Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Duvet Covers Project

I thought I had finished the top of the first duvet cover, but wait....

If you are missing the duvet cover finale, know that I am too.  A few days before Christmas I was removing some of the blocks from my oldest daughter's cover, after all the patchwork was sewn together. I noted that the blocks that were more solidly black in color detracted from the center block that is also bordered in solid black.  I picked them out and then replaced them with other blocks.  This was quite a feat considering that I needed to sew them back together in the same order that they had been originally sewn: sewing first the seams that would connect the block to the original row of blocks and then to the side seams as pictured below. By the last one, I had this technique down pat.  I am purposely taking time to learn on these pieces.  They are forerunners to what is ahead, and mastery of skills is key before advancing to other projects!
....then I picked out the five blocks that had strong black in them.  

I sewed new blocks by sewing the seams in the order they were sewn before.

Note that I am resewing this block into the row first.

I then sewed the side seams, just as I would have sewed the rows together.
I hope you can see that the pastel colored blocks don't detract from the center.
I started sewing rows of blocks together on the second duvet cover next, and then took time out for Christmas. I was grateful that my girls are being so patient about me finishing them, though I hope to complete them in the next week or so and will photograph the steps and their completion. I am planning the details as I go.  2015 is calling me to push forward and get these finished as I have many quilts to finish this year, all in various states of completion!
Blocks stacked and ready for stitching, carefully marked in rows as laid out.

The center block all pieced together for the top of #2 duvet cover.

Back side of block to show appliqued center block to checkered fabric.

Wrong side of center block with muslin back stitched front side to front side.

The block backed with muslin now has finished side seams ready for applique.
I hope you are like me, and are looking forward to the year ahead with many creative endeavors calling you as well!  Life never seems to lack purpose when you are driven to create! I even have a new TV to keep me company as I stitch away.  And check out this little ironing board that I found in our garage. It was one bought cheaply at a garage sale by my daughter when she was in an apartment and was getting ready to be thrown out. I cleaned it up and used one of the ironing board covers that didn't seem to fit my larger ironing board to make its own cover! What a handy little table ironing board. I am learning that when doing patchwork taking time to press as you go along is key, and since my room was a bit too full with the Christmas tree still up, I decided to try this little one out. I  try to do my projects in steps and pressing strips before pairing them to another strip, will make the seams lay flatter and this little table top board seemed to be just what I needed to do that!
My garage-sale table top board works well to clip and press rows of blocks.

My "new" old used sewing table, better sized than my first little fold up table.
My sewing table was recently purchased and is one that my daughter and I found at a thrift store for $40. It was solid and bigger than the one that I had been working on, while still being small enough to move around in my living room. Fortunately my decor is shabby chic and so it fit right in. We think it had been a table in an old science lab, and would tolerate the abuse I would give it. I gave it a good clean so that none of its marks would rub off on any of my work and checked it for any roughness that might snag material.  My husband sawed the legs to make it the right height for me.

So far the most comfortable chair to sit in for periods of time is an old chair of my mother's that is padded, but firm, to which I have added a high density foam block to sit upon.  I simply stuck it in a pillow case for now and then added a chair pad to the top. Perhaps I will create a fancier cover to it sometime to make it a bit more attractive, but for now it makes me comfortable and elevates me to sew which is a high priority.  I tried elevating the chair first which wasn't so comfortable.  Taking time to be sure that the ergonomics of your space are right for you will save you time and energy in the long run!!
My improvised sewing chair...not pretty but it works!

I am thinking that I may make some of my quilts as my mother did, quilting them in blocks or strips in a quilt-as-you-go fashion as working on big quilts is very awkward.  These covers will remain awkward to finish up, as they are to be king-sized patchwork covers to cover equal size duvets.  One is a feather duvet and the other a polyfil duvet according to my daughter's preferences.  I found them to be less expensive than purchasing extra thick comforter batting. These will not be quilted or tied which made them perfect pieces to practice sewing patchwork, and each is designed and constructed a bit differently. They will be very practical bed covers as they will be easier to launder by simply washing the covers and won't require taking them to a commercial washer, though their duvets may need washing occasionally in an oversize machine. I have learned on these projects that indeed, "mistakes do create other ways of doing things"!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Miracle at Little House

The tree is decorated with ornaments of the past making it unique to us.
I am sure that you have likely heard of the Orson Wells' radio production of The War of the Worlds that aired in the 1930s? It was simply a radio drama featuring H.G. Wells fictional story about Martians invading the United States. Many tuned into this program late and since it was a special production that did not have any commercial breaks, many believed that the reports of the Martian invasion were actually happening and it sent a panic through populations everywhere! Well, a similar sort of thing happened to me. Though I risk being committed to my local hospital's psychiatric ward, I must tell you that just like Scrooge visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past in Dicken's, Christmas Carol, I too experienced quite a miraculous conversion!

The center block, ready to be appliqued to my youngest daughter's duvet cover.
Perhaps I have been going a bit too hard trying to finish two patchwork duvet covers right before Christmas? Getting such a late start on them, I have told myself that it is OK if they are NOT finished by Christmas.The more I worked on them, the more I deluded myself that perhaps I could get them done if I just pushed myself a little harder. I have them in different states of completion, but it was in the middle of this project, working long hours and literally lost in a mire of patchwork that I surfed my TV options looking for a program that would be interesting and entertaining, to keep me to task and found just the one.
Center block pieced and ready for the four-square blocks to be sewn to it.

4-square blocks sewn into strips for daughter #1's cover. Center block above.
It featured a story about an investigation regarding Christmas miracles.  The reporter was none that I knew but seemed intent in following some rather astounding stories that happened to some children that wrote to Santa expressing their deepest wishes and mailed them to a special Letters for Santa Volunteer Program in various areas of the United States. It seemed that this organization was in charge of granting wishes to children through the work of volunteers who would find various resources and "make them happen".

As the investigation proceeded, the reporter was realizing that one man in particular seemed to always be in the vicinity where miraculous sorts of wishes had been fulfilled and her goal was to find this man.

This was easier said than done and her investigation took her to many sites where he had worked as a volunteer and so she included many interviews with people who had known and worked with him. Though all her reports his kindness and generosity were clear to all. In fact, he seemed to be more than an ordinary man. He seemed to know what were in peoples' hearts without them even putting them into words. Unexplained mysteries surrounded this extraordinary philanthropist and his ability to make even the most difficult and seemingly impossible things to happen.

I am a Catholic convert and for many years went on annual religious retreats. These retreats often involved individuals from the entire state that would re-gather each year to visit the Catholic Shrines in Canada.  Good friends were made and every year those that attended would tell some wonderful stories of things that had happened to them and or their friends that were also too strange and bizarre to be fiction. I am a believer that where God is concerned truly anything is possible!!

I told my husband to come and see what I was watching. These reports were very interesting and I thought we were watching some sort of documentary. I started to take notes, as I often forget the essential details when I repeat a story I have seen, making me a less than credible witness. I got so involved in this program that had I not been double checking myself, I would have missed that I needed to rip out two seams sewed in the wrong order.

The program continued with this reporter trying to track down this special person that volunteered all over the United States in this Letters to Santa program. This was just the sort of program that I literally "eat up".  People doing random acts of kindness and the love that was coming back to the volunteers was just as astounding as their acts of kindness. I grew more excited as the program continued and gave a shout out to my husband who had returned to his "man cave" to continue watching the program, as he wanted to get some wiring done on his tech system while he watched it. His response shocked me.  Instead of being astounded and amazed like me, he said, "It IS a very CUTE program!"

"CUTE?" isn't how I would describe this remarkable program. A man who could bi-locate.  There were only a couple of saints that could do that?...And being able to connect with people and their deepest needs! He was indeed more than CUTE!! This man seemed to indeed be some sort of modern-day saint.

My husband wasn't named Thomas by chance.  He is often the biggest skeptic ever, a real live doubting Thomas.  He was just being his skeptical self, I thought, as I continued to watch...

Suddenly the program finale came and along with it, the credits...and then I realized that I had been watching a Christmas fairy tale movie, and it had hooked me completely thinking that it was a real reporter reporting on true life remarkable events.  The laugh was on me, or was it?  Momentarily, I had believed in the magic of Christmas!

Being a Christian, there is no greater story than the scripture story of Jesus' birth. I happened to be a newborn nurse once in my day and just the story of Mary, a Virgin, giving birth to Jesus in a stable or cave is miracle enough!! His significance to me of being a baby savior is quite amazing too; a Lord no less, coming in the humbleness of a simple baby.  What is not to love about this story, and its celebration?

I love the Christmas season, but somehow for the past couple of years, it seems that Christmas has become a "grown-up" event.  No small children believing in Santa at my house, and in fact my daughters have wonderfully turned into real life Santas, surprising us each year with some wonderfully fun gifts!  It is a season of family traditions and a coming together of our family that has grown up and spread out, being only loosely connected, except for the holiday season.  So I wasn't looking for any more miracles than what this holiday already brings.

I am a Christian and Christmas' significance is NOT to be surpassed ever, and each year, I try to focus on the rebirth of Jesus in my heart. But for one short afternoon, I was caught up in believing in yet more miraculous stories that happened around the Christmas season when hearts are open and love is being shared so generously.

Santa came alive again to me!!! Dementia?  Time to be committed?  Absolutely, and isn't it wonderful that I could be a child again and ready to run and tell my children that there really is a Santa!!  Days have passed and I am still chuckling about it, but the "high" hasn't left!! I excitedly told my oldest daughter about that wonderful moment when I believed again, just like I had when I was a young child.  I am now anxious to gather with my daughter's friend's little children, for I have a special bond with them, and my husband, daughter and the friends that I have told or written to about my experience are chuckling about it as well!!...There is a crazy believer in their midst!! And that crazy believer is me!!

Lewis Carroll once wrote in Alice in Wonderland:
   "There is no use trying," said Alice'; "one can't believe impossible things."
   "I dare say you haven't had much practice," said the Queen.  " When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day.  Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

I believe all adults should practice this!. Impossible things happen everyday.  I call them miracles, and they do exist.  Just the fact that I stumbled on this program when I needed my brain and heart stretched is miracle enough for one day and believing in all the miracles of this season is another. Jesus once said that we need to be as children when we seek God, and I believe that he is right on!  I am wishing that all hearts, young and old alike be stretched this Christmas and that we always might see as children see the many wonders that surround us every day!! May you, my readers, have a truly joyous holiday season!!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Simple Lessons in Basic Patchwork

They say old dogs can't learn new tricks.  Well I am here to say that it can be done and to prove it! Just check out the little tricks I am learning in doing a simple four-square block. First I have pulled my ironing board right next to my sewing table.  Why didn't I think of this before? DUH!  But then once my nursing school buddy found me helping a patient bathe himself by me standing between the sink and the patient and passing him his rinsed out or soaped up wash rag..."Just push him up to the sink, silly!!"  Brilliant, I thought, thinking her so clever!  I have since realized that "common sense" isn't always common for some of us!! My ironing board makes the perfect L-shaped sewing set-up for lay out or pressing...I haven't quite figured out the iron cord that stretches across the room but that will come later, after I break my foot from a falling iron, flattening it perfectly as well as my quilt blocks?!

I am learning too that when sewing blocks together right-side to right-side DON'T back-stitch at either end of the square. Sometimes more secure doesn't make for smooth seams that press flat as you will see later.
My ironing board makes a perfect L-shaped sewing table! How perfect is this?

I have also learned to press a seam just as you sewed it to "set the seam".  Not sure why ironing it flat as you sewed it makes a difference but it does. It will lay flatter then when you press it to either side as most quilters do. I was also reminded to press the seam toward the darkest block of fabric, making it less visible to the other side, though later this didn't always work out when I pressed my four-square block. I am learning that there are many other secrets to pressing, but just like other rules, one learns them only to unlearn them in other circumstances. Again common sense prevails (if you have any!). Perhaps I will learn some "common sense" before I am finished?

When you sew the pressed-open two-block pieces together you can feel the seams butting against the other. I have unsuccessfully tried to rely on sight versus "feel" and didn't always have my seams butted closely together.  This fixes that and I'd like to think that I have developed a rather magical sense like I developed when tying fishing leaders. Touch replaces vision in many circumstances and this is one of them.  I pin to secure my blocks for sewing, as I am an insecure sewer, and sadly I sew right over them.  This is a confession, as all sewers know it isn't good for your machine to sew over pins! My machine seems to be indestructible, though I wouldn't trust all to be as sturdy as mine and I do occasionally break needles doing this! Perhaps I will soon feel more secure about pulling them out as I sew close to them?
Blocks joined by butting their seams together by feel. Thanks tablet teacher!

After sewing seams, always "set the seam" as I have mentioned above and then press the seams of your four-square block going in opposite directions (see below), picking out the few stitches in the middle of your four square block so that it can lay flat and form and inner tiny four-square block. This is the reason that you didn't back stitch at the ends of your blocks. This mini-four-square block in the middle isn't just cute, but lets you know that it will lay flat. When you press it put the iron directly on it and press it without stretching your block. Well, OK, sometimes "old dogs" forget and work too hard to be sure their seams are flat and stretch their block!  I am hoping that when sewn altogether I can square these blocks up again in their final sewing.
See my tiny four square that presses out flat (almost).

More tiny four squares (find 3)! I can do it and it isn't so slow after a couple!

And real quilters save thread by sewing their blocks one right after the other without stopping...check this out...and it is fast too! I am feeling more professional as I go!!!
Check how much thread I am saving!

I hope my pictures will help you.  Know that there are many good instruction videos on line! Thus begins my home quilting sewing course (check Pinterest).  My formal sewing instruction has been limited since high school and sadly, while my high school home economics teacher, Mrs. New, was an excellent tailor and knew everything, I wasn't smart enough to take all she said seriously when I should have.  I thought myself so smart to learn every shortcut to avoid the techniques of fine sewers.

I had a younger "more hip" sewing idol who didn't use patterns and knew all the short cuts. She truly had a talent that I did not, though I tried to take every short cut that I imagined she took for many disastrous results?! As I have said, common sense isn't so common!  I am now determined to learn the correct ways of sewing, for I am sure they were done for a reason. I have learned much of life's lessons in exactly this same style, always testing to be sure that there isn't a short cut to better living and finally returning to the source of all guidelines to find that He had a reason for issuing commandments and NOT suggestions! I am experiencing a full conversion in more ways than one!

I have always said that "the good" die young and I think I have had my days extended to "get it right". I hope to disprove this theory if an when I perfect my quilting skills, though I have much to correct yet before I reach any state of perfection. I have learned, however, that the expert Amish quilters intentionally make a block that isn't in keeping with their quilts for only God creates perfection, so perhaps I will just adopt their practice and God need not "beam me up"* early when my sewing improves?

*It was my good friend, Veronica (Hallissey), who wrote to me saying that she had tripped over her night stand in the middle of the night and figured that "God had beamed her up"....Now I shall envision the grim reaper as merely an episode of Star Trek and hope to get beamed up instead?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Gathering of Kindred Spirits

I have encountered many people in my life that I call "kindred spirits".  It is as though the same blood flows through their veins and they look at life in a similar way.  I have learned to treasure them. Growing up in my family of origin, I seemed to be surrounded by a rather unique collection of individuals that were largely unmatched. It was then that I was first drawn to special aunts or teachers that became my first kindred spirits. It seemed that when I felt most alone there would be a special person planted in my life, that became like a lifeline to my heart and one that would value me in such a way, to enhance my well-being and to be exactly who and what I needed to keep true to my course. When you meet such people they are like angels that are heaven sent.

One such kindred person in my life right now, is Veronica Hallissey. We met on line as she was one of our Common Thread guest give-away artists, and initially our correspondence was brief.  I enjoyed her poetry and writings and began writing brief notes to her...Soon our friendship blossomed and I now count her as one of my kindred friends, no matter that we have never met in person.

Being "a kindred spirit", it was not surprising that she "coincidentally" mentioned a favorite author that she feels a special kinship to, Ralph Waldo Emerson, right before I was to travel to Concord, Massachusetts for a doctor's appointment.  I also have a favorite author that I have a special kinship with, Louisa May Alcott. Every time we go to Concord, Massachusetts, I stop and visit Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, where Louisa is buried.

Only days after Veronica's note to me about her being drawn to Emerson, I knew that I would not only pay a special visit to Louisa, but also to Louisa's dear friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson while I was in Concord. I would tell Emerson, that I was there to say "hello" to him in person for my dear friend, Veronica. This visit, blog and pictures are for Veronica and Mr. Emerson! My kindred friend is a kindred friend to Ralph Waldo Emerson who is in turn a kindred friend to my kindred spirit friend and favorite author, Louisa May Alcott. So my visit there became a gathering of kindred spirits, all linked to one another.The world is indeed a small world when kindred spirits gather!

Visit Veronica's website and read some of her poetry.  Perhaps you are a kindred spirit to R.W. Emerson or L. M. Alcott and might be a kindred spirit to Veronica or even myself? Kindred spirits are lovely and they can be all around us and they are so nice as they cross all generations and walks of life and we can relate to them right where we are.

This is not about seances or anything of that nature, but simply hearts that bond to one another, to lighten our way and give us courage in our own life's journey. Sometimes we know them personally and sometimes we know them by their writings or their life stories that have touched ours and made us feel more connected to our own life.  I believe that they are gifts to us and make us realize that we are never alone.  They enrich our lives and make us feel related.

Thank you Veronica for your lovely spirit and while this blog is dedicated to you and the lovely reunion we all had in Concord, Massachusetts, I am so grateful for all the kindred spirits that surround us all, in friendships and family, and favorite people. Holiday seasons can be lonely times and it is important that we take time to honor those that are connected to us in special ways, past and present, and know that we can unite with them in spirit at any time we most feel a need. Who are your kindred spirits and how have they enriched your life? I believe that it is good to be "in touch" with them and feel gratitude for these God-sent spirits in our lives that have made our life so richly blessed!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Christmas Sale in my Etsy Shop Plus Sewing Projects with a New Emphasis

I am offering 10% off all items in my Etsy Shop as a way of wishing you all a Happy Holiday Season! Enter coupon code WINTER at checkout to receive your discount! I hope a special new pincushion or needlebook added to your sewing space might be just what you need to re-motivate yourself to getting back to stitching! Please see my upcoming blogs as I plan to share new quilting techniques to make my quilts look more like the ones that I see in quilt shows!

Fleece socks and a fleece robe, so turn down the heat and stay warm!
I am doing Christmas sewing including fleece socks, a fleece robe and two patchwork duvet covers that are to be "warm-up exercises" (excuse the pun) to what is going to be a year of quilt making in 2015. This does not mean that I will stop making wool pincushions, penny rugs, lap throws,or other wool work or fleece socks, but I am going to dust off my traditional quilting skills and recommit myself to finishing some of the quilts that I have not completed.  I am also going to learn new machine quilting skills.
Adding a bit of humor to my sister's socks!

Patchwork blocks + extra materials for this duvet cover. When is Christmas?
And more materials for another duvet cover. What about next Christmas?
Shortly after graduating as a nurse in the early 1970's, I took a pause from nursing to work in a Montessori pre-school which wasn't far from a well-known quilt store in Colorado.  Health-wise, I wasn't tolerating rotating shift work, a routine part of life for hospital nurses that I had failed to consider when I chose this profession.

This reprieve did more than provide day-work, it brought me into the world of quilting at Quilts and Other Comfort's, a quilt store owned and run by Bonnie Lehman, a well-known quilter, quilt collector, and author of several quilting books.  Bonnie and her daughter later became well known for the popular quilting publication, Quilter's Newsletter. Bonnie's daughter, though but a young woman at the time, became the graphic artist of this popular quilting magazine and Bonnie's store provided instruction, materials, quilting equipment and patterns.

My job at the Montessori preschool did not last long. It seemed that setting up this business was more expensive than the owners counted on and having an aide that was an RN was a luxury they couldn't afford. I had just taken a Sampler Quilt Class at Quilts and Other Comforts and had gotten to know the manager of the store when a sales position opened. My mom was as excited as I was about quilting and she encouraged me to take this once-in-a-life-time job until my health issues regarding rotating shifts passed (or so we hoped it would at that time)!. My employee discount made it such that my mother and I could invest in quilting patterns, needles, hoops, frames and materials all at discounted prices, an advantage that neither of us could pass up, though we both were clueless that our lives would never be the same!

I later returned to nursing and not long after, graduate school for special education, but my mother's and my interest in quilting became life-long.  I was her quilting buddy and we conferred about our creations. Being retired, she often hand-quilted my quilts while I helped her to lay hers out or make decisions regarding her design work.

I have decided that it is well past time that I finish what I have started. I have several quilts in various states of completion as well as my mother's last quilt to finish. It is the most beautiful of all of her quilts and I have to work up to feeling confident enough to be worthy of this task.

All in all, I have seven quilts to finish.This seemed to be an overwhelming and daunting number, until I read and studied quilter, Teresa Rawson (www.fabrictherapy.blogspot.com). I have mentioned this quilter before in some of my other blogs.  She is a prolific quilter who does very intricate hand-appliqued quilts much like my mother did. She, along with Bonnie K. Hunter, another prolific scrap quilter have inspired me to take-on my unfinished quilts as well as dream of doing many more. Teresa's blog has many tutorials, including one on organizing materials and projects to make the most of your sewing time.

In Bonnie's book, Scraps & Shirttails II, Continuing the Art of Quilting Green, she shares her methods of organizing her scraps to make the most of her time and space as well as using every bit of material that happens to be lying around. Now my family closely watches their laundry and doesn't leave it lying around! Favorite shirts are just the thing for a quilter! Don't miss her website and blog (www.quiltville.com or www.quiltville.blogspot.com) to consider inexpensive ways to obtain quilting materials as well as getting hints as to how you can organize and store your scraps and materials and start thinking big enough to dare yourself to finish your UFO's (unfinished objects)--don't we all have them as sewers and quilters?

As I prefer short-term projects, I have decided that if I break down the tasks involved in finishing my quilts and move from one to another, I will be able to maintain my interest, re-develop skills not used in some time and develop the new ones I need to accomplish these long-term projects step by step.

I think I have mentioned that in order to alleviate any guilt and worry that I have about finishing what I have started, I have decided that I will keep a running log in a plastic sleeve with each quilt project, enabling me to move more smoothly from one project to another, incrementally working on them as I hop between projects (thank you Teresa Rawson for this idea). I no longer have to worry about having things unfinished now or worrying about leaving them in different states of completion should I not live long enough to finish them. Any quilter, if interested could pick them up where I leave off, although I am planning to live to be 104 and hope by then to have all my material cut into projects for my girls to finish! This might be the way they inherit their future quilts (all in do-it-yourself kits!)

It is rare when I simply start a project and work on it start to finish.  Likely it has something to do with some ADHD related to my Chronic Lyme.  I simply work with it now and as long as I am stitching, someday a multitude of projects will reach completion.  I have seen it work on smaller projects and now I am going to try it with my quilts. How fortunate I am to have a retirement filled with sewing and quilting!

I have been building a fine collection of quilt books, hard plastic cutting stencils, quilting stencils for hand or machine quilting, along with various materials. Many items have been purchased used and discounted through Sewitsforsale, a yahoo group on line. I am sure that my organization systems will continue to change as I  take on this quilting challenge.

I hope that you, my readers will enjoy reading about my journey and might even care to join me. I will pass on tricks I learn and hope you will offer me tips and suggestions too. I am already learning skills that I had either forgotten or missed years ago when I first started quilting.  I am intentionally starting with simple projects, warming up to those that are more involved. Although I am not a beginner quilter, I am going to focus on details that years ago, I thought I might skip in the interest of saving time. Now I want my quilts to look as good as those I see at quilt shows!
No hurry on this one, but another simple comforter to practice simple skills!

Zeldie, my new quilting buddy says, "You woke me to show me what?"

Friday, December 5, 2014


Little House is offering 10% off all items in our Etsy Shop as a way of wishing you all a Happy Holiday Season. Enter coupon code WINTER at checkout to receive your discount!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Winner of December's Common Thread Give-Away is...

Sara Garza!  Congratulations and for those of you that didn't win, please return at the beginning of January when I will be the Give-Away Artist!  Thank you for keeping us on your favorites list!