Monday, December 7, 2009

Christmas Quilting With TJR and Others

There's nothing I love more during Advent than working on Christmas projects. (Not for me the mere prudence and foresight of piecing Christmas stockings in July so they'll be ready to display in December.) That's why I'm so excited that Bonnie Hunter is sponsoring a new mystery quilt right now. It's called, "Carolina Christmas," and it's a scrappy quilt made in reds, greens, golds, with neutrals ranging from cream to tan as the background.

I made a last minute decision to join the online quilting frenzy, and I'm really looking forward to stitching cozily while listening to Christmas music. Every year I try to get a new Christmas CD, and this year's is The TJR Christmas Card featuring my brother TJR who plays and sings neo-classic rock. I'm a Medieval/Renaissance girl myself, but I confess to being impressed by the virtuoso fingering my brother displays in these instrumental interpretations of eight traditional Christmas carols. And I was particularly charmed by his original song, "Christmas in California." It's Southern California's reply to "White Christmas," and hearing it will stir feelings of nostalgia in any Californian transplanted to the frigid Midwest or East Coast. The CD is packaged in a cardboard case which doubles as a Christmas card. And if you buy five or more of them from his website they're only $5.00 apiece, making them a reasonably priced and easily mailed gift. Single copies of the disk will soon be available from CD Baby. For now you can download the complete album or individual songs. (By the way, that little snowman at the beginning of my post was done by my son Filius for the cover of the CD.)

Just to show that my musical taste is not formed solely by nepotism, I thought I'd list some of the other CDs I'll be listening to during this project. Sir Christmas: Songs of the Season is by Broceliande, a Celtic and Early Music ensemble which I first heard at Mythcon 38 where they were playing songs related to JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. This CD is the first of four volumes celebrating the seasons of the year. The songs, sung in French, Latin, English, Medieval Spanish and Middle English, are not your run of the mill Christmas carols. In origin they range from the 13th century to the 20th. Their rendition of Guadete is possibly my favorite. Click to hear samples. (Scroll down a bit to find Sir Christmas.)

Sing We Noel is a collection of Christmas music from England and early America. It includes the 15th century carol, "Nova, nova: Aue fitt ex Eva," which is the story of the Annunciation in Middle English with a Latin chorus. That's been a family favorite since our children were small. (Yes, we started brain washing them early!) "The Midnight Cry" from 19th century America recounts the story of the wise and foolish virgins, a seemingly odd choice for a Christmas CD, but a pretty good one for the season of Advent which emphasizes both the coming of Christ at Christmas and His seconding coming at the end of time. Other favorites on this disk are "Mervele Nought, Josep" and "Syng We to This Mery Cumpane." Brief samples can be heard here if you scroll down a bit.

Last year I couldn't find my copy of Diciembre en México by Donna Peña. But it turned up during the summer, and I'm looking forward to playing it again this year. It has lovely songs in Spanish celebrating both Christmas and the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe which falls on December 12th. Mmmmm, I could go for some pan dulce and some Mexican hot chocolate!

And finally, just to prove that I am not without links to popular culture, I've always been fond of Perry Como Sings Merry Christmas Music which I heard over and over again when I was a child. (It was one of three Christmas records which my parents owned.) It's a mixture of traditional carols, such as "The Twelve Days of Christmas" and more modern songs such as "White Christmas."

The copy which Amazon sells has a different cover, so I dug up the picture at left from elsewhere on the Web. That's the copy my parents had, one of only three Christmas records which they owned. We kids heard it over and over and over again. Every little intonation of Perry's voice is engraved on my memory. That's why this album triggers "Christmas!" in my brain, and that's why, when I found a CD copy at the super market many years ago, I had to buy it. But it doesn't sound quite right. My parents' record had a scratch which caused the phonograph needle bounce and skip, repeating one phrase in "Christmas Song" over and over again. ("And every mother's child -- and every mother's child -- and every . . . ") Amazon has sound samples here. Just scroll down a bit.

What Christmas music do you like to listen to while sewing a Christmas quilt?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Wedding Dress

And here's a picture of my mom's wedding dress which was made into the christening gown I wrote about in my previous post. My mother was married in 1951. Isn't that dress gorgeous? (Click on the picture for a somewhat closer view.) It was custom made. The materials cost about $50.00. She drew a picture of what she wanted, and a friend of hers designed the pattern and sewed the dress for $10.00! The headpiece for the veil is made of artificial orange blossoms composed of some sort of pearlized material. I wore the same headpiece with my own wedding veil, and it currently resides in my cedar chest.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Instant Heirloom

(This post was begun in October but left unfinished because Life has been too eventful for blogging. )

Whew! Still no quilting.

In July my dad followed up with another stroke, and my mum and I were very busy trying to take care of him at home. After an exhausting week we discovered that his insurance would cover in-patient therapy at Casa Colina, a facility about which I cannot say enough good things. My dad is an out-patient now; we schelp him over there twice a week for therapy. Since I live next door to my parents, I'm over there many times a day to help my mother with my dad: bathing, dressing, supervising (since he's not supposed to walk alone), and making sure he does his daily exercises.

However, I did complete one sewing project: making a christening gown from my mother's wedding dress. It was a fun, albeit nerve-wracking, project. The first difficulty was simply squeezing out the time to work on it. (Taking care of my dad is like having another part-time job.) The second was the stress of Great Expectations. My mother and sister are firmly convinced that I am an amazing seamstress, an assessment which I do not completely share.

The gown was being made for my sister's first granddaughter. Her son and daughter-in-law have been married for about 10 years and hitherto have been without offspring. My poor sister, who definitely has the adoring grandmother gene, has been forced to confine her affections to chihuahuas. But now she is being presented with not one, but two grandchildren -- twins, a boy and a girl. Well, it doesn't get much better than that!

The only problem was that they had but one christening gown, the gown which my sister's son wore when he was baptized. That was also the same gown which my father wore when he was an infant, so it was 82 years old -- definitely a family heirloom. Anyway, that gown could be used by the boy, but what to do about the girl?

Rather hesitantly my sister approached my mom and me and asked if we'd be willing to make my mom's wedding dress (which had long been in my sister's keeping) into a gown for the girl twin. Voila, instant heirloom! My mom thought it was a splendid idea and, grabbing her seam ripper, immediately reduced the gown to yardage.

My mother's gown was designed and made by a friend back in the early 1950s and featured a layer of taffeta covered by a sheer fabric with a floral lace edge. I wanted the baby girl's dress to show off the fabric to advantage and yet echo the look of her brother's antique gown. I used a pattern from the late '70s, Simplicity 8971, as a basis for the dress and hat.

I lengthened the gown a bit and dispensed with the horitzontal tucks. Instead of the gathered sleeves, I made loose straight sleeves out of the floral lace. The pattern's hat is made out of wide eyelet lace. My hat was made and lined out of the taffeta with an overlay of the sheer floral lace. (Click on the picture of the hat at the beginning of the post to get a better look at the lace.)

Instead of pintucks on the bodice, I put lace beading threaded with pink ribbon. (The antique boy's gown had lace beading with blue ribbon.) At this point I felt the dress was finished, but my mom felt it needed a bit more, so she added the two vertical rows of lace beading and pink ribbon on the skirt. As it had to be added by hand, it was rather finicky work.

The last picture gives a close up view of the floral lace which I used as the bottom edge of the overskirt. (The under layers of the bodice and skirt are made of the taffeta.)

Both dresses were presented to my sister's daughter-on-law at her baby shower, and I can definitely say that all of the stress and anxiety that went into the making of this dress were as nought when weighed against the expression on her face when she opened the packages. Definitely worth it.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Time Out For Garment Sewing

Not much time for sewing these days as I've been busy grading end of the semester papers for my students and also helping to take care of elderly relations. This past month my aunt, the one with Alzheimer's whom I previously wrote about here, fell down and broke her hip. Then my father had a mini-stroke, and as soon as he got out of the hospital, my mum came down a bad case of stomach flu.

So my sewing impulse has been confined to the vicarious thrill of browsing sewing blogs, particularly those devoted to vintage patterns. Though I feel a little dinosaur-like when reading about vintage patterns from the '70s. Hey, I was alive then! Anyway, I finally succumbed. I bought Simplicity 8667 from 1978. It looks like a nice basic dress (with pockets -- yay!) which is something I could really use right now for work. I hope it's not too young looking for me. Currently my wardrobe consists of a few extremely worn denim dresses and some skirts that have become too big in the waist thanks to back-elastic that has become limp with age.

My only problem with the pattern is that I I bought a size 11/12 Young Jr. Teen based on what I thought was my bust measurement which falls between the 9/10 and 11/12. But due to an inadvertent weight loss, my bust is now smaller than I thought. (At my last doctor's visit I was down to 113 -- yikes!) And in fact, I used to wear a 9/10 back in the '70s. I just thought that after four pregnancies my shape had changed enough that I'd need the larger size. Now I'm not so sure.

I've consulted with the folks at, and I think there's nothing for it but to make a muslin. Dang!

By the way, I bought the pattern from Ditzy Prints and I was very pleased with the transaction.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

So, Sew Retro!

I was at the Scripps College reunion a couple weeks ago and, looking up from my lonely enjoyment of the excellent hors d'oeuvres at the president's reception, caught sight of a young woman from the class of 2004 who was wearing a beautifully retro dress with a tight fitting bodice and a full, gathered skirt.

"I love your dress -- it's so retro!" I don't find it very easy to talk to strangers, but now and then circumstances will move me to burst forth before I've a chance to think. In order to excuse my intrusion, I mentioned that lately I'd been looking at a lot of vintage patterns online. And as it turned out, we both sewed (though she hadn't made the dress she was wearing), quilted, and had been involved in homeschooling. (I'm a retired homeschooling mom; she grew up as a homeschooling student.) So it turned out to be one of the most interesting interactions I had during the whole weekend.

I've always thought that clothes from the past were more interesting than contemporary fasion, but until I started poking around the Internet, I had no idea there were so many people sewing vintage patterns. One of my favorite sites is Sew Retro, a blog to which many sewing bloggers contribute, often linking back to their own blogs for additional pictures and sewing details about a particular project. I love seeing how they've solved various sewing problems, and seeing how their fabric and color choices can totally change the "look and feel" of a vintage garment design. However, I sometimes feel a little odd when one of the bloggers is raving about having scored a fantastic vintage pattern from the 1970s on eBay. Vintage? Um, I think I have some of those in the bottom of my pattern bin. (And as far as I'm concerned they can stay there. The '70s were an ugly decade.)

Another site I've just begun exploring is the Vintage Sewing Patterns Wiki. Each entry features a picture of the pattern envelope and, if available, links to reviews of or blog posts about the pattern, and a gallery into which members can upload photos of the garments they've made from the pattern. Patterns are catagorized not only by brand name and number, but also by type of garment (i.e. dress, jacket, etc.) and even design features such as full skirt, scallops, or shawl collar. A few entries even have a bit of history, such as Butterick 6015 which was a run-away best seller in the '50s. (It's currently been re-issued as Butterick 4790.)

Well, if I can just stop hitting their "View Random Page" link, maybe I'll dig out some of those old patterns and upload them.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

This Spinning Star from Come Quilt With Me caught my eye during Jo-Ann's "50% off quilting supplies" sale. Normally, I'm a template-free, rotary cutting girl, but curved piecing is another story. I love curved piecing, especially since discovering that it's easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy when you do it by hand. But I hate making my own templates, so I thought I'd give this one a try.

Previously I've had very good experiences with Ardco templates. Their metal window-templates are the best ever if you don't mind tracing with a pencil and cutting out with sissors. (They say you can use their templates (which also come in non-window versions) for rotary cutting, but the mere thought gives me the willies.) Since the Come Quilt With Me templates are thick acrylic, I decided I'd try rotary cutting with it and -- gasp! -- machine piecing the block. The little slots should make it easy to mark and join the pieces accurately.

As for fabrics, I haven't decided yet whether to go for modern brights or '30s pastels.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Poetry Quilts

Winter Lights: A Season in Poems & Quilts by Anna Grossnickle Hines.

One of the the perks of my job as a library aide is discovering unusual picture books. This one caught my eye because the author-illustrator is a quilter.

Winter, and special lights and holidays which brighten the darkest days of the year, is the theme of this book of poems. The author's subjects range from Hanukkah to the Winter Solstice to the fireworks of the Chinese New Year to the farolitos which light the way for Mary and Joseph during Christmas celebrations in the Southwest.

I must admit that I preferred the illustrations to the text because my taste in poetry is rather hobbitish and traditional. But I love these quilts! They simply glow with light thanks to the author's judicious use dark fabrics, as in the Christmas tree quilt on the cover. (See above.)

And the piecing techniques which she has chosen for each quilt are also well suited to the subject of each poem. For example, the twisted log cabin blocks which Hines uses to illustrate "Fireplace" and "One Little Candle" bring unexpected movement to her representation of flickering, dancing flames. The aurora borealis is appropriately suggested by the bargello quilt illustrating "A Sight to See." And there is a happy marriage of both color and technique in the author's use of hand-dyes in her appliqued quilt, "Protest," which illustrates the glow of the setting sun in the winter sky and the soft snowy hills.

I would love to show you what I mean by by posting pictures of the quilts I've just referred to, but I am scrupulously respecting Hines's copyright. Fortunately, you can see what I mean by visiting her website, here. Click on the link, "For Quilters" and then scroll down and click on the third book, Winter Lights, to see how she designed and made each quilt. (Unfortunately, the design of the website prevents me from giving you a direct link to the quilts.) Now that I know that she has two other quilt-illustrated books, I plan to look them up at my library.

By the way, one poem in particular resonated in my book lover's soul. It dealt with a furtive pleasure with which I am sure all readers can sympathize.

Lights Out

I pull the covers
over my head
and let out a few snores
for good measure . . .
then snap on my flashlight
and open my book.
Now this is
reading for pleasure!

Be sure to look at the accompanying quilt on her website!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Got My Fabric

None of the quilt stores around here carry much in the way of Civil War prints, so when I went back to my old stomping grounds see my tax guy, I stopped in at the Quilt Emporium in Woodland Hills. They have a good selection of repro prints, and I was finally able to get the rest of the fabric I need for my Double Delight quilt. The two browns and the cheddar which I bought are in the lower left hand corner of the photo. The shirting prints are from my stash. So are the blues -- which are not authentic, but I'm going to try them out in an effort to bust some stash.

I see that I haven't posted in over a month. What is that in blog-years? A century? Unfortunately, fast and furious quilting has not been the reason for my absence. In fact, I've accomplished almost nothing creative except for some sporadic work on my string pieced stars. (I'm still trying to work out the best way to construct these. I used a Jo-Ann's coupon to buy an EZ 45° Diamond and I'm going back to Harriet Hargrave's construction method.)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Back From the Dead!

I see that I haven't posted in over a month. What is that in blog-years? A century?

Fast and furious quilting has not been the reason for my absence. In fact, I've accomplished almost nothing creative except for some sporadic work on my string pieced stars. (I'm still trying to work out the best way to construct them. Recently, I used a Jo-Ann's coupon to buy an EZ 45° Diamond, and I'm going back to Harriet Hargrave's construction method.)

Unfortunately, my elbow still bothers me off and on. The physical therapist says it probably won't be completely healed until June. Every now and then I feel a sharp burning pain in it similar to what I felt in original injury, though not quite as intense. Then I have to take care how I move, apply cold or heat, and take plenty of Advil. The most recent incident was this past Saturday and Sunday. Sigh!

What else have I been doing? Working at the library, grading student papers, helping my mom who just had minor surgery, making a daily visit to my aunt who has Alzheimer's Disease, and hanging out on the American Diabetes Association's forum for adults with Type 2 diabetes.

Yes, the shoe has finally dropped. Diabetes runs in my dad's family, so this is not a total surprise. Fortunately, I seem to be in the early stages and hope that a proactive approach will delay or prevent the complications that frequently go with the Big D.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Quilting Weather

This morning I awoke to the sound of pounding rain. Thank goodness the library is closed for President's Day! Mondays are my scheduled day to empty the book drop which is a real pain when it rains. We have a drive-through book drop in the parking lot which was not well designed for bad weather. (Not normally an issue in Southern California!)

Fortunately, I don't have to go to work today. This seems like lovely quilting weather, so I plan to continue with my string-pieced stars. Here's a picture of the first completely assembled one. I love the red ring which I plan to repeat in each of them.

I did not love picking out the bits of foundation paper, though my bad arm may have been a factor in how difficult I found it. I do have to admit that the paper I'm using for this project is better than some I'm tried. It's the left-over scraps of pattern tissue paper which I used to trace the different sizes I needed for the Wild Girls' Christmas Dresses. Bonnie Hunter suggests that a size 14 (90) needle helps, so that's what I'm going to try today.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Heavenly Sewing

Guess what I sewed today? It's an icon cover.

My sister emailed me the other day to ask if I could sew some covers for her two new icons. (This is the same sister who gave me her Bernina 1130 last year.) Of course I said yes. Not only do I love to use my Bernina, but I am very happy to share (in a tiny way) in her work.

An icon is a representation of a sacred personage (such as Christ, a saint, or an angel) or a scriptural event (such as the wedding feast at Cana) which is commonly painted on a wooden panel for prayer and liturgical use in the Eastern Orthodox church and the Eastern Rites of the Catholic church. Icons are painted in a very stylized manner which is deeply symbolic. They have often been described as windows into heaven.

When my sister finishes an icon, she likes to encase it in a sort of linen bag which protects it from fingerprints while it is being conveyed to the person or church which has commissioned it. Here's a picture of one of the icons that will be enclosed in the covers I made last night. Do click on the image for a closer look. The reason the gold glows so beautifully is that it's 24 carat. (Besides painting commissions, my sister also sells notecards based on her icons. Click here if you want to see her website.)

Friday, February 6, 2009

Cats and Quilts

Like many quilters, I have a quilt loving cat. Her name is Priscilla. Originally, she was my daughter's cat. But, as is too often the case, my daughter went first to college and then to grad school, and most recently to a job in the Pacific Northwest. And everyone knows that cats don't travel well. So now the cat is mine. (Or perhaps, I am hers.) She seems to have become very fond of me. When I return home after an absence of many hours, Priscilla meets me with emphatic meowing even if my son Fillius has been home all day with her. It's as if she's saying, "Where have you been, girlfriend? I have so much to talk about!" When I go to bed, she meows insistently outside my bedroom door until I open it a crack so that she can "tuck me in." (This consists of hopping onto my abdomen and kneading it; I think of it as a cat massage.) Then she settles down at the foot of my bed to sleep.

Priscilla is the reason I don't currently use any of my antique quilts on my bed. It's not just the cat fur; Priscilla loves to knead even when I'm not in bed. And I don't want tiny pinprick holes in my antique Dresden Plate or Double Wedding Ring. When daughter Fillia lived at home, I always kept my bedroom door shut. But Priscilla seems so lonely since Fillia left for good . . .

And it's not like you can train cats to stay off the bed. They'll do what they want to do even if they have to have to wait until you're not looking. Witness my ironing board this morning. Last night I ironed a yard and a half of "snow" Kona Cotton. I folded the yardage and left it on my ironing board so that it would be ready for cutting out the background patches for my string pieced stars this morning. And what did I find when I got up? Little cat footprints pressed into the fabric. I can actually see her trail where she leapt up and strolled about. Well, I suppose it hardly matters since Priscilla will be walking over the finished quilt someday. I've decided that a brand new utility quilt is just what a cat loving quilter needs on her bed.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Quilting Frustration and a New Rotary Cutter

My quilting buddy recently returned after a six month stay in Montana, and we resumed our weekly sewing sessions. But I wasn't sure what I could work on with my bad arm. Even scissors are pretty much beyond me right now. Then I remembered my string pieced stars. I had already traced the diamonds onto paper and I have a drawer full of strips and strings. Perfect! No fabric cutting required! I'll just have to delay trimming the diamonds until I'm completely healed.

Which reminds me, the other purchase I made at Road to California was the Martelli ergonomic rotary cutter. I saw the vendor demo its use, cutting through twenty layers of fabric. I took a couple of tentative cuts, but couldn't really get a feel for it since I didn't dare put much pressure on my hand. However, this cutter was recommended by a couple of people on Quiltvillechat, so I decided to risk $20.00 on it. Of course, I won't really know if it will be compatible with my own particular problems and style of working until my tennis elbow has healed enough for me to try it out. When it does, I'll give a complete review.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Fabric Score and Quilting Frustrations

Well, I had pretty much made up my mind to make Double Delight from stash instead of 19th Century Repro prints. But then I went to Road to California, and discovered a vendor (Bonnie Blue Quilts) who was offering a beautiful bundle of six different double pinks in half yard cuts. Exactly the amount I'd need for Double Delight. So how could I resist? Since I already have some indigos and shirtings in my stash, I guess I'm back to following Bonnie's color scheme. Now all I need is some cheddar and some chocolate brown.

Not to mention a healed elbow. Sigh. I've been going to physical therapy sessions twice a week and doing the daily stretches and exercises the therapist recommended. But it looks as though I won't be using a rotary cutter for quite some time. And Double Delight calls for so much cutting and squaring up!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Road to California!

It's that time again!

I'll be attending Road to California on Thursday and Sunday. Last year some of us who were making Bonnie's first mystery quilt, Carolina Crossroads, wore 9-patch blocks with a contrast corner to identify ourselves to each other, and I actually met a few fellow mystery quilters. This year I'm not actually making the quilt yet because of my injury. Otherwise I'd probably suggest wearing a that Square Within a Square block (with contrast corner) which is a major component of the current mystery, Double Delight.

I was thinking of shopping for Double Delight fabric at the show; among all those vendors I'm bound to find some Civil War prints. But now I'm not sure. I should probably be trying to make this quilt from stash.

Friday, January 9, 2009

From Earthquakes to Fabric Stash

We had an earthquake last night. It was a 4.5 and lasted about 5 seconds, but we're about 21 miles away from the epicenter so it felt interesting rather than alarming. Nothing fell off any of our shelves. Of course, I don't have a lot of breakables. My worldly possessions fall into two main categories: fabric and books.

My fabric stash is not as large as some quilters', but it looks impressive because it is stored in stacking plastic basket bins that tower to the ceiling. But if they tumbled over in an earthquake, no harm would be done -- I'd just have the fun of rearranging it again. (Have you noticed how therapeutic it is to fondle fabric?)

I was thinking of reordering my stash anyway because I cannot find my little collection of indigo prints. Someone gave them to me a long time ago, and I've been waiting for the perfect project in which to use them. Well, it's here now. They're perfect for Bonnie's Double Delight mystery quilt, but I cannot find them among my blues. I was able to lay my hands on my collection of shirting prints which I also want to use in this project. But I find I have very little double pink fabric. And of course I have no brown or cheddar. My stash is pretty weak in earth colors in which I include the brown, orange, and yellow families.

It's funny how the emotional aspect of color can be so strong and yet so individual. Yellow has always seemed an unhappy color to me, but I know many people who perceive it as perky and cheerful. (Was I simply traumatised by Harvest Gold appliances in my youth?) But I'm beginning to learn that even colors I'm not keen on can, in the right place and in the right proportions, add an essential spark to a quilt that takes away my breath and sings to my heart. That's kind of why I want to make Double Delight in Bonnie's colors. (If you're making the quilt and don't yet want to see what the finished blocks look like, don't click on this link.)

I have a few free hours today and plan to visit the local quilt store. My sister gave me a gift certificate for Christmas, and I'm hoping to buy some brown, cheddar or double pink with it. But first I need to figure out where all those indigo prints are.