of the block sets above to see that the joining sides you will sew will form a secondary pattern, at the top and side of these blocks, when they are joined properly.  It is very simple when you know the resulting pattern you’re looking for.  Again, study the photos here to see and understand the secondary pattern that emerges.
 
Decide how big you want your quilt to be.  Measure your block… if it measures 12” and you set the squares 4 across by 5 down, you will need 20 blocks to make your quilt, and your quilt will be about 48” by 60”, without borders.  If you can get 2 completed blocks from every strip set, that means you will need 10 strip sets to make 20 blocks.  If you make your top 4 blocks wide by 4 blocks long, you will need 16 blocks, or 8 strip sets.  You can add borders to make it bigger or longer, if you choose. 
 
And here are two of the quilts, finished with borders, shown below.
 












I hope you enjoy making  your own Hidden Wells quilt.  But, I warn you, they are addictive!  It's truly an adventure to see how lovely the different fabric combinations can be.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Changing Paths and the Disappearing 9-Patch Quilt


Life has a way of bringing us change… as adults, we focus on making a living, choosing a career or falling into a job that provides us the income we need to build a home and family.  Then we focus on learning to manage a household, balancing a budget.  One day, we may focus on parenting. Babies are born, they grow up and move on to their own lives, eventually.   Throughout all of these changes, some so minute they are barely noticed, and others monumental, requiring major life shifts, we learn to adapt to our new circumstances.  Sometimes we even thrive.  But many of us resist change… it’s difficult to move out of our comfort zone and begin a new routine.  My grandfather used to say… The only thing certain is death, and living until you die.  It is the living part of that quotation is that is difficult. 

When my husband passed away, I faced a lot of changes.  One of the biggest changes I made was moving away from my home and friends of over forty years to be closer to most of my children.  It was one of the most joyful and at the same time painful things I have ever had to do.  All of my children moved away as they grew into adults, so I had only my friends around me in my old home.  When I moved to Ohio, I didn’t realize how much I’d missed being around my children until I had them near me again.  But I missed my friends dreadfully!  My friends had become my family… they were people that I chose to spend time with, people I had grown to love through many years of sharing the moments of our lives. 

Recently, I had friends from Minnesota come to visit, and it was as if we had never been apart.  Five years of separation melted away in an instant.  That’s perhaps the test of true friendship… the bond is always there, and we pick up right where we left off.  Their families are important to me, as I know mine is to them.  While cherished friends might have disappeared from my daily life, they are still close in my heart!  And another old adage comes to mind… the more things change, the more they remain the same.  We change, but we are still the same people with the same memories and the same level of caring.  The things that drew us together in the first place are still present, and the bond of love remains strong. 

I just finished piecing another Disappearing 9-Patch in fall colors.  The photo doesn't show the lovely fabrics to their advantage.  Many of them have metallic accents and they are very rich-looking.  The colors go so perfectly in my family room that this might just be a quilt I keep for myself.  The quilt is shown at the right, without the border.

It’s an easy pattern to make, without a lot of seams to match.  I love using precuts, and this pattern uses 5” charm squares… perfect! 

Nine charms are joined together in three rows of three each.  The four corners will not be cut, so it is a wonderful way to use pretty prints that you want to showcase. 

It is effective to use the same square in the center of the 9-patch unit, but not mandatory.  The photo at the left shows the three rows of charm squares, before they are joined into a block.

When the nine pieces have been joined, they are cut across the center vertically and horizontally, and the 9-patch disappears!  See the photo below left, showing how the block is cut. The cut block is pictured on the right below.
 
The four cut units are joined with the centers diagonally across from each other in the finished block.  It’s a fast, scrappy quilt, and fun to make in different color combinations.

The photo on the right shows a portion of the quilt top that has been sewn together.  Notice how the white squares are diagonally aligned with each other, the black forms a sort of cross, and the lovely charm squares seem to float across the top of the quilt in this setting.
 
Below is another variation of the quilt, done in a different scrappy color combination, that was a gift to my oldest grandson last Christmas.
I hope you will enjoy making a Disappearing 9-Patch in your own favorite colors.  Using pre-cut 5" charm squares, it goes very quickly.  You can see by my three examples how different they look, depending on the colors you choose.  I love the scrappy look of this pattern!
 
Fall colors have come to Cincinnati overnight, it seems.  The leaves are beginning to fall and blanket the ground abundantly.  It's a good time to put the tea kettle on and enjoy a cup of spice tea.  I wish you were here sipping a cup with me!
 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Role of a Lifetime!

I was watching some old “Monk” television shows today while quilting, and the thought came to me that sometimes I have seen actors in a television or movie role that seemed so suited to them that it could possibly be their role of a lifetime!  Now, I am fully aware that the writers play a big part in making that character successful, but the actor delivers those lines in a way that makes it so believable it’s difficult not to think of them as actually being that character!  Tony Shaloub as Monk is one of those indelible characters, in my opinion.  A year or two ago, another television show began, “Perception”, and Eric McCormack seems so suited to the role of the professor with a mental illness that it far surpasses his comedic interactions on “Will and Grace”.  And who can watch “Castle” and picture anyone but Nathan Fillian in the title role?  He brings a sense of innocent naiveté and excitement to the character that the writing cannot accomplish on its own. 

I wonder how many of us realize the role that is most perfect for us?  Is it the role of parent that brings you the most fulfillment?  Is it your career?  Is it the worthy works you do that make you feel a sense of true accomplishment?  Or are you, dear reader, like so many others, just marking time by doing the things you feel you have to do in your chosen lifestyle, with never enough hours in the day to accomplish it all?  I believe we all have moments of awareness that we are where we need to be at any given time, but those moments don’t always last long enough to bring us a sense of peace within.  We get so caught up in our daily activities that we cannot take time to understand what we need to do to get to that place where we are connected with our inner joy.  For many, meditation can help to bring us to that center.  Oftentimes, it is not a major “happening”, but simply a small shift in consciousness that opens our eyes to our own truth.  We are often like the gears of a machine that are a little out of sync, and not operating with full efficiency.  But when that shift occurs, everything clicks into place.  A dear friend described it best by saying, “Nothing has changed, but everything is different”.  There is an awareness that is present, a recognition of our connection to all things.  It is an admission of our individual insignificance but still a realization of our own magnificence.  

You cannot find your truth through anyone else; what you see through their eyes is simply a reflection of who they perceive you to be.  If you are searching, perhaps it is time to stop searching outside yourself, and take time to connect with your inner truth.  Who are you?  Would you choose yourself for a friend?  You might have dozens of friends, but it matters little if anyone else likes you, if you do not like yourself.  Perhaps the greatest role of your lifetime is simply to give yourself permission to be yourself, and love yourself unconditionally!

Oasis:
The longings of a restless heart
Your map and guidebook be;
Impatient yearnings steer the course
That vision cannot see.

Come, bask in friendship’s gentle glow,
Feel my tranquility;
I’ll whisper soft the message from
The Unseen One who comforts me.

Find peace at my Oasis,
Weary sojourner of shoal;
Find respite as you linger near
The placid waters of my soul.
                                       …ACD

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Here's To Health!

There is a fine line between life and death, and few of us ever realize how close we may be to crossing that line.  Deep thoughts for a bright fall day… but I recently became aware of just how tenuous that line can be.  It also raised my awareness once more of how amazingly synchronistic life can be.  I was being doctored for an abscess on my shoulder in back, and the second round of antibiotics caused an allergic reaction in my body, and I began coughing excessively and feeling absolutely exhausted.  Friday night, my daughter called to see how I was, and I told her I was feeling so weak I didn’t think I could drive to the clinic the next morning for my follow-up, so she said she would pick me up and drive me.  It exhausted me to walk across the room, and I had to sit for five or ten minutes to regain some strength.  We got to the clinic and discovered my oxygen level and blood pressure were very low… frighteningly low… and my doctor immediately called the hospital to alert the emergency room she was sending me over.  My daughter drove me, and they whisked me off before I even was checked in and put me on oxygen and heart monitors.  They didn’t know if it was heart failure or kidney failure, either of which it could have been according to the symptoms.  Blood tests showed an elevated number associated with the heart muscle.  I have congestive heart failure and diminished kidney function, due to diabetes, so it was possible that one of these could be the problem.  More tests and X-rays showed fluid in the lungs, which we discovered was a pulmonary embolism, a blood clot in the lung.  It was not associated with the coughing… but because of the coughing, I saw the doctor.  Synchronicity at its finest.  Had I stayed in my bed trying to “sleep it off”, I would probably not be writing this now. 

I was in the hospital for eight days, bridging the Heparin IV and Coumadin (pill form) blood thinners.  The third day I was able to be taken off the oxygen, but continued to have two blood tests daily… all in my left arm, since the IV was in my right arm.  My arms are both multicolored with bruises, looking as if I’ve been on the losing end of a bad battle!  They cannot say the cause of the blood clot for certain, but suspect it is a sedentary lifestyle… too much quilting???  The doctors tell me it will take about three months for my body to absorb the blood clot.  I am still coughing, but less each day.  I go to my clinic for blood tests now, to make sure that my blood is thin enough to prevent further clots, but not so thin that it is dangerous. 

It has been a month of hospitals for me!  On August 1st, I had a cataract removed on my right eye and a stent put in to help with the glaucoma.  I did not have enough anesthetic, and it was a horrendous experience, with excruciating pain.  Later that night, both of my eyes were swollen and I could not see from either eye!  The next day, it was better, but the operated eye remained bloodshot for over a week.  On August 8th, they performed the same procedures on the left eye, but gave me more anesthetic, and it went very easily, with minimal pain.  Now, I can see to drive and do most tasks without glasses, but need glasses for close work, like reading or sewing.  I hope I am done with hospitals and surgeries for a while… but it does amaze me how far medicine has advanced, when they can tell from the blood what muscles in the body are stressed! 

When I was scheduled for the eye surgeries, I finally decided I’d better get my diabetes in better control so I would not continue to have organs affected negatively by the disease.  I had my glucose readings in the normal range by implementing the easy steps I’d known how to do but not taken as seriously as I should have.  I eat many small meals throughout the day, never eating until testing my glucose and injecting the necessary amount of insulin to process what I am eating.  I have eliminated most wheat products, which raise my glucose more than most things, and when I do eat them, I do it in moderation.  Now that my readings are in the normal range, I can eat small amounts of carbs without upsetting the cart.  As I gain strength and stamina, I will begin to exercise regularly.  There are simple exercises I do now, but they don’t raise my metabolism much. 

I’m eating more eggs (which I do not especially like, but my body does!), more fresh fruits and vegetables, and some meat.  I made a salad of fresh vegetables that was delicious and makes a nice meal in itself.  It made a huge bowl, so I will have enough for several days, which is good. 

Avocado/Tomato Summer Salad:
2 ripe avocados, diced
2 large firm tomatoes, diced
1 large cucumber, peeled and diced
1 medium zucchini, washed and diced (I didn’t peel it)
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 small onion, diced
2 Tablespoons minced garlic (I used bottled)
4 Tablespoons lime juice
¼ cup olive oil (a bit more, if you wish)
Small amount of freshly ground pepper and sea salt, to taste

Since I am on a low-salt diet, I don’t add much salt.  I serve this on a bed of lettuce.  If you don’t like raw onion or garlic, you can omit them or put less in.  I like them for the flavor, as well as for their anti-oxidant properties. 

Thank you all for the well-wishes and prayers… they are much appreciated!  My children and grandchildren rallied around to help me and visited me almost every day in the hospital… unless I told them to stay home… even my oldest daughter who had a total knee replacement, just days before I went into the hospital.  They take me grocery shopping, help me with laundry and housecleaning, and even bring me “meals on wheels”!  I am indeed blessed!