Sunday, November 15, 2015

Many Trips Around the World

Many Trips Around the World:
Fall temperatures make it feel like soup weather!  I made a pot of Beef Vegetable Barley soup yesterday, and it was delicious!  While the soup was cooking I was working on another variation of Around the World… Many Trips Around the World.  This block is made up of seven 2-1/2” strips, with one contrast colors going diagonally from top to bottom.  These blocks are put together in a way that creates a diamond pattern that appears to be edged with the contrast color, and the design that results seems to be two separate blocks but they are all formed from that one block.  I first decided which seven fabrics I wanted in the quilt, and next sewed strip sets of the fabrics, with each of the fabrics in the same place in the strip set.  Working with two strip sets at a time, I pressed each of them in opposite directions.  I evened the ends, and sewed each strip set into a tube, as instructed in my previous tutorial, Around the World.  Then cut the tube into 2-1/2” segments.  I laid the strips into two stacks, so one stack had strips pressed in one direction, and the other stack contained strips pressed in the opposite direction.  In this way, the intersections butted up against each other without any pinning.  
Open one seam, with the dark or contrast color at the top of the row.  The next strip will be staggered one color down, so the contrast color will be second on the row, and the color that was on the bottom of the first strip will be at the top of the next strip.  Working from left to right and taking strip sets from alternate stacks helps to keep the colors in the right place, plus alternating the way the seams are pressed so there is no need to pin.  I lay the seven strips out, making sure they are in the proper place, and then join the strips, starting at one side or the other.  (See photo at right, with the strip sets laid out, and then joined into a block.)  Just as when you join strip sets, alternate the end you start sewing on so the block is straight when you finish it.  When all seven strips are sewn together, I press all the seams in the same direction from the back, then flip it over and press it from the front.  Lay the blocks out in a way that is pleasing to you.  They can be put together in diamond sections or joined to look like a traditional Around the World quilt.  See photo below.  
My oldest daughter has a super king-sized bed, and I've made up a few samples for her approval for a quilt for her bedroom.  The furniture has dark marble tops, and there is one burgundy wall.  The samples I made so far were not successful.  She doesn't want much white in the quilt, and using just grays and burgundies looked dull and boring.  I finally tried adding a tan background print with apples on it, so the dark red apples blended with the burgundies, and the warm tan and green of the leaves added some more interest.  When she was here last week, she approved the design and colors... she liked it a lot!  It had some black and light gray strips with silver (Stonehenge Winter fabrics), some Jinny Beyer tone-on-tone melon rose and burgundy, and a few burgundy prints, one is a Haversham fabric I've had for a long time, along with the apple print.  (See photo at right.)  Since it will be so large, I think I will quilt it in sections of four, which will be about 28" square, finished, in a Quilt As You Go method.  The photo at right shows 12 blocks finished.  

Bonnie Hunter has a free pattern on her blog for a scrappy version of Around the World, using six strips of various colors without any specific pattern.  Here is my version of the Scrappy Trips, in a blue colorway.  I will make this in a queen size.
Speaking of Around the World quilts, one of my local quilting friends and I are planning to take a short trip in a couple of weeks, to meet one of our online quilting friends, who is visiting the United States from another country.  She will be only around three hours away from us, so we are excited to be able to go and meet her for lunch and possibly take her to visit some Indiana quilt shops so she can check out some American fabrics.  
If you’re in the mood for soup, here are two recipes I made in my electric pressure cooker… they could easily be made on top of the stove, as well, but would just need to be cooked longer.

Beef Vegetable Barley Soup:
Season and brown 1 pound of stewing beef in a very small amount of olive oil.  My pressure cooker has a browning function, so I used that.  I seasoned the beef with Montreal Steak Seasoning.
Add: 1 small chopped onion and a quart of water, with 2 Tablespoons of beef soup base stirred in.
Cover and cook on high pressure for 30 minutes.  Release steam and add:
1 bag of frozen mixed vegetables, 10 oz.
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
1 can diced tomatoes
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
5 cups water
1 cup pearl barley (mine was quick-cooking)
Cover and cook on high pressure for 18 minutes.  Release pressure.  Season, if necessary. 

Pressure Potted Fall Vegetables & Beef Stew:
1# cubed round steak, lightly floured and browned in about 1 Tablespoon Olive oil
                (more if you want a meatier stew)
Place in pressure cooker.  Add 1-1/2 cups water and cook on high for 45 minutes.
While meat is cooking, prepare the other vegetables:
2 cups peeled and diced rutabaga
2 cups thickly sliced baby carrots
2 medium diced potatoes (if using new potatoes, scrub and do not peel before dicing)
2 cups shredded bagged coleslaw vegetables (cabbage with a bit of shredded carrots)
1 medium onion, diced
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
1 – 28 oz. can Ro-Tel Tomatoes with green chili (this makes a VERY spicy hot soup… may substitute regular diced tomatoes, if you don’t like it “hot”!)
Add the vegetables to the meat in the pressure cooker.
Add 3 cups water, or amount wanted to obtain the amount of broth you desire.
Add 1 Tablespoon Mrs. Dash’s seasoning
Add 1 Tablespoon beef soup base to enhance the flavor (no need to add additional spices; if it is not seasoned well enough, you can add seasoning when you eat it.)
Cover and cook on high for an additional 30 minutes.
Options:  Can add fresh chopped spinach, frozen corn or canned black beans after cooking, heating until everything is hot.

If you want to make this vegetarian, just cook the vegetables with the water, adding some meatless soup base, optional.  Cook about 30 minutes, and add one can of black beans, one can of white beans, and one can of kidney beans to the vegetables to add protein.  May also add some textured soy protein, mixed with water to soften, if desired, which simulates ground meat.
Enjoy this lovely fall weather before the cold of winter sets in.  I wish you all a happy Thanksgiving season! 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Cold Remedies

There are still a few straggling gold leaves on the bushes beyond my deck, but the trees are looking barren.  It seemed as if one day there were leaves, and a few days later they were bare.  The cast-off colors of gold and brown drifted to the ground prolifically, almost like falling snow, and the green grass is carpeted with brown. Michelle took some photos of the beautiful Japanese Maple at the front of my house last week.  
The night temperatures fall down into the 40s, and daytime temps seldom get higher than the 60's. Daylight Savings Time has switched so that our days seem much shorter, and they will continue to dwindle for another month and a half before they begin to lengthen again.  I do not like winter much, but it does give me a reason to appreciate my quilts... and use them regularly.
This is the time when the cold and flu bugs are running rampant, the time to back up our defenses with herbal remedies.  I've been making a wonderful natural chest rub for the grandchildren for many years, that I call Eucalyptus Chest Rub.  It's great for breaking up congestion with essential oils in a light, natural base; it takes the place of commercial rubs that are petroleum-based.  Also, we have a cold and sinus tea blend that we use, that is potent enough to knock that cold or flu virus for a loop, if you take it at the first signs of a sore and scratchy throat.  That, along with tinctures of Echinacea and Astragalus whenever we are exposed to those winter bugs, help us to ward off any viruses traveling around.  Astragalus is reputed to be even more effective as an immune system enhancer than Echinacea, by some herbalists.  Echinacea is more effective if it is taken in a cycle, with a period of "rest" off the herb, rather than taking it continually.  Here are the recipes for the chest rub and cold/flu relief tea:

Eucalyptus Chest Rub:
2 cups Olive Oil
1-1/2 ounce Beeswax
1 Tablespoon Eucalyptus Essential Oil
1 teaspoon Camphor Essential Oil
1 teaspoon Wintergreen Essential Oil
1 teaspoon Peppermint Essential Oil
1 teaspoon Vitamin E Oil
Melt the beeswax in the olive oil.  Remove from heat, cool slightly, and add the essential oils and Vitamin E oil.  Stir well and pour into salve containers. When the salve has cooled and become firm, cover and label.  Relieves respiratory congestion.  Safer for children than petroleum products.  Note:  If you wish, you can make this with Lard as part of the oil, and/or add Emu oil, which has been proven to be able to travel to the deeper levels of the skin.  Lard has healing properties of its own, but some prefer not to use animal products.  Also, animal products can become rancid much more quickly than Olive Oil, so if it is not going to be used in a reasonable span of time, Olive Oil is a better choice.

Cold, Flu and Sinus Relief Tea:
2 Tablespoons Elder Berries, ground
1/2 cup Elder Flowers
1-1/2 cups Coltsfoot Leaf
1/2 cup Elecampane Root, ground
1-1/2 cups Dandelion Leaf
1/2 cup Dandelion Root
This tea is not good tasting (my children nick-named it Putrid Tea), but honey can be added to make it more palatable.  It does work, so if you can manage to disregard the taste... it will sure make you feel better! It takes some people some time to adapt to liking the taste of herbs.  I put a spoonful of tea in a coffee filter, and make my own teabag.  I flatten the filter, bring two edges together and fold them down several times, then bend it in half so both ends meet and fold that down, then staple the top.  Steep it in boiling hot water for several minutes... you will smell the potent herbal aroma.  Drink a cup of the tea every few hours.  

Another natural remedy that is available to everyone is Garlic.  I use fresh minced Garlic on my salads daily, as well as including it in many other foods.  Garlic supplements are available over-the-counter, if you prefer to take it in that form.  My younger sister told me once that people had been mentioning to her that she smells like Garlic, and offering 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.

Even though there is a chill in the air these days, I have had a frequent visitor on my deck.  The first time I saw him, he sat on the table and stared at me through the window for a long time, and when I went on with my sewing, he curled up on the back of one of the new chair cushions for an extended nap. He has come back several times... the cushions must be comfortable, and even though the deck is on the east side of my house, that area is usually sunny throughout the day. My deck seems to be a sanctuary for squirrels and cats!  A few weeks ago, I saw three quite large deer amble through the yard and wander off into the woods at a leisurely pace.  I tried to get a photo of them, but was afraid if I opened the door they would get spooked and run.  The pictures through the window were blurry.  It never ceases to amaze me that here in the suburbs of a big city, in an area that is well populated, there is so much wildlife!  We are crowding these animals out of their habitat, I fear.

Stay warm... and stay well!  Wash your hands frequently, as most germs are easily spread by contact on our hands.  Get plenty of rest, so your body can fight off those nasty bugs!  And be sure to stock up on fresh garlic... it will not only help you stay well, but it will ward off the Walking Dead!  If you eat enough of it, it might ward off the living, as well.

Around The World

Around the World Quilt:
It's a big help in having your intersections meet where they are supposed to if you have a true 1/4" seam.  You can check your ¼” seam by sewing three 2-1/2” strips that are about 6” long together.  Press all seams to one side.  Measure the CENTER strip… it should measure exactly 2” wide.  If it does not, adjust your needle and try again.  Bonnie Hunter has an excellent blog on how she makes a true ¼” seam.
Jelly rolls are perfect for this pattern, or you can cut your own 2-1/2” strips, cut the width of fabric.  I use my June Tailor Shape Cutter ruler to cut multiple strips at a time, without having to re-position the fabric. 
Lay the strips out in a way that is pleasing to you.  It works well to place colors so that they blend from light to dark and vice versa.  It is best to have some colorful fabrics in the strip sets to add a “zip” factor!  Remember that the colors will be repeated in all the “rounds” of the design, so the fabrics at both ends of the strip sets will be next to each other in the finished quilt. This green/blue quilt used four strip sets of 13 fabrics each, shown at right.  Borders can be added to make it as large as you wish… or you can make more strip sets and make it larger.        
I have my strips laid out on the ironing board, which is set at a right angle to my sewing table, so it’s really easy to just pick up the next strip when sewing them together. 
Join the strips together, alternating the end where you begin stitching, to avoid the strip set from being skewed.  In other words, where you end the stitching of two pieces, you will begin at that end to stitch the next strip on.  When you have stitched that seam, where you end will be where you begin stitching the next strip.  Be careful not to stretch the fabrics as you join the strips, just letting them feed naturally through the machine.  

When you have joined all the strips, you will have completed a “strip set”.  If you are a pedal-to-the-metal person (as I am), you can stitch the strip sets pretty quickly. Press all seams going in the same direction on the backside, but press each strip set in opposite directions, so one strip set is pressed toward the end color and the other strip set is pressed away from that end color.  This will facilitate joining the rows.   Place the strip set on your cutting mat, lining it up straight with the markings on your mat, as shown on the left.  Cut each end of the strip set off at the place where the end of the strip is the shortest.  Join the two long edges, right sides together.  This is one of the most difficult parts of sewing this pattern.  You may find it easier to pin the long edge at intervals, to make sure it stays even. 
Some machines feed differently on the top and bottom fabrics, so pinning helps to keep them straight.  If one fabric seems to be a little longer than the other, place that fabric on the bottom, and gently stretch as you sew this seam.
You now have a tube that is trimmed on each end, as shown on the right.  Cut this tube into 2-1/2” strips.  I was able to get 16 segments from my tube. Lay the strips from each strip set together, so you have two separate piles of strips, each pressed in a different direction.
Decide which direction you want your strips to go, and open ONE seam where you want the quilt pattern to start.  It helps if you have a design wall (I use a cheap flannel-backed vinyl tablecloth hung in front of my fireplace for my design wall).  Alternately, you can lay the strips out on a table or the floor.  You will need to add one 2-1/2” square to the top of your first strip, and remove the bottom 2-1/2” square from this strip ONLY.  I usually add a darker or lighter square in this place that will become the center of the quilt, so that the contrast is more obvious and sets the tone for the rest of the strips.  You might have a piece big enough and in a color you want from trimming the strip ends, or you can use the last square in your strip as your center, removing it from the bottom and re-sewing it to the top of the
strip… it’s your choice.
Continue adding strips to each side of this first strip, staggering the colors for each strip you add, so that the pattern emerges.  With each strip, you will open only one seam of the tube.  I find it easiest to just fold the tube where I need to rip the seam and lay it against the other strips to make sure I am at the right square.  Take strips from alternating piles so that the seams are pressed in opposite directions, which helps
the seams “nest” against each other while sewing them.  Tip: I sew with the raw pressed seam FACING the needle whenever possible, as it helps to nest the seams and match them.  I don’t worry if my seams don’t match perfectly, as when the top is quilted, it is not so obvious.  The “pouf” of the batting makes up for the error!  It isn’t necessary to press each seam as you sew the strips together, but you can if you wish.  I wait until the section is sewn and then press the whole thing… pressing the seams in one direction on the back, and then pressing from the front side.  My steam iron is my best friend, when I’m piecing a quilt… but don’t tell my sewing machine.  The photo at the right shows the first half of the quilt finished.

Tip:  Quilting should be FUN!  Remember that there are no quilt police in your home, and unless the errors are glaringly obvious, close is usually good enough, and your seam ripper can take a vacation.
Work out from the center strip, adding strips to just one side at a time, if you wish, sewing the strips into quarters, then sew the quarters into halves, and finally sew the two halves together.
The photo at the left shows the bottom half of the quilt beginning to come together.  Notice how the pattern is reversed from the top half.
Tip:  Remember, you do not add a square to the center strip on the last half of the quilt.  You build out from the center square that is on the first half, reversing the order of the strips. 
Once you get the hang of it, Around the World quilts are very simple to make and I think each one is exciting to see as it evolves into the pattern.  And for the record, I did not use one pin when sewing the strips together.  I do, however, pin the two halves before sewing them together.  My seams do not all meet perfectly, but the quilter’s credo is:  If they are riding by at 30 miles an hour, no one will notice!  

You can plan the size of your quilt easily… the squares result in 2” after they are sewn, so the size depends on how many strips you sew together into sets.  For these baby quilts, I used two each of 9 different fabrics. I will border them with a coordinating color strip, with binding to either match or blend.  I cut the strips for the pink and blue baby quilt at night, and my vision is not always very accurate! My night vision is even less accurate... I cut one of the strips the wrong size, which means I had two strips that were odd... so I could not use them in the quilt.  The quilt was off-balance, and I had a choice of either making another strip set or removing one of the strips from the top of the quilt.  I chose to do that, so the quilt is a bit smaller.
The yellow and orange quilt on the right is another baby quilt that was made for the man who takes care of my lawn, when their last baby arrived.

Whenever I make an Around the World quilt, I am reminded of all the online friends around the world that I've made through my love of quilting.  The ease of internet communication certainly has created the illusion of a much smaller world.  

The two quilts shown below are both large snuggler quilts, almost twin sized.  The one on the left belongs to my middle son, and the purple one is not yet quilted.

The last quilt photo, shown below,  is one that uses the Around the World square as a medallion center, and was a gift to a friend.

I hope this tutorial and the photos inspire you to enjoy sewing an Around the World quilt of your own... they literally can be done very quickly, using strip piecing with rotary cutting tools.

I will post another tutorial soon with variations of this pattern.

The fall leaves are dropping fast, and soon the trees will be bare.  There is a chill in the air these days, and the daylight hours are shorter.  But we, who spend much of our lives at our sewing machines, just use this as an opportunity to make more quilts.  I think of my quilts as a way to remind my family and friends how much I love them, and that reminder will be there long after I am gone... wrapping them in warm hugs.
Happy quilting!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Kindle Tote

The Minnesota grand-kids came to visit this summer and stayed nearly a month.  I know Grandma’s house can be boring for kids used to having all of their own toys and electronics… and friends nearby… so I got permission from my son to order a Kindle Fire for each of them as a surprise
summer gift. Their visit coincided with Amazon’s Prime anniversary special, so they were bought at a huge markdown. These children do not have their own computers, so this was (as Quentin said) the best gift anyone could ever imagine!  Charlotte jumped up and down and proclaimed it was the best day of her life!  I sat them down and told them how breakable they are, and they were NEVER to leave them on the floor, where someone could accidentally step on it, or on a chair, where someone might accidentally sit on it.  We designated a place for them to plug them in for charging.  I repeated the rules… more than once... many times more, in fact!  And they were pretty good about following instructions, and were excellent monitors for reminding each other, as well.  Before he went back to Minnesota, my son helped them download a variety of games and books, and initiated the parental controls, so I wouldn’t have to worry about them going on the internet or doing things that were outside their dad’s boundaries.  There was peace in the house… no fighting over computer time, and they enjoyed their reading time every afternoon… or I thought they were enjoying it, until I realized they were playing games instead of reading!  So we had a no electronic rule during the two hours quiet time, and the books with actual pages were brought out.  I have a collection of Thornton Burgess’ Mother West Wind books (among others) that my mother used to read to me when I was a child, and my grandchildren also enjoy these simple stories, knowing that they were part of my childhood.  There is also a library only about a mile away, so we can easily go to check out more books, when the children want something new.
I told them we would make totes for the Kindles, so anytime they took their Kindle out of the house, it would be protected.  And they were delighted to help sew their own totes. 

Kindle tote:
This tote can be made from two coordinating fat quarters.  The grandchildren picked their own favorite colors and fabrics for their totes.  The dimensions given here are for a Kindle Fire HD 6”.  If your Kindle is larger, you may need to add to the cut sizes shown here.

Cut 2 pieces for the front and lining, each 9” x 18”.
Cut one piece of thick batting for the interlining the same size.

For inner pocket (for charging cord and/or other accessories):
Cut one piece of lining 8” x 10”.  
Right sides together, fold lining in half to make a piece 5” x 8”.
Sew around 3 raw edges, leaving a space to turn right side out.
Clip corners next to stitching to reduce the bulk and turn right side out.
Turn raw edges under to the inside, about ¼” to ½”.  Press in place.
Top-stitch opening closed, close to the edge. Stitch down each side and across the bottom of the pocket.  I also made a smaller pocket to hold a credit card or business cards in the same way. (Photo shown at right.) Center it on your larger pocket and stitch around the sides and bottom. You can position it so that the small pocket is on the backside or front of the larger pocket, but make sure the open top is facing up, toward the fold-down flap. 

I made a larger pocket in the same way for the OUTSIDE of the main fabric, placing it about an inch or two down from the front, so that the top of this pocket will go under the flap.  It can be the same as your outer fabric or in a contrasting fabric, if you prefer. This pocket can hold a cell phone for easy access, and was an addition my oldest daughter suggested when she saw the first prototype.  Photo of outer pocket at right.
Place inside pocket on lining, as follows:
Fold lining, leaving 2-1/2” at the top for the flap to fold down over the tote, as in an envelope.

Pin inside pocket to the right side of the lining, one inch from the bottom fold on the LONG side of the lining.  Pin the outside pocket to the outside fabric of the tote.  Photo shown below with the pockets pinned in place, ready to sew.

Put the main fabric and lining, right sides
together.  Place batting behind the two pieces. 
Be sure to position your outer fabric and lining so that the openings in the pockets will be right side up!
This means, the inside lining pocket will be open toward the envelope flap, and the outer pocket will be open near the edge of the tote when it is folded up to stitch the sides in place. 
Insert an elastic hair band OR a piece of elastic cord between the front and lining at the 4” spot on the top side where the flap will be turned down.  If you use a hair band, take care to position it so that the metal piece that joins the elastic is not in the seam line, or you could break the sewing machine needle.
Pin the three layers together and stitch around all four sides, leaving an opening on the SHORT side where the outside pocket is, to turn the Kindle pouch right side out.
Turn right side out.  Press well.  Turn the opening to the inside and top-stitch close to the edge.
This will be on the opposite side of the elastic band, and will be the top front of the bag when finished, so it should look neat.

Fold up with front side out, about 2-1/2” from the end of flap.  Stitch up both sides, reinforcing the top edges where the tote will get more stress.  I top-stitched up and around the top of the flap, also, to give a neat finish to the tote. 
Fold flap down and mark where the bottom of the elastic is on the front pocket.  Attach a button to the center front of the pocket where you have marked, for the elastic loop to go around for closure, taking care not to sew through the front of the bag.  Alternately, you can use a strip of Velcro tape for closure and omit the elastic band and button. 
There is room inside the tote for both charge cords, for your cell phone and Kindle. 
A finished Kindle Tote is shown on the right.

For the children’s totes, we cut two strips 2-1/2” by 18”.  Fold the strip in half to establish a fold, and fold each raw edge in to meet at the center fold.  Fold in half again, right side out, press, and top-stitch along each edge of the strap, about ¼” from the edge. Fold under one end to enclose the raw edge and top-stitch it to the back of the flap, right where it is turned down over the front, one strap on each side of the tote.  We tied the remaining two raw ends into a knot to give the length we needed for each of the children, so it can be put around their head and keep the electronics safe from falling and shattering. It also gives them a good way to keep their cords organized!
My youngest daughter brought over some neon Velcro closures in various colors for the children to choose which one they wanted, and showed them how to wrap their cords into a circle (not a figure 8, which could damage the wires in the cord), and close them with the Velcro. 
The photos below show each of the children sewing their totes.  I love the expression of determination on Quentin's face as he sewed!
The photos below show each of the children with their finished totes.  Ava's was taken at 6:30 in the morning, fresh out of the shower, when she was about to leave for her flight home.  She was going on a mission trip with her church group, so had to leave early.

And now, for the rest of the story… all of our care in making a safe carrier, in explaining and reiterating how important it is not to drop them because they are extremely breakable, did not have the desired effect.  I was told that when they got home, Charlotte went out of the house with her Kindle tucked under her chin and both hands full with other things… and you can guess the rest of the story!  It dropped and cracked one corner… still usable except for the inch that is cracked, but broken, nevertheless.  Some of us learn our lessons the hard way!  When his dad told 10-year-old Quentin to put his Kindle in the tote, Quentin said they only made the totes because…”Grandma was teaching us to sew on the machine.”  His misconception (or twisting of the facts) was quickly corrected!  One more update:  Ava and Charlotte called me the other day and asked how forgiving I am.  I replied I think I am pretty forgiving… and Charlotte admitted that she had AGAIN dropped her Kindle, this time on the wood floor in their family room, and the screen had shattered.   Ava said it still works, but she is concerned Charlotte might cut herself when she uses it.  My son said he will check it out and see if a screen cover will help, or if it needs to be replaced.  Accidents happen… and there is no point in punishing her.  I think the loss of her favorite gift is punishment enough.  Some of us just need to learn our lessons the hard way, and hopefully it’s only a small bump on the path toward wisdom… and common sense!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Log Cabin Quilts

Log Cabin Quilts:
July 4th came and went, one of my favorite holidays of the year!  I am as excited as a small child, watching fireworks, but this year I watched from my deck, although I only saw faint edges of the display in the distance.  I was entertained by the firefly show displayed against the dark trees, however.  They seemed to be agitated by the booming noises surrounding us, and really put on a show of lights of their own.  Last summer, grandson Quentin was fascinated by the fireflies; they would sit on his hand and flash their phosphorescent glow.  We Googled them and discovered that is the way they attract their mates, and by the show of lights on my lawn, there must be a lot of firefly merging going on!  They don’t seem to be as abundant in the neighbor’s yards, and I wonder if it is because I don’t poison my “weeds”.  What most people consider weeds are actually wonderful herbal medicine in many cases, and I enjoy the bursts of color… purple violets, golden dandelions… a wonderful array of royal colors adorning my grass.  Two poems came to me while I was watching the show of lights, two tributes to summer.  I tried without success to capture the fireflies, and the fireworks were just as elusive on camera.

Fireflies, flickering
a phosphorescent dance,
seek romance;
inherent trust
Lighting the dusk
of a sultry summer night.

Fireworks hidden by tall trees;
Lingering sparks
Reach for the stars;
booming trails
shatter the silence,
On the dark side of the moon.

Nature in all her splendor offers inspiration to those of us who need to feed the artist within, whether our medium is paint or fabric.  Perhaps my pleasure in budgeting contributed to my love of scrappy quilts… they use every bit of fabric in some way.  Two of my favorite traditional patterns that I’ve made many times are the Log Cabin (it uses 1-1/2” strips of all colors) and Around the World, which I make with 2-1/2” strips.  There are many variations of Log Cabins and many different layouts of the blocks.  I prefer cutting my strips to the correct lengths before sewing them into blocks, but others just sew and then cut the strip off after sewing.  When I have leftover scraps of fabric, I often cut them into 1-1/2” strips and put them into a Ziploc bag or basket.  A plastic bin with a lid also works great for storing those bits and pieces.  If you like, you can further cut those strips into the largest sizes you can for your “logs”… see below for the lengths needed for each block.  If you are REALLY organized, you can even put the same length strips into Ziploc sandwich baggies so they are already separated into the sizes you need. 

I’m enamored with Robert Kaufman’s Far East and Luxe fabric lines!  Some have metallic accents and many have an Oriental flavor… truly elegant and lovely.  I am using them in several patterns, but the Log Cabin done in his Far East and Luxe lines is what the focus is in this blog.  It’s a very easy block to do, and goes quickly.  I cut my pieces to length before I start sewing, and lay them out in order; a cookie sheet is a good way to organize the strips according to size.  
(See photo at left)
Traditionally, the center square of the block is red, orange or shades of gold, to signify the fire in the hearth of the cabin, or the “heart” of the home.  I use a 2-1/2” square for the center, and work out from that, attaching 1-1/2” strips to each side.  The center of these blocks is a gold print.
There are four strips in each round of the block, and you can do as many rounds as you like, depending on the size block you want.  I first attach a strip of light to the center square, then working clockwise, I add another light strip, then a dark and the final strip on the round is another dark.  Four rounds will result in an 8" finished block.  One more round would make a 10" finished block.
The strips are cut as follows: 
                          Light:                             Dark:
          Round 1:  2-1/2”                            3-1/2”
                           3-1/2”                            4-1/2”
           Round 2:  4-1/2”                            5-1/2”
                            5-1/2”                            6-1/2”
            Round 3: 6-1/2”                            7-1/2”
                            7-1/2”                            8-1/2”
Here are photos of each round. 

Round 1:

Round 2: 

Round 3, Light and Dark at left

This is a photo of the quilt my son took in a guest bedroom upstairs.  It does not have a border yet.  It will be queen sized, and grace the bedroom of him and his wife someday when it is completed.  I am much better at sewing the tops than quilting them, so I hope they aren’t holding their breath in anticipation!

Here are photos of a few more log cabin tops I have waiting to be quilted.  The one with the fire-breathing dragons is for my oldest granddaughter, who wanted a quilt in blues and oranges and loves dragons.  I found this little remnant of dragon fabric for the center blocks, and discovered my daughter had found the same fabric many states away and made curtains for her bedroom from it.  My granddaughter now has her own apartment and a queen sized bed... so I need to add some borders and get this quilted, finally!

This is a lap quilt that has not had any requests for a permanent residence yet, made totally from scraps with no planned color story. 

In a prior post, I have a tutorial for an offset log cabin, where the lights and darks are not the same width strips.

I have also made a 9-Patch Log Cabin, 
with a 9-Patch block as the center, rather than the 2-1/2” square, and using 2-1/2” ‘logs’ instead.   
The quilt on the right went to my youngest daughter, and is actually quilted!

The variation on the left is made completely of 2-1/2" scraps left from other projects, and is loved by my youngest granddaughter, Charlotte.  She loves the kitten border, especially, and this one is also quilted.

Log Cabin quilts are very easy to make, a great way to use up your scraps from other projects, and they look pretty, too!  

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Living on a Budget and Crayon Baby Quilts

Living on a Budget and Crayon Baby Quilts:
For many years, I was a single parent without much income, and I learned to budget my money to keep five little tummies full!  I learned to stretch a dollar from my parents and grandparents, and although money wasn’t plentiful, we never felt poor.  My mother sewed beautiful clothing for us, and there was never a day that we didn’t have homemade bread slathered with fresh butter with our meals, and homemade cake and cookies in the pantry.  My cousins, Roger and Art, were the same age as I… our mothers were sisters.  One day, we were arguing about whose mother made the best bread, and Art chimed in with, “My mother makes bread so good you can’t even taste it!”  His mother was the sister who didn’t bake!  I still like to save money on meal planning… it leaves more to spend on my quilting passion! 

Groceries seem to get more expensive all the time, but I can get a 50# bag of bread flour at Costco for under $12.  I often use the bread machine to make the dough, and shape it into dinner rolls or loaves of bread and bake them in the oven.  I can get a lot of bread and rolls from a 50# bag of flour.  One of the cheapest meats lately seems to be chicken.  I can buy a family pack of boneless, skinless chicken breasts for under $2 per pound, and make enough meals to feed a couple of people for a week.  I simmer the breasts in a pot of water, and then cool them.  Sometimes I grill them instead of boiling.  A couple of the chicken breasts are cut up to add to a hearty chef salad, and will make about 4 or 5 large salads.  I shred one or two of them to make chicken and cheese quesadillas or enchiladas for another meal.  Another meal I like is a pasta salad with diced cooked chicken, green onion and green and/or red seedless grapes, with a mayonnaise based dressing but because pasta is high in carbs, I don’t eat that often.   I dice the rest of them (usually about 4 of them are left at this point) and use the water that I cooked them in to make a pot of chicken rice or chicken noodle soup.  The remaining chicken goes into a crock pot to make a Mexican medley to eat as is with cheese, guacamole, and sour cream, or serve over rice or quinoa.  Here are my quick and easy recipes for the last two.

Chicken Rice Soup:
Add enough water to the pot you cooked the chicken in to have about 3 quarts of liquid. 
Add 2 Tablespoons of chicken soup base paste, or to taste… do NOT use boullion, which is saltier.
Add 1 Tablespoon of Mrs. Dash’s for extra flavor.
Bring the liquid to a boil.  Turn down the heat and add 1 cup of long-grained rice, rinsed.
Add one or two diced cooked chicken breasts.  Cover and simmer until rice is cooked.
Season with salt and pepper to taste.  May add diced onion and diced celery to the water before boiling, if desired.  It looks pretty to garnish the soup with some chopped chives or green onions, when served.
Delicious with some crusty garlic breadsticks on the side.  Another of my favorite comfort foods is chicken soup accompanied by a peanut butter sandwich.

Spicy Mexican Bowl:
Put the following ingredients into a 3 quart crock pot:
2 cans RoTel tomatoes with peppers (or 1 large can of diced tomatoes, if peppers aren’t pleasing to you)
1 can black beans
1 can chili beans
1 to 2 cups frozen whole kernel corn
2 Tablespoons dried onions
1 Tablespoon Taco seasoning
1 or 2 cooked chicken breasts, diced
Mix ingredients.  Cover and cook on high for about an hour until it begins to bubble, then turn down to low.  At this point, add 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh Cilantro, optional.  Continue to cook on low for a half hour or until dinnertime.
Serve in a bowl, topped with shredded Mexican blend cheese and garnish with a dollop of sour cream and/or gauacamole.   May serve it on top of rice or quinoa, and garnish with slightly crushed taco chips.

My Minnesota grandchildren spent part of the summer with me, as they usually do.  This year, they have two new babies in their family, so I thought they would enjoy making some baby quilts.  I got some fabric crayons, and thought they would express their artistic talent by drawing their own pictures to transfer to fabric, but they didn’t like that idea.  Instead, we downloaded some simple pictures to color, and the results were excellent! 

Fabric Crayon Baby Quilt:

Cut 8” squares of paper for drawing designs (or printing).
Color designs with fabric crayons, outlining with a dark color to set the colors off best.
Cut 10” squares of white or unbleached muslin or cotton fabric.

(Coloring the pictures with fabric crayons, right)

(Ironing the picture onto fabric, below)
Place one empty 8” square of paper on ironing board to protect the ironing board cover.
Center one 10” square of fabric over paper.  Iron fabric so it is wrinkle-free.
Place one colored picture, crayon side down, on the center of the cotton fabric.
Match edges with the paper under the fabric; it can easily be seen through the fabric.
Iron with a hot iron, without steam, lifting the iron, not sliding it, so that the design is not moved.
Cut 2” strips of a color for sashing the blocks. Cut these into 10” segments to go between the blocks.
Cut 2” squares of a contrasting color for the cornerstones to put between the main color strips, if desired.   
Join the 2” sashing strips to the blocks horizontally.   (Auditioning sashing, below)

Join the 2” sashing strips to 2” contrasting squares for the row between the sashed blocks.
Join all rows.  We used 9 blocks in the quilt top.
Measure one side of the quilt top.
Cut 1-1/2” strips of the contrast color for the first border.  Cut 2 of the strips the length of the quilt.
Sew one strip to each of the 2 opposite sides.
Measure the quilt from side to side, including the borders you just sewed on and cut two9 more 1-1/2” strips that length and sew them on.
Cut 3” strips for the outer border.  Again, measure the length of the quilt and cut 2 strips that length and sew them on.  Repeat for the remaining 2 sides, cutting to the new 
measurement that includes the outer border.

Press the top well.  
(Charlotte, age 6, quilting the quilt, right)
Cut a coordinating backing the size of the front.
Cut the batting the size of the front. 
Place the batting on a hard surface, then place the wrong side of the backing against the batting. 
Place the top, right side down, on the right side of the backing, making a sandwich with right sides together.
Pin at intervals to hold all three layers together.  Sew around quilt, leaving an opening to turn the quilt right side out. 
Remove pins and turn the quilt right side out. This method of making a quilt is called “birthing a quilt” and does not require binding. 
Poke the corners out so they are square.  Turn raw edges left open for turning to the inside. 
Topstitch all around the quilt top, making sure to stitch the opening shut.
Smooth quilt out neatly, and lay on a hard surface.  Tie the quilt, using a heavy thread, crochet cotton, several strands of sewing thread, or yarn.  Knot the ties securely with a double knot or square knot.  
Start by placing knots at the corners of the blocks, center of each sashing strip, center of the cornerstones, etc., and work several ties into each block to secure the layers well.
We chose to quilt the layers with a walking foot instead of tying it. 

Your quilt is done and ready to “hug” a baby in the love you fashioned out of fabric.

You can see the looks of pride on their faces, with the completed quilt for their cousin!
This second quilt is for another cousin, and still waiting to be quilted.
The children picked the pictures, the colors, and fabrics, and signed each block they colored.  
Ava, age 14, went over spots that needed more outlining with a Micron pen.  It was a great project for them to work on with Grandma, and I think they learned a bit more about quilting this summer.  
All three of them got new Kindle Fire tablets, and this last photo shows why the second quilt didn't get quilted by the grandchildren!

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Serbian Potato Salad and Baby Quilts in Progress

I want to be one of those women whose homes look like pages from a Better Homes and Garden magazine.  But… unfortunately, I am not.  I am not even close.  I am so far from close that one of my daughters says she is going to stage an intervention and call Hoarders to feature me on their show!  That is a slight exaggeration, unless you dare to open a closet door or go into my basement or garage.  I have watched Hoarders a time or two (quite by accident, mind you) and most of my house looks nothing like theirs!  I will admit, however, that with the ease of online ordering on my computer, and the eagerness of merchants to send me emails announcing their fantastic deals, even with free shipping, I have taken advantage of a few of those specials! Most of my Christmas gifts were ordered online and delivered to my front door in record time.  When the weather makes driving hazardous, I can order many things online from the big superstores, from flour to canned foods, yarn, and fabric… and every other non-perishable thing I can think of. I've discovered most perishable items can be ordered in powdered form, like milk, eggs and butter.  Dried and canned fruit are readily available, as well, but I haven’t found any substitute for a good, fresh salad!  I am a seasonal recluse, seldom going out by myself when the sidewalks may be slippery.  Too many of my friends have slipped and fallen, and I do not yearn to be in their number.

There is usually a quilt in progress on my design wall, which consists of a flannel-backed tablecloth hung in front of the fireplace in my family room.  Here are the baby quilts I have had there recently… the first is a basic 9-Patch, made with Fossil Fern fabrics and a tone-on-tone white cotton background fabric.  I finished the edges of the basic quilt by using just two parts of the 9-Patches.  I love the Fossil Fern fabrics... Alyssa says they look like watercolors, and I agree with her.  I made this from 2-1/2" strips of fat quarters I ordered online from Craftsy... when they had a sale I couldn't resist!  They were only a little over $1 for each fat quarter, sold in a box of 90, and each of the fat quarters is a slightly different shade, with all the colors you could imagine included.  The white center blocks are 6-1/2" squares.  By pressing the seams on the 9-patch blocks in opposite directions, I didn't need to do any pinning until I pinned the rows together for sewing.  It's a quick and easy quilt to make, and the result is beautiful and colorful.  I will not put a border on this, but will bind it in one of the Fossil Fern fabrics, probably blue or green.  

The other is made up of leftover pieces from a Quilt-Along Wedding Dress Blue is featuring on her Blog.  A link to her Blogspot is included below. Check out her blog... she has some lovely free quilt patterns and tutorials, plus a uniquely designed wall quilt rack that her father makes from oak that can be ordered.  I am getting one for myself... my birthday is coming up this summer!   I made mine a bit differently than she did, using strip cutting and piecing.  I made the big queen sized quilt with mostly jewel tones.  The center of the star is a 16-patch and the star points were made by sewing a colored 8" square to an 8" background colored square and making 8 half square triangles at once.

My friends know I enjoy cooking and baking as much as quilting.  Recently, I was talking to one of my favorite people, who happens to be Serbian.  She told me about two recipes that she makes, even in the nursing home where she now resides.  The first is something I will dub “Raw Onion Relish”, which she said is delicious as a condiment to accompany the roast chicken you can buy already roasted in many grocery stores.  The other is her version of Serbian Potato Salad.  Both sounded so good, I had to make them both last week.

Raw Onion Relish:
Chop one onion and place it in a small bowl.
Drizzle with about one tablespoon Olive Oil.
Sprinkle with salt to taste (I used flaked Sea Salt… Becka stressed NO PEPPER)
Mix well.  Delicious served with roast chicken.  Becka’s instructions:  Take one bite of roast chicken then a bite of the onion relish and chew them together!  It really is delicious.  I didn't have a chicken to roast, but I fried a chicken breast and it worked well as an accompaniment to the onion relish.  An added bonus… raw onion and garlic are great antioxidants. 

Becka’s Serbian Potato Salad (my version):
Bake 4 large red potatoes in the microwave
(or boil or bake in the oven; see link below for the bag tutorial)
While the potatoes are baking, dice one medium onion
Peel potatoes when they have cooled enough to handle.
I left a lot of the red skin on, as I had scrubbed the potatoes before baking.
Dice the potatoes into a large bowl.
Put diced onion over the potatoes in the bowl.
Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt (I used flaked Sea Salt)
Drizzle with ¼ cup Olive Oil
Drizzle one to two tablespoons Apple Cider Vinegar over all, depending on taste
Optional:  may sprinkle with black pepper
Mix well.  Can serve warm or cold, as a side.
Since food should look pretty, also, I think this could be garnished with a chopped hard-boiled egg and/or some chopped chives to compliment the red potato skins.

Daughter Tricia grilled boneless pork chops, and we had a delicious fresh fruit bowl and lightly cooked asparagus spears on the side, along with the Serbian Potato Salad.  Fresh strawberry pie for dessert, rounded out the dinner menu.  Dinner on the patio with a warm sun and gentle summer breezes… and the company of good friends… that’s what memories are made of!