Wednesday, December 31, 2014

For the Birds

Our guild show is coming up in March 2015. I made this small piece in response to one of the challenges set for the show. It's titled "Out on a Limb" and is a huge drawing of a tree trunk with outstretched limbs. The drawing was partitioned off into sections and each section was assigned a season and time of day. The one I selected is Winter Night and as you can see, it is the very end of the branch. We were allowed to interpret our section however we chose using whatever techniques we chose, the only requirement being that the branch had to start and end exactly as drawn on our individual section so that when all the pieces are placed side by side the continuity of the tree branch is preserved.

I used several techniques on my piece. The sky was constructed using fabric weaving and was constructed on a piece of fusible batting. When the woven piece was finished to my satisfaction, it was ironed to the fusible, stabilizing it. The snow was made using Victoria Findlay Wolfe's made fabric technique. She was a guest speaker and artist at our guild earlier this year and I was eager to incorporate what I learned from her into this little challenge project. The cardinal and tree branch were done with fusible machine applique. At first the red bird did not show up to advantage against the dark blue of the sky background. Therefore, I fused the entire bird to a piece of sparkly silver Fairy Frost fabric. What I learned in doing this is that fusible adhesive does not adhere hardly at all to the heavily frosted surface of this fabric. That made it necessary to sew all around the edge of pieces to make sure they didn't fall off.

I used a pillowcase, knife edge finish as I did not relish trying to get a binding in dark blue and white to match up with the background sections of the piece. I fused a strip of Wonder Under to the wrong side of the backing, then cut a slit so that I could turn the piece inside out without having to whip stitch the opening closed on the edge. I am a good hand sewer, but I never think those whip stitched openings ever look really, really good.

After the backing was sewn on and the quilt turned inside out, I pulled off the paper from the Wonder Under and pressed the backing to the batting. This really helped in keeping the piece together while  quilting it. I quilted it using some decorative stitches and metallic thread. Lastly I embellished it with paillette stars in the night sky and iridescent sequins on the tree branch to suggest frosty snow. In addition to the metallic thread and sequins, there are quite a few fabrics that are sliver metallic or shimmery. I think the overall effect I wanted to achieve - of a sparkly, cold, snowy winter night - was accomplished.

Things I learned along the way:

1.While the knife edge pillowcase technique was supposed to save me time and hassle by not having to deal with a two color binding, it presented its own set of issues. One of them is the fact that with no binding to be sewn on to cover up the edges of the quilted lines, each and every thread had to be threaded onto a needle, pulled to the back, tied off, and buried. There were a lot of those to do.

2. With the amount of quilting the piece distorted and the edges are not straight (the cropping I did prior to uploading the photo corrects that in the picture) and are a bit wavy especially on the right hand side. This was exacerbated by the woven fabric night sky and the made-fabric snow which have all kinds of wonky seams.  You can't square up the quilt after quilting when using this technique, so it is definitely something to consider with this method.

3. If you are going to torture yourself with metallic thread, use a metallic needle. Enough said.

4. I need to learn to use a thimble. As calloused as my fingers are from making 2,000 hexies this year, the skin is not thick enough to push a needle through several layers of fabric backed with fusible and with fusible batting underneath that. Some of my DNA now lives in this little quilt.

5. Fairy Frost fabric does not fuse well.

By the way, the little caption above the cardinal reads "Winter is for the birds." Oh yeah, I also forgot to give the bird an eye. He will have one - done with silver and black Sharpies. The finished size is 24" x 16".

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Argyle Christmas, which I made last year, is now quilted although this photo is just of the unquilted top. It is a pattern from "Simply Modern Christmas" by Cindy Lammon, shown below. Bonnie Hunter is hosting a Christmas Party Link Up over at Quiltville. Take a look!

This is as far as I got with Alex Anderson's Christmas Lights pattern last year. It's still sitting on the floor under the design wall, waiting to be taken out of  "time out."

And much as I would like to take credit for this beauty, I have to give credit to Hattie Thompson, a guild member, who made this Christmas sampler quilt and showed it off to us last year. The pattern ran over most of the year in one of the quilt magazines several years back. It was either McCall's or American Patchwork and Quilting. It is just stunning and she did a beautiful job!

I will be wrapping presents and baking off one last batch of Christmas cookies today. What about you?

Monday, December 22, 2014

Grand Illusion Clue # 4

Bonnie promised us an easy clue this week and it was. I was done in record time (for me), finishing up on Saturday evening. We had to make 80 more of the broken dishes blocks, very similar to the ones made in step 1. There were 80 pink and aqua half square triangle blocks made in step 1 which were used to kick start this week's blocks. I know these look alike, but trust me, they aren't. There are 40 each of two different colorations of this block. No amount of twisting and turning, flipping or flopping of one block will make it the same as the alternate colorway. They are also different in color from clue #1 blocks, which have no white or neutral squares. See everyone's progress here.

My cookie baking is proceeding apace with these cookies being completed so far: Springerle, chocolate chip (Toll House recipe, natch), peanut butter, sugar, Red Velvet, spritz (tinted red and green), and Russian Teacakes. In the fridge chilling for tomorrow's baking is the dough for gingerbread cookies. 

Oh, and I almost forgot, Redneck cookies. That is not the original name for them but rather what I decided to call them. I think they are called Cracker Dream Cookies which is an even more offensive name unless you know that Ritz crackers are one of the ingredients. No baking is actually involved. One Ritz cracker is spread with marshmallow creme, and another with peanut butter. They are sandwiched together, dipped into melted chocolate, and finished off with sprinkles. I am hoping that the salty/sweet/crunchy/creamy combo will be a hit because they are awfully messy to make.

I have already decided that Red Velvet cookies will not be getting a reprise next year. They were only selected because they looked so nice and bright red in the Yummly photo and I thought they would make a nice addition to the cookie tray. See the photo. Despite the extraordinary amount of red food coloring (5 tsp.), this cookie doesn't really look much different than chocolate crinkle cookies. Maybe if you reduced the amount of cocoa powder from 1/4 c. to 2 tbsp. you might get a redder color. Anyway, they do not have an outstanding taste and they aren't red, so they have been crossed off any future cookie list.

A cookie really has to be outstanding to make my keeper list. They have to taste really good, look appealing, have a sensible number of ingredients, and not require a Cordon Bleu certificate to make. After the gingerbread cookies are finished, the cookie kitchen will be closed. I might still make an old-fashioned buttermilk fudge recipe that one of my guild members posted the other day. We will see.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Grand Illusion Clue #3

I am working away on clue 3 of Bonnie Hunter's Grand Illusion mystery quilt. This week we are making a kind of double four patch block. There is a lot of speculation flying around cyberspace as to the function of these blocks in the final quilt. I have heard several people mention that they think the blocks will be in the border. Bonnie likes pieced sashing, however, so that is definitely also a possibility, I prefer just to go with the flow, make the blocks, and wait and see where everything fits in with the final reveal.

Bonnie warned us to make a practice strip and double check the finished size to ensure proper sized blocks - much like making a swatch when knitting to check your gauge (which I always hate to do). I did it this time and lo and behold I wasn't as accurate as I thought. So I made a couple of minor adjustments to my seam width to get the blocks to come out to the right size, which is 6.5" x 3.5" unfinished. To see everyone's progress, click here.

I haven't gotten as far along as I would have liked. Friday I couldn't sew at all because it was my mother's 92nd birthday and I wanted to spend some time with her. Our guild Christmas party was Friday evening and that required some last minute preparations on my part as program chair. And I can't honestly say what happened on Saturday, although I did manage to get 36 blocks finished (120 are needed), which is as far as I have gotten. Today, between grocery shopping, cookie dough making, skyping with a friend in Germany, Christmas letter writing, and card addressing - not to mention making acorn squash soup for dinner - the day just flew by without one minute for sewing. I'll get there by Friday, though. just have to have a couple of days uninterrupted.


Not such a great photo, but this is one tray of Springerle cookies from my efforts today. For those of you not familiar with this southern German specialty, it is an old style cookie, anise flavored and imprinted with wooden molds. You can't really see that very well in the photograph. They have to dry overnight and in the morning they will be baked in a low oven (275-300 degrees). The cookies will spring up (hence the name) in a certain way. I will post another photo after they are baked. My brother-in-law, whose grandmother was of German descent, loves them as I do. He will get the majority of what I make, as all but six will go to him as a Christmas present.

They are particularly good with a cup of strong tea. I have molds that I bought while a student in Germany 40 years ago and a good friend gifted me her mother's wooden molds after her mother's death. You can still buy the molds today, of course, but as the good ones are still hand carved, they are pricey. Here's a link to some really spectacular ones: the Springerle Baker.

Last, but certainly not least, welcome aboard to Rhoda and Carla, new followers. I am also finding new and interesting blogs to follow through Bonnie's Monday Mystery Link-ups!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Grand Illusion Step 2

Here's a small selection from the 100 blocks we need to make for this week's step 2 of Bonnie Hunter's Grand Illusion. I have completed 76. 24 more to go. I feel confident that this step will be finished later today! Go here for Linky Monday. You can see what everyone else is doing on this mystery quilt.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Grand Illusion Mystery Quilt Step 1

Bonnie Hunter has posted clue #1 of her 2014 mystery quilt, Grand Illusion. I completed part of step one today. All 280 half square triangles are done. They were made using her preferred method using the Easy Angle ruler. From 200 of the HSTs we are to make 100 broken dishes blocks as above. I have completed 22 so far. Of course, we have no idea how they will be used in the final quilt (it's a mystery, remember?), so these two layouts are just "because." Here are the rest of my HSTs:

It's not too late to join in the fun. For complete information about the mystery, click on the Grand Illusion button to the right of the post. To see what everyone else is up to, click here.