Monday, November 24, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me!

The ghosts of birthdays past.
Happy 32 to me! Today is going to be a great day - Ely's special day at school is this morning and Will promised to take me to lunch. Maybe there will even be more surprises.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Lesson

Or alternate title: Why You Should Always Prewash Any Washable Fabric.

The first quilt class I signed up for was cancelled. I was so disapointed - all my fabric and supplies were bought, I had a brand new sewing machine, and I was itching to make something. I had enough fat quarters to make at least 2 quilts, if not more, so I decided I could make a simple quilt on my own, and still have enough leftovers for the rescheduled class the following month. My friend, Maya, and I had seen a quilt pattern in a book made up of big squares with sashing of rectangles and little squares. The grid pattern looked easy enough for me to attempt on my own. I decided on how large I wanted the big squares to be, how wide I wanted the sashing to be, and added seam allowances of 1/2 inch to each side to get the measurements for the cut pieces.

We had just gotten satellite tv with tivo and I was hooked on quilting shows. From watching the shows, I knew about cutting the pieces, pinning them, and sewing them together. I also knew I needed to decide if I was going to prewash all my fabrics, or not wash them at all. I was eager to cut into my fabric and decided not to wash any of them. Fast forward a few months...all my pieces were cut and most of them were sewn together into rows. We were moving so I packed up the unfinished quilt top to finish once we were settled in the new house. I had a new baby, but he took naps so I could sneak in some sewing time. I even had a sewing table where I could leave my machine set up, as our office room had a built in desk for the computer. I finished the quilt top, and it looked great. The small squares in the sashing allowed all of the pieces to line up easily. I decided to wash to quilt top as I now was in the camp of pre washing all fabrics before sewing. As I pressed the newly washed quilt top, I noticed some squares seemed as it they hadn't shrunk at all - the batiks. Batiks are washed many times during the dying process and have little shrinkage. All of my quilting cottons had shrunk. It hadn't occured to me that some of the fabrics in the quilt would shrink and some wouldn't. This was going to be an impossible quilt to machine quilt since the fabric won't lie flat. I don't want wrinkles caught in my quilting lines! Why didn't I wait until the whole quilt was done to wash it?!? I love the crinkly quilt look of antique quilts and would have loved the results no matter the shrinkage. I was disgusted with myself and folded the top and put it away to deal with at a later point.

That later point turned out to be today. I pulled the top out and decided I should cut the rows apart, remove the batik prints, recut them, then sew the whole thing together again. Once I identified all of the batik squares - at least one and sometimes up to three in every row - I was less eager to rip so many of the seams in my quilt apart. All of that time and thread would be wasted, and I was less excited about redoing the entire quilt. Suddenly, another solution came to me - I could hand tie the quilt. The extra fabric wouldn't matter so much if it was tied and the ties would work really well with the design of this quilt top. I've always wanted to hand tie a quilt and now I had a good reason. Now, to find the perfect color of embroidery floss...

Friday, November 21, 2008

An Afternoon with Anna Maria

The fabric designer and author Anna Maria Horner lives in my neck of the woods. I've been hoping to run into her at the local fabric store we frequent.
Alas, I've never seen her there until this weekend. Textile Fabric hosted a book signing for Anna Maria, so I was able to get an inscribed and autographed copy of Seams to Me and gush to Anna Maria about how much I love her fabric.
Her aesthetic of bright colors and bold patterns fits my aesthetic perfectly. The birdcage on a chain quilt is at the top of my-projects-to-sew list...I just need to finish collecting all of the fabric. Anna Maria was wearing the cutest yellow and orange fabric cuff bracelet, and I was thrilled to find the instructions in her book later that evening. She is also pregnant with #6! I don't know how she mothers 5 children, designs so many fabric lines (her newest line of quilting cottons comes out in early 2009), sews, writes a book, photographs, and keeps a blog.

Clearly if she can do all that, I can find a little more time to sew.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


...please motivate me to hand sew two quilt bindings! Why do I procrastinate so much on hand sewing?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


I want today to be over already. I'm tired. Will is sick. I think Agnes is getting sick again. Ely was sick over the weekend. And I'm tired. I am dying to know the results of the election. I voted early on October 15, the first day of early voting, since I was worried about the lines and the wait with a baby in tow. It wasn't quite as exciting as voting on Election Day, but my heart pounded just the same as I submitted my ballot. I'm going to try and get a nap in today, because I don't want to quit tonight until it's over. I have hope Tennessee might extend its gubernatorial voting patterns to the presidential elections today.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Sunday Afternoon

With the time change and the earlier start to our day, we had some unexpected free time Sunday afternoon. We went outside to enjoy the mid-70 degree weather, the backyard, and my neighbor's beautiful maple tree. The cold weather will be here for good soon enough.
Ely played ball with Blue.

Agnes rolled around on the blanket and chewed on toys.

I got a chance to flip through my recent stack of craft and cookbooks from the library.

It was a good afternoon.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

November Birthdays

November is a busy month for fetes in my family. My Dad's birthday is this week, my Mom's is the week after, and mine is the week after that. Plus with Thanksgiving, it means we have a lot of celebrations and big dinners in November.

The only problem with all these November birthdays is coming up with enough gift ideas for November and December. We don't exchange Hannukah gifts anymore, but between birthdays and Christmas I still need several good ideas.

One of my favorite birthday gifts, is to bake a special homemade birthday cake. I bake only from scratch. I like knowing everything that goes into the food I make for my family, and I can easily avoid transfats and HFCS this way. We may have fewer baked goods in our lives, but they are much tastier and better for us. I've found it only takes about 5-10 more minutes to bake most things from scratch and the extra time is worth it.

My long time favorite birthday cake is the Chocolate Buttercream Cake from Ina Garten's The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. If you own the book, this cake is the one pictured on the back cover. It's a delicious chocolate layer cake with chocolate buttercream icing. Once you make a really good buttercream like this one, all other icings fall flat (even buttercream using powdered sugar). Ina's chocolate buttercream calls for raw egg whites, which I have used in the past, but now I like to use powdered egg whites, especially if young children are eating the cake. Powdered egg whites are also a lot easier, neater, and cheaper to use.

The cake can be a little time consuming, but it's easy to make the cake one day and the icing the next. You can even make the cake several weeks in advance, and freeze the two layers in the freezer. The cake also doesn't have to be a cake. I turned them into cupcakes for Ely's 3rd Birthday party this year. To make them fun for children (and adults), I added sprinkles and a plastic dinosaur on top:
There was not a single one left over.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

All Hallows Eve

This morning we all woke up with stomach aches. Too much chocolate for all the trick-or-treaters, and too much wine for the adults giving out the candy.

Ely was a cowboy. My mother-in-law made his costume, and took a blue ribbon at her county fair this summer. I made Ely's trick-or-treat tote bag last year. I was in Old Navy in late October and saw some Halloween bags for $3. They were very cute and very cheap, but were made of plastic and I try hard not to buy any plastic or spend money on items my family doesn't need for survival. I realized I could make him a simple bag, as I'd recently taken a sewing class at the local art school and learned the basic "formula" for a tote bag. I already had black kona cotton and orange and black cotton thread in my stash, so all I needed was 1/2 yard of orange kona cotton which I could purchase for less than $3 and maybe would even be enough for two bags.

Tote bags are simple - basic rectangles and straight sewing, with homemade bias tape handles. Depending on how you want the bag to look, the handles can be sewn on before assembly, or at the very end. I wanted a simple bag, so I sewed them on before I sewed the exterior to the interior. I added a fun pumpkin applique to the outside, using wonder under and black fabric scraps. I cut out the facial features, ironed them in place, and edgestitched around them to permanently secure them to the bag. I unintentionally used a dull exacto knife to cut out the eyes, nose, and mouth so the pieces have frayed more than I'd like. Black thread for the edge and topstitching finishes off the bag. The best part about making your own bag is that it can be any size. Personally, I don't think young children need a lot of candy, so I made Ely's bag on the smaller side. A smaller bag is also easier for a young child to carry on his own. Agnes didn't need a bag this year, but I'll make her one next year. I'll probably embroider her name on the outside of her, and add Ely's name to his to prevent any confusion.

This tired lion is looking forward to some rest on All Souls' Day, and trick-or-treating with the big kids in 2009.