Saturday, March 31, 2007

I am in LOVE

(Warning: the following post contains zero knitting, quilting or lacemaking content. Not even a mention of a cat.)

I am in love with my new toy. Okay, it’s not so much a toy as a tool, but some tools are just too cool to be put in the same category as a hammer or screwdriver. It is my new Marantz professional recorder, model PMD660.

Recorders of some type or another are an integral tool for journalists. Oh, sure, some people seem to be blessed with a photographic memory and perfect penmanship. For these people (and I hate each and every one of them) they can jot down a few notes on a pad of paper and whip out a 2,000-word article complete with quotes in an afternoon. I can’t. I have neither the memory nor the penmanship to pull something off like that. But the problem with being in my position is that I am forced to record interviews and lectures electronically, and once moving parts and a power supply are involved…well…things can and do go wrong.

Most of the recorders I have used over the past decade have been micro-cassette recorders, and for the most part they do a pretty darn good job. But the audio quality is poor and sometimes the people on the tape are impossible to understand once I’m back in the office. I ran my first recorder into the ground, and when it ended up with a huge dent in the side (no memory of that happening) and a noisy squeal that transferred to the recording, I went shopping for a new one. This was was much lighter than the first, and could be powered on either by battery or plugging it into an outlet. But it turned out it had a lousy internal mic and no way to tell when the tape had reached the end. I would simply look down and discover the wheels had stopped turning. My third (and last) had a better internal mic, and the ability to record on both sides of the tape without removing it. This was great, but it was tricky to work (I totally missed recording the 3 a.m. drumming ceremony at a Buddhist temple last year because I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with the darn thing in the dark), and early this year it decided when it reached the end of side one it would simply snap the tape off the feeder reel rather than reverse and continue recording. To be fair, it might have been a lousy batch of micro-cassette tapes, but they weren’t cheap tapes, so I don’t know.

Of course, I have also started recording segments for various podcasts. Up to this point I have recorded them digitally on a Sony minidisc, and that has worked well for that narrow purpose, but won’t work as well in the field when I’m doing my travel writing shtick. It has no internal mic, and I would still be hauling around discs, and what would happen if the rechargeable battery wore down in the field? Plug it in? I don’t think that will work well during my visit to Monticello.

I have also used a digital video camera that uses micro-cassette tapes, but again, lots of tapes to pack, a battery that is exhausted in the field, and my Canon one crashed in Korea last year. I managed to make it forget it was on its deathbed until we returned home, but once it remembered it it didn’t even bother to gasp or sigh. It was just dead, dead, dead.

The Marantz is a digital recorder that stores its files on a compact flash card like many digital cameras use these days, can record at broadcast quality, AND can be powered either by plugging it in to an outlet or simple everyday AA batteries. It has many other fine features that I won’t bore you with, but suffice it to say that it is a dreamy machine.

Mine arrived last week, and I took it for its first field test this afternoon to Paxico where I was researching an article for the fall issue of Kansas! Magazine. The recorder excelled in its duty. It was small and light enough to pack into my new brief-urse (Don’t bother looking it up in a dictionary - it’s a Sallyism), and the audio quality - even at the lowest setting and using the internal mic is superb. Now that I have transferred the interviews to my computer, they play easily in iTunes, and I can burn then onto a CD for permanent storage.

Here’s a few snaps I took in Paxico. Don’t worry. Much better photos will run with the article.

In other news, several of the branches I cut off my beloved pussy willow have grown roots. At this point I think it will be no problem to get a new bush growing when we move next year.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Why I Don’t Throw Anything Away

(Yes, I fibbed about not posting until Sunday)
One of the quilting supplies I recently purchased was a disk of beeswax used to coat hand quilting thread. This was an item I found in the quilt supply section of a craft store, packaged and marketed for that use. The wax gives strength to the thread and makes it easier to work through the fabric. So when I needed to wax new threads for my treasure pouches, I pulled it out and went at it.

The wax disk is held inside a slotted plastic sleeve. The quilter guides their thread through the slots, where it cuts into the wax and (theoretically) applies a coating of wax.

I cut several lengths of my treasure pouch thread and went at it. The thread zipped through the wax like it was air. I ran them through the other direction. Same thing. Still, I had waxed them, hadn’t I, so I started a new treasure pouch. By the time I finished the base and tied on the second thread I knew this wasn’t going to work. The pouch felt flimsy, and I could tell it would not be able to hold a shape once completed unless I found a way to really, truly, wax the threads. With a vague memory of wax from way back that I’d purchased for this very project, I dug through my craft supplies until I pulled out this:

It still bore the grooves from waxing the threads on my first treasure pouch.

I took the remaining thread off the needle and ran it through the wax. I felt the thread stiffen as soon as it came off the brick. It behaves much better now and creates a sturdy fabric.

Why did my beautifully-packaged beeswax fail to do the job? Perhaps it isn’t 100% beeswax, but mixed with some other chemicals to make it less smelly and more pliable. But I think it is often the case that once something is packaged up nicely for a particular market it no longer does the job it is meant to do. At least not well. Like the manufacturer invested all their money and energy into creating an ideal vision of a product but forgot to make the product itself ideal.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

In my Mind it was Perfect

I got my work done early today (would have had it done early in the day but I had was whacked with the idiot stick a few too many times) and spent an hour watching court shows and making my domino frame.

Now it is important to keep in mind that I never was what you would call an “expert” in bobbin lace. When I would attend my local guild meetings (yes, there are such things) I endured the time by being either ignored or having my work scrutinized with a head tilt and long period of silence sometimes followed by “hmmm. I’ve never seen anybody do that.” And the last meeting I attended was a good five to seven years ago. More like seven, I think. And until I picked up my pillow last spring to make the lace edging for the christening gown, I hadn’t made a single stitch.

I’ll continue.

So I was working on the lace, and realized that the stitches were about to extend out of the core working portion of the pillow that is constructed to receive pins, and if I didn’t do something soon I was going to be in trouble. Just before this moment I had made the first domino dot in, oh…say…those seven years since my last meeting. My memory of the dot construction was that they were a bit time-consuming, but relatively easy to produce, and the end product was a nice round dot. These dots are my own creation based on intuition and trial and error—not actual patterns, but I remembered clearly how I produced them and attempted to duplicate the method. The result this afternoon was, erm, pathetic. Yes, pathetic is the word I am looking for. I tried a second, certain that I could get it perfectly shaped as I achieved years ago. No better. But I couldn’t continue to futz or worry about it because I was running out of room in the pricking portion of my pillow. So I unpinned most the domino frame and the entire pricking pattern, and lifted the inset pricking square out to turn it so I could continue to work. (Don’t worry about following this. The important part is next.) And when it was safely replaced I lifted the lace and peaked underneath. You know, they are all about as pathetic as the ones I made today.

At least I’m consistent.

And no, this discovery will not prevent me from finishing it. After all, I am learning to attempt something much more challenging and “unique.”

In pet news I am pleased to announce signs of regrowth of fur on Eclair’s stomach. This cat has been over-grooming her stomach bare ever since she was spayed at about 4 months. Really, she never regrew her hair where it was shaved for surgery. Not only that, but her mood is much sweeter overall. Her new non-fancy-pants food continues to work wonders.

If the weather cooperates at all I will be out of town Saturday to research an article. My next posting will likely be Sunday.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Finished Object

The Man’s Turtleneck is off the needles, seamed, and all the ends are woven in. And my, my, my there were a lot of ends. It would seem that when a knitter double strands, there are double the usual ends. But it is done, and just in time…to be put away in an airtight storage bag until next winter. When I handed it to Mike to try on he exclaimed “Geez, it weighs a ton.” Yes, yes it does. This sweater is not to be worn when highs are above freezing.

I also put the sewing machine away yesterday. But before I did, I hemmed a newish pair of cords. Do you remember years back (probably not, so I’m talking about the late ’60s and early ’70s) when it was appropriate to wear jeans with the cuff rolled up with the expectation we would grow into them? Well, people don’t do that anymore, and honestly I have no expectation of growing two more inches to make my new cords the right length. Yet I have been running around with them rolled up since I bought them two months ago. Usually I take my pants to my favorite tailor to be altered, but Nutmeg of the Material Mama podcast has shamed me into sewing the hem myself. During an interview with her mother they made fun of people that didn’t hem their own pants. “Can you believe people pay to have their pants hemmed?” Ummm, yes. But cords are different than dress pants, so if they are a little wonky they are a little wonky.

The recipient of the Jayhawk place mats has set the table with them for the duration of the Final Four, even though KU has been eliminated. She has also put in an order for a Jayhawk fabric sofa-like tissue box cover that she spotted near the checkout of a local pancake house. I guess Mother’s Day is around the corner. Mike, who saw the tissue box cover in question, thinks it would be better to buy it rather than try to make it. Not having seen it, I am tempted to agree. I mean, I could make a really nice looking tissue cover out of Jayhawk fabric (thanks to the pattern in the latest issue of Sew News) but I guarantee that it wouldn’t look like a “sofa.” This particular pancake house is locally owned and they have always stocked handmade items next to the register. Personally, I’m not into the crochet-top kitchen towel look, but they have a rack of them in all colors. I suspect the tissue holder is much the same.

My father-in-law’s birthday was also a few days ago. He received no handmade goodies this time around (did you know it is almost impossible to find slippers outside of the Christmas holiday season?) but he continues to enjoy the Man Shawl, and reported having wrapped himself up in it that morning while he worked his crossword puzzle. The knitting is just warm enough to make it cozy in winter, but airy enough to not overheat when it is hot outside. At least it is for his old bones. I’m glad that my knitting provides some comfort as he begins his second round of chemo and radiation.

With the Man’s Turtleneck complete, what is my next project? As I discovered yesterday while I was weaving in ends, it is much too hot to work on wool, so I don’t plan to start my Viking Sweater until the air conditioner is on, at least. Yes, I could pop it on now, but it is March, for chrisake. I have my other Madder Sock, but that is great for on-the-go knitting. Instead, I think my evenings are going to be busy with the Domino bobbin lace frame.

Bobbin lace is basically a weaving process, but the loom is a pricking pillow and pins. Somewhere I have a small antique postcard of children playing dominoes, so I created this pattern to frame it. I’m not sure where the card is at the moment, but I run across it from time to time so I’m sure it’ll turn up again. What you are looking at is the back side. If I’m right, when the pins are removed and I turn it over, it should look like dominoes.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Finished Object and Bloomin’ Tuesday

I said it was hot Sunday, right?

It was unseasonably hot with a high of 82 when temps in the mid-50s is more appropriate. Monday, too, was a scorcher, but because rain was in the forecast it was also humid as all get-out. Then, around 3 p.m. that afternoon, the rains came. It was a lovely spring thunderstorm that left the air smelling sweet, and when the thunder left, gentle rains continued through the night. The shift in the barometric pressure had some odd effects, though.

More rain is expected this afternoon, but I took advantage of a bit of sun to explore the yard.

Drum roll please… the Jayhawk place mats are finally finished. They certainly aren’t my proudest achievement, but they get the job done, and the recipient was pleased.

It has been too hot to work on the Man’s Turtleneck. I mentioned to Mike on Sunday that I needed him to test fit it and his response was “EWWWW.” Can’t blame the guy. We did squeeze in a test fit on Monday morning before the sun came up and the sleeves past the test so I am ready to seam it up. Perhaps I will work on that tonight while we watch Stargate, Season 3.

As the air date for the final episodes approach, we are trying to watch all the episodes in sequence. My hope was to get them watched before the final ones air, but that is SOOO not going to happen. I’ll be lucky if we finish Season 4 before then, and I have doubts about even that. In other Sci-fi news, I was pleased to see Claudia Black again, this time with an American accent on The Dresdon Files. And what’s up with Battlestar Gallactica? The entire season has been a snooze. They finally managed to make it interesting in the final 15 minutes of the final episode of this season, and it won’t be back until 2008.

I approve of the winners of Grease: You’re the One that I Want, and the action on Amazing Race has me glued to my seat. With Rob and Amber gone, I have no idea who will win. Do you?

Sunday, March 25, 2007

One of those Crafty Days

It is hot and windy – weather that makes cats non-stop spunky until the crash comes. Then it is toes and belly up for the rest of the day. I knew I was in trouble at 4 a.m. when I heard galloping through the house. Now that the crash has come, we all feel it, and I wish I could curl up in front of an open window and give in to the day. But I can’t.

I am attempting to finish the place mats for my mother-in-law, but I am confronted with one obstacle after another. My intention was to free-form machine quilt them, but since I have never done that, I practiced on two scraps of muslin and a square of batting. As far as I can tell, I need a machine that will allow me to drop the feed dogs (I have that) and either adjust the pressure of the presser foot (mine doesn’t) or I am to remove the foot altogether. Well I tried that, and the results were a failure:

Then I started having trouble with the Sulky thread I am using in my bobbin. The thread continues to snag in that slot on the spool as it unwinds, and if I don’t catch it in time the thread snaps in half. Frankly, I’m getting sick of dealing with it, but thankfully I am only having to deal with it when I am winding a new bobbin.

Now that the quilting is done, it is time to trim the mat and add binding. I had picked out a nice bright red quilter’s binding that I found at WalMart, but a wise little voice in my head said “Wait. Before you sew that on you should test out a swatch to make sure it is colorfast.”
I did that. What do you think?

This is going to be a problem. Not only is it not practical to tell someone they can’t wash their place mats, but I need to give them a good wash to get the chalk lines out – which I wouldn’t have had if I’d been able to do free-form sewing as I’d hoped.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Garage Sale: Day 2

Thunderstorms passed through the area overnight, but by morning the rain had gone east and we were only left with puddles. Since Saturday always brings a different, slightly less enthusiastic crowd, I was able to watch a bit of the morning news before heading out.

Highlights of the Day:
  • Discovering a wrong number message on our business answering machine the night before by an elderly woman who was reporting her new medication was causing heart problems.
  • Calling the police to send an officer to her home for a welfare check. (She’s fine, by the way)
  • My parents breaking my dining table.
  • Gluing the table back together with heavy duty Liquid Nails, and my nephews - unsatisfied with the job - completely disassembling the table and putting it back together with new screws and washers.

I managed to pick up the stitches around the neckline of the Man’s Turtleneck and had most of the neck knit before beginning the soldering of the stained glass.

The glass project was anything but smooth, and I managed to break my father’s soldering iron, but he replaced the harp thingy in time for me to take all the pieces home to finish later without dozens of faces circled around watching every clumsy move. He tells me a need to buy a special pencil soldering iron if I’m going to do jewelry work. Hmmm. Using his equipment is cheaper than buying my own.

Just sayin’.

And the table sold later in the day. I slashed the price in half and told him to lift it along the side and NOT the ends.

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Garage Sale

Day 1 of the multi-family garage sale is behind me. My feet are up and I have a cold beer in my hand, giving me strength for day 2. I hope.

I dropped Mike off at his office at 6:30 a.m. and pulled into my parent’s drive at 6:45. It was pitch black outside, but there was already one car in the driveway and apparently more on the side street because three men were busy shopping.

There wasn’t a calm moment in the day. Not one. We had at least shopper at all times, but usually 3-7 groups because apparently going to garage sales is a family/friend activity. It was gloomy and rain threatened all day, but Mother Nature smiled on us and sent the worst of it south of us.

  • Explaining the word “podcast” to three members of my family who had never heard that word.
  • Watching my mother listening to my latest Strange but True segment on my iPod.
  • Working on my simple looped treasure bag all day before realizing that I mis-interpreted the illustrations and it was completely wrong.
  • My great-niece getting sick down her nana’s shirt (this a day after she fell of a swing and hit her head) and then sending her to the hospital. She’s fine by the way. Ear infection and cold was all and she came back giggling.
  • “The Gift” elevating me to “cool aunt” status in the eyes of my nieces. (I had already hit that status last year with my nephews when I whipped out my video iPod.)
Tomorrow it starts again. It should be a much shorter day, although my sister and I will be working on a craft project during quiet times. Yes, there are quiet times projected for tomorrow. Saturdays are always a different crowd.

Remember the stitch holders I made my mother out of the stained glass shards from our burned out church? They were so well received, that my sister has decided to make dingle-dangles for everyone. She spent a long night smoothing the glass edges and then wrapping them with copper foil. Everyone has picked out their favorites, and tomorrow we solder. My other sister wants us to make her shards into a bird.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Gift

I gave my sister her snatchel this morning. She was sitting on the floor of our parent’s garage pricing items for the sale. The few people that knew about it gathered around as I handed her the teal sack (her cancer color).
“This is an early birthday present,” I said. “It is a facsimile of something of yours that you have had for many years. I hope that you will find it useful, in a different way, and that it will bring enjoyment, in a different way.”
My other sister and niece were snickering.
She gingerly opened the sack, but failed to immediately recognize what it was.
“It is a special kind of purse. Take a look at the coin purse inside and you’ll understand what makes it special.”
She inserted her hand and pulled out a small zippered coin purse emblazoned with an illustration of a fetus at around 38 weeks of development.
“Oh, my GOD! What is WRONG with my FAMILY?!…I’m speechless…”
I told her I had made it sparkly just for her.
Then she proceeded to prance around the garage with it (my father wisely found something to do outside) before heading inside to show our mother.
It took her about ten more minutes before she noticed the bead I had carefully sewn near the opening. “What is this?” The words spilled out of her mouth as realization took hold. “Oh my GOD!”
My niece said, “You don’t miss a thing, do you?”
“No,” I said. “I’m nothing if not thorough.”

Later in the day...
I returned to the house just as my sister was showing her adult daughter her gift. The daughter began with a smile on her face, and then her jaw dropped. With her hands on her hips she whipped around to face me. “What is WRONG with you?!” she asked.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A Finished (for now) Object


The Herringbone Quilt topper is done until next winter when I will (ah-hem) fix some bad seams, and begin the quilting process. It and the flannel are bundled up with matching thread and detailed notes explaining where they are in process.

I also seamed up the shoulders of the Man’s Turtleneck so I can begin picking up stitches for the neckline whenever I have a minute, although the birthday Jayhawk place mats are priority #1.
Do Over

I finished appliqueing the Jayhawk on the first place mat. It looks pretty nice, doesn’t it? Darn time consuming, tho, and I have three more to go.

I took it off the hoop to set up #2.

Um... It was straight when I started. Hello, seam ripper.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

You Know it’s Time to Stop for the Day When…

I am in the homestretch for the Herringbone Quilt topper, and was absolutely determined to finish today. My task, however, was not an easy one. I needed to attach the double border to the topper using mitered corners. Since I’ve never made mitered corners, I relied heavily on my quilting references.

The interior border was the easiest of the two because it has no pattern that needed to be matched. But the outer border is striped, so I wanted the stripes to meet in the corners. Everything went well until I was cutting away the extra fabric for the seam allowances. Wouldn’t you know it. My extra-sharp Gingher scissors sliced through the fabric like it was butter - including the fabric that was supposed to remain.


Monday, March 19, 2007

Enjoying the First Cup of Coffee of the Day

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Throw Away if No One Wants

The multi-family garage sale begins Friday. The word “multi-family” is an understatement. In fact, I have lost track of the number of families involved but I’m pretty certain it is over ten. Our garage sale has a following, due in large part to a regular injection of antiques from an uncle who uses it to clear out some of his old merchandise. This year he shipped over ten large boxes, so all the siblings gathered at our mother’s house this afternoon to unpack and reprice items. It was an odd mix of items, as usual. There were German beer steins, Shaker clothespins, Depression glass... you name it. We were all given the option of taking anything that peaked our interest before it went in the sale. One sister loaded up on beaded purses, another a cute pot holder rack for her kitchen. I looked, but I’m in a purging mode and nothing spoke loudly enough to override this.

That is, until we pulled out a wood cigar box. It included this note: “Came out of French home. Throw away if no one wants.” Inside were wooden checkers and pieces from a pegboard chess set. I have no idea how I will use these, but they are going to be integrated into a craft project soon, I can just feel it.

Finally! The sleeves of the Man’t Turtleneck are complete. Time to seam and then knit the neck.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Birthday Fabric Goodness

My in-laws can be hard folks to shop for. They don’t like clutter. They’re interest and activity level is minimizing, too. And both their birthdays land in March.

I’m out of ideas when it comes to my father-in-law because, well, I’ve already knit him a fine “man shawl” for Christmas and his current medical condition prevents him from enjoying his favorite beer. But boy do I have an idea for my mother-in-law!

She is a huge KU basketball fan. And when I was in Sarah’s last time I noticed a large bolt of Jawhawk fabric ready at the cutting table. I filed that in the back of my brain, but I had no idea what we could do with it. Then it came to me: placemats. She insists on eating at the table (we aren’t that civilized), and only on placemats. Something about the sound of a plate scraping against the formica table top bugs her. So that is what I’m making. I bought enough of the main fabric to construct four mats, and chose a solid blue for the reverse side. One edge of the fabric has larger Jawhawk icons to use for applique, so I might add one each to the center of each mat. Hmmm. Come to think of it, it might look best appliqued to the solid blue side. At any rate, these mats will also serve as practice pieces for machine quilting.

We received a bonus while shopping: a visual treat in the form of a fully-dressed leprechaun who wandered in to get his outfit altered.

I was successful at Hancock’s, too. I picked up the backing and binding fabric for the flannel quilt, and sash, border, binding and backing fabric for the herringbone quilt. I had already used my nifty calculator to estimate my yardage needs, but I was really glad I had it with me because the backing fabric for the flannel quilt was 90" wide - not 45. I just whipped out my calculator, entered a new default value for fabric width, punched in the finished dimensions, and it gave me the new yardage I needed. I’m still a little freaked out by the binding calculation. It simply doesn’t seem like enough to go all around a ginormous quilt. But it probably is, and if it isn’t, big deal.

Even though the temps were in the low 50s, the sun was bright and there was very little wind. So deck sitting with Eclair was definitely in order when we returned home.

You may have noticed her harness. We started training her to wear a harness when she was only about eight weeks old. It was easy, really. Every time we put it on her we would bring out her favorite toy and play with her. She had other toys the rest of the time, but she quickly came to understand that when she wore the harness something really wonderful was about to happen. Only when she became comfortable with the harness did we add the lead, and we do not walk her on it. It is simply a way for her to safely enjoy the outdoors, because, well, I won’t say how I know this, but just because someone tells you to catch a cat that is about to fall a roof, and you see the cat falling off the roof, and you are right there, doesn’t mean that you’ll actually be able to catch a cat falling of the roof.*

Her joy at seeing the harness is even greater as an adult because she knows it means she gets to explore outside.

*In case you’re wondering about the results of the roof incident, it was only one story and straight into a bed of mint. No harm no foul.
My “Knitting Students”

A few months ago I was asked to teach someone to purl and knit in the round. This woman was a stranger. I was knitting at the laundromat while I waited for my over-sized comforter to come out of the dryer, and she came breezing in the door wearing one of those earpiece phones to pick up and pay for her laundry that she had left for the staff to clean.

An aside: I’ve often wondered why someone would do this. I mean, either put in the butt-in-chair time at the laundromat or buy a washer/dryer. Isn’t that better than paying extra to have strangers rummage through your undies?

She became focused on my knitting and offered to pay me to teach her how to knit a hat. I said “You don’t have to pay me. Just buy me a cup of coffee.” We exchanged phone numbers and I explained that I first needed to teach my sister how to crochet, but that I would get back with her as soon as I had done that. A week and a half later I called her up and gave her a shopping list. Great! But she wanted me to come over to her house or she could come over to mine.

Dude. You were going to buy me a cup of coffee, remember? You can pay someone else to do your laundry I think you can spring for a lousy cup of coffee.

I told her that I’d rather meet at a coffee shop, and that, well, I have feral cats and don’t like strangers traipsing through the house because it stresses them. And that’s the truth, but I also am not comfortable either going to a stranger’s house or inviting them over.

That was about six weeks ago. Has she called me back? No. Has she lost my phone number? Perhaps, but I think it is more likely that she liked the idea of knitting a hat more than she wanted to learn how to knit a hat.

Like me niece. She is a young mother and had a vision of knitting blankets and sweaters for her two daughters, so I took along some knitting projects while we camped out in the surgical waiting room for her mother’s (my sister’s) surgery. I showed her how to hold the needles. She didn’t get it. I demonstrated to her how I made each stitch. She didn’t get it. I held her hands in my hands and we knitted together. She didn’t get it. The entire time her mouth was running non-stop about how both her aunts and her grandmother were crafty, but she was born to the mother who couldn’t do any of it. Mercifully the surgery ended quickly and thus ended our “lesson.” But I reminded her that while all of that may be true, it was her mother who taught me how to ride a bike. When we visited her mother in her hospital room, said-niece recounted all of this, including that she had taught me to ride a bike. “I remember that.”

I’m not thrilled with said-niece for many reasons, including the fact that she complained loudly and to her face that her mother was useless and untalented -- fresh out of surgery and waiting for her radiation to begin, to boot. But it is human nature to want to be able to do something, but not be willing to spend the energy actually learning. I mean, I’d like to be able to build alternative-fuel cars, but I don’t see myself actually learning how. The difference is that I won’t waste my energy complaining about it.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Three Angry Cats

It was vaccination day for three of my crew. Caper and T-Bone stayed behind in a lonely house while Collins, Eclair and Aspera were carted off to the vet.

I am pleased to report that the old woman, Collins, had excellent breath sounds and none of the fluid that we have struggled with for the past six months. Of course she still gets her antihistamines twice a day and that won’t stop because they are clearly doing the job. She did have waxy ears which took half a dozen Q-tips to clean out while the vet muttered “mashed potatoes”, but so be it. For a seventeen-year-old broad, she is in pretty good shape.

Eclair has been off her fancy-pants vet-recommended food for about two months now, because, you know, it almost killed her. Instead, I have been feeding her Purina Pro Plan Sensitive Skin and Stomach formula, and it has been doing an excellent job. I have noticed her mood has been sweeter overall without the volatile mood swings that she has suffered from since around three months of age, and I think her skin looks a lot better. What did my vet think? She agreed. Okay, yes, she gained a few more ounces on her already weighty body, but she looks a lot better. Poor thing seems to have a food allergy and has probably had a stomach ache since she was a kitten. She’s over four now. Yep, I feel guilty, but c’mon. How was I supposed to know? She had a teensy bit of ear wax and hissed a bit at the vet. That was it.

Aspera also had her vaccinations, had her ears swabbed, got her shots, had her eh-hem, “posterior glands” expressed, and her teeth examined. She has a new bad tooth in addition to the lost and broken ones from the car v cat accident that brought her into our home in the first place. We are to watch for bleeding. Ick! She is about five now and is quite the tank. The car accident gave her a diaphragmatic hernia (that we had fixed), and well, she had to be spayed twice, but she is a force to be reckoned with. I will definitely get her in for dental work as soon as its time, but the tooth isn’t sensitive yet.

On the quilt front, I finished sewing the inside of the Herringbone quilt topper. Woo-hoo! There is much ripping and re-sewing to be done, but it is a start. And Friday I hope to buy the rest of the fabric I need for the sash, border, and back.

I also pulled out an old project from my yarn bag to keep in the car. You may notice a new item on my On the Needles list: 5 Treasure Pouches. Many years ago I bought a kumihimo stand along with a basket of bobbins with the sole intent of making kumihimo braids. The bobbins need to be counter-balanced, and about the time I bought my stand, the Jan/Feb 1994 issue of Piecework hit the news stands.

I said “many years ago”.

It contained an article on fabric made by simple looping, and had a project article for making a treasure pouch using this technique. I got a base done for one, and then set the project aside. No counter-weight pouches have also meant no kumihimo. I have kept track of this magazine for years with the partial project neatly tucked between pages 68 and 69.

Today I realized that I needed a small car project. It needed to be easy to transport, start and stop at a moment’s notice, and have very little invested in the project lest something critical be lost along the way. And thus the treasure pouch is reborn. Why is this so urgent? Because I have a felted iPod-type pouch I want to make, and the cord is going to be kumihimo, silly!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

50% Off. Yeah, Baby!

Last week a pin emergency sent me to Jo-Ann’s where they slipped two sheets of super-stupendous coupons in my sack that were good March 11-17. I say super-stupendous because most of the coupons were for 50% off regularly priced merchandise. One of these sheets I passed on to my only other crafty sister, but the other I kept for me, me, me.

But how to use them???

My first thought was to use the fabric coupon to pick up backing flannel for my Flannel Funk quilt, but I’ve looked over the racks at both local stores, and their flannels are limited to cute prints or limited plaids. The quilt top is already plaid, plaid, plaid, so I would hate to use it again for the back. And besides, there simply wasn’t a sufficient quantity on any bolt to do the job.

While I visited both stores (during my search for more of two Herringbone quilt fabrics I had run short on) I cruised the shelves. What is considered a notion? What is considered a craft item? The coupons are mainly divided into there strict categories, so I needed to know in order to plan my shopping trip. The ladies at store #2 smiled at me and said there is a lot of leeway in how these are defined, and what did I have in mind?

Well, I have had my eye on the Quilter’s FabriCalc for months, and it was very much on my mind since I plan to purchase sash, border, backing and binding fabric for the Herringbone quilt on Friday, as well as the backing and and binding fabric for the Flannel Funk quilt. By entering in a few details such as finished dimensions and border width, this baby calculates all of that. It’ll tell me how many yards of each type of fabric to purchase, and how many strips to cut.

So I said, “The Quilter’s Calculator?”

One of the clerks flipped through their flier and said, “I think that would be a notion.”


Of course, I didn’t have the coupon with me, so returned to the store this morning and bought it for 50% off (defined today as a craft), a tub for storing my scraps for 50% off (defined as a notion), and when I went to the second store this afternoon (to buy more thread) I purchased a 5-pack of Olfa rotary blades for...50% off! (This one was easy. It was the coupon for sewing- quilting cutting implements.) Still have a few more coupons, but I think I’ve shot my wad as far as Jo-Ann’s is concerned.

The Man’s Turtleneck has been housebroken and progress is smooth again, except when Eclair has taken the pieces over for her nest (she very much approves), and I have even pulled out the domino bobbinlace frame. The bobbins are a mess, and the covering cloths thick with dust, but it has seen the light of day.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Knitting Puppy

Knitting sometimes has a mind of its own, doesn’t it? It’s like a little puppy. If ignored it will yap and snap until it gets your undivided attention.

I have become complaisant with the Man’s Turtleneck. I am comfortable with the pattern, and no longer sweat over the instructions. And I know that if I knit one increase on the sleeves each day, I should be done with the everything but the seaming and neck by the end of next weekend.

My focus has been on the herringbone quilt, and, to be honest, I have stopped paying attention. That’s when everything went haywire.

The increases finally exposed the full width of cable II right at the point when I needed to work the twist. I was half-paying attention. I think I was watching The Apprentice, Los Angeles on tape, actually. Got to the last cable II on sleeve one and decided that it was really too early to make that twist, so I went to sleeve two and failed to work the twists on both outer cable IIs. I turned the knitting, working on the purl side, and when I got to the end I realized that on the first cable II on sleeve one I had twisted it. So I had one sleeve with one twist and one without, and a second sleeve without.

Now I could have tinked it back, twisted the cables, and then knit forward, but I decided instead to ladder the stitches, twist the ones in question, and then use a crochet hook to work them back up to the needles and continue forward. I did this, then knit the purl side, and then noticed that I had twisted the cables the WRONG direction. AAAAGGGHHHHH!

I probably should learn from my mistake and frog the sweater back, but I’m taking one more attempt and laddering down to fix the mistake. Of course, the thing about fixing errors this way is it is easy to grab the wrong rung with the crochet hook, and I see that I have done just that with Problem Cable 1.

I have run out of two more fabric in my herringbone. Amazingly all three I have run short on were quarter flats from Jo-Ann’s (gasp). But I found the last quarter flat of one fabric at store A, and the last quarter flat of the second fabric at store B. Both are now in the wash. In case you’re wondering, I have now made piles for every remaining strip, so unless I goofed up, I now have enough of everything. Friday we plan to go to Lawrence and purchase some special Jayhawk fabric at Sarah’s so I can make place mats for Mike’s mother who is a HUGE KU sports fan, and conveniently has a birthday coming up at the end of this month. While we’re in Lawrence I plan to swing past Hancock to see if we can buy the sash and border fabric for the herringbone quilt. Once the topper is done it will be folded and put away until late fall.

Now for another ahhhh moment:

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Memories and Inspiration

It is a quiet Sunday morning. The town is in no hurry to wake up today. It is 50º. A shield of clouds cover the sky, and a gentle rain is falling. Tulips and daffodils are pushing their way through last year’s leaves and my garden will soon be dressed in colorful blossoms.

We have one more spring in this house - - this and one more. This is our first home, and we bought it two decades ago.

I look around at the elaborate Victorian-style window dressings I made, the carved details on the fireplace that were coated in paint before we spent many weekends stripping them down, at the trees and bushes in our garden.

When we leave, I have no plans to return. I will not be one of those prior homeowners who rail against the new owners because they tore at the cannas that were planted along the fence, or because they painted the house bright yellow. Yes, we have spent what feels like two lifetimes painstakingly restoring this home and I would hate to see it neglected. But once it leaves our hands it will be the new owners’ right and responsibility to create the home in their vision. So we either need to bring the things we care about with us, or record them in a way that we will remember and appreciate.

First up are the plantings. Some things can wait until next year when we’ll dig them up and plant them in the new ground, such as the delicate flowering almond bush that came from Mike’s grandparents home. Other things can’t, such as the massive pussy willow bush that stands about 20' high, (yes, I meant it) towering over the neighbor’s single-story home. It is in full bloom now, and I have put a bundle of clippings into a vase of water hoping that a few will grow roots. If it fails this year I’ll have one more opportunity and that’s it.

The memories of home belong on a quilt - - lap-sized, I think. Whether it will be made of blocks or built as more of a collage, I don’t know, but it will reproduce some of the more unique architectural elements within our home, and other things that will trigger some of the wonderful and crazy memories we have made here. A bat, for example, is a must. A second lap blanket will be of a bench in my garden where the elephant ears grow.

Lately I have had two ah-ha moments come together.

I have been catching up on all the past podcasts by Alex Anderson. Last year she taught aboard a cruise ship in the Mediterranean, and Ephesus was one of their stops. I have been on that cruise. It didn’t include quilting, and it was an old ship, but the stops were identical. I would love to capture some of the imagery from this trip and others I have taken. These aren’t images that can be found in a photo, because my memory includes emotion that cannot be captured in photos that have half a dozen tourists bearing fanny packs traipsing about. But perhaps I can translate them into fabric.

The second ah-ha moment was the realization that I am not limited by the thread and fabric color palette in the stores, but can dye my own. I’ve dabbled in dying already, so I don’t know why this didn’t come to me faster. And that I can blend my needle arts (bobbinlace, needle lace, etc) with quilting and create a piece that is uniquely mine.

The second ah-ha moment came in several steps. First, in a past podcast by Annie Smith, she spoke about seeing a quilt that changed the way she thought about quilting. I’ve seen some wonderful quilts, but I have yet to see one that really stirs me. I don’t see myself as being a traditional block quilter, but I hadn’t “found my groove” in non-traditional quilting yet. And then I saw this blog. Look for the jeudi 15 février 2007 post. I LOVE that quilt. I’m not sure if it is technically a quilt, but it is the direction I want to move in my own quilting. AND it uses bobbinlace embellishments. I don’t know where these ideas will take me, or when I will begin, but the possibilities are limitless.

Now for an AHHHH moment:

Bat watching

The aftermath

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Importance of Good Sewing Hygiene

So I’ve been working on the herringbone quilt every day, and every day I have been as cautious and careful as I could be, trying to maintain consistent 1/4" seam allowances and having the seams line up from one strip to the next. And yet, with each strip I have sewn I have found more and more errors.

I bought a new box of pins to really clamp them in place as I sewed, and then I noticed some of the seams actually had a slight arc to them.

I glared at my sewing machine. Darn sewing machine. Darn odd man who sold me this machine 15 years ago and insisted it was a great machine.

I glared at the 1/4" seam foot, and wondered if it was off.

I asked myself how anyone could possibly be any more careful than me.

Stepping backward in time to my first completed strip, I should point out that I realized the needle was in a far left position as though for sewing zig-zag stitches. When I realized this, I dutifully unpicked all the seams, reset my needle position, and started over.

This morning I noticed the presser foot had an unbelievable amount of play to it, so I scowled (and cursed a bit) and made a point to let it relax and drop straight down, and not let the fabric push it to the right. It was still woogly.

Then I noticed a screw that holds the device that the presser foot attaches to. Then I noticed it was really, really loose.

So to all of you that may be interested in using a sewing machine I have a word of advice. Every time you sit down before it and turn on the little light switch, check every setting. Make sure the needle is in the correct position. Make sure the stitch length is correct. Make sure the thread feeds through all the right hooks and bumps. And always, always make sure that the presser foot is securely screwed in.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Tools I Adore, Words I Hate to Hear

A tool I adore: my Dymo Electronic Labelmaker because it almost makes cleaning and organizing the basement fun. Almost.

Words I hate to hear: “Shouldn’t that fabric be here, too?” he asks, looking at two areas of the herringbone quilt. “No, because… Oh. Yeah.”

A tool I have to learn to adore: my seam ripper.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Sun is Shining so I must be...

Quilting, of course!

For those of you that have 8 to 5 jobs, you are probably scowling at the screen about now. Sorry ’bout that. I’ll put you in contact with my niece so you can complain about me.

It’s not that I don’t work, or that I only put in a few hours a day. But I am often up between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m., and I start working as soon as the first cup of coffee kicks in. That means I have a good 3-5 hours under my belt when most people are heading out the door.

Early morning hours I have plenty. It’s the daylight hours when a) I’m not traveling, b) entrenched in a project with a tight deadline, and 3) the light is good - - that’s what I’m short on.

Our home is situated on a corner lot in one of the oldest parts of town, so the lots are small. One of the sidewalks is only ten feet from the house, and we get a lot of foot traffic. Working in front of a window has always felt like being in a Gimball’s display window. Lace curtains have helped immensely with that, but they also filter the light that is already filtered by a stand of mature trees. Light is precious at our home. What I need are cloudless days. On these days I clearly see each stitch in my hand quilting, and where the fabric lines up under my ruler. Any other day and I know that the results are going to be mixed.

The quilt is coming along beautifully. It has some flaws that I’m arguing with myself about fixing. Don’t know why... I’ll frog a sweater rather than finish it with noticeable errors. But I have set safety pins at the problem areas so I’m pretty sure that fixing will win in the end. I enjoy watching the colors slowly slide down the quilt - watching the extreme light and dark tones drop away, and adding each new color to the top.

The Man’s Turtleneck has not been put away. I still work on that in short increments daily, but it is at a very confusing stage. Since I’m working on the sleeves, that means I have to keep track of increases as well as the cable pattern. And there is one point in the cable pattern where cable I is identical for three right side rows (that is, there are no cable crosses or other changes to the pattern), but when I am working the second of these identical right side rows, cable II crosses. That is the only time cable II crosses. I could keep a bunch of row counters around to keep tabs of where I am at all times, but I think it’s much safer, and more realistic, to have work sessions that are the same length as my pattern change.

This morning when I picked up my work I knew that the last row I had made was an increase row, so before I set my work aside I worked another increase row. I still keep a row counter, but just to keep track of the number of increases I have made. This will get harder as I progress and the sleeve gets wider. I have just a few more increase rows at “increase every 4th row” and then I “increase every 6th row.” And, I’m working on both sleeves at the same time. But there is no hurry as we seem to have passed heavy sweater season. As with the quilt, I hope to have it completed before our first trip in April.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Big Rocks and Small Rocks

As I look over my task list for the day, I am reminded of a friend. She’s not gone, but I have simply lost touch with her–mostly because she is an, er, unorthodox person with some unusual ideas about life. I’m sure that there are others who share her views on one topic or another, and I in no way wish to make light of them. But after years of knowing her, the list of quirks grew long. This can be, over time, exhausting.

So who was she?
Bright, joyful, energetic and enthusiastic. She had a way of making everyone around her feel good.

She also:
• changed her name because God told her to while she weeded her brick sidewalk.
• refused to wear a seat belt because that would have meant she expected to get in an accident and she didn’t want to have that negative energy.
• believed that her skin cancer (and all cancers) was caused by having made a negative comment at some point in the past.
• brushed and flossed her teeth at the table when eating out with friends.

Are we all on board? Exhausting.

She loved taking self-help classes and workshops. In fact, I met her through Toastmaster’s International.

Some of her workshops were a bit kooky, in my opinion, like one where everyone was given small sticks and asked to arrange them in a certain order. It was a puzzle. I was never clear on how it worked, but apparently there was no way to solve it through planning and could only be achieved through trial and error. The mantra, which apparently was to be said in a monotone voice like a character in a zombie movie, was “Don’t think; Just do.” And thus, I suppose, the purpose was that we should worry and plan less in our lives and just live. Hmmm. ’kay...

But there was one workshop she told me about that really hit home, and I recall it every time I struggle with time management.
Take a jar, a pile of rocks of various sizes, and a handful of sand. Now fill the jar.
If you put the sand in first, the rocks will not fit.
If you put the rocks in first, the sand will drop between them and everything will easily fit.
The idea is that we must decide each day what our big rocks are and take care of those first. Then everything else will fall into place.

Sometimes this doesn’t work, and the sand builds up until it becomes its own big rock. But at least it’s a place to start. The hard part is deciding what is a big rock and what’s not.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Nothing Like Crafts that Make People Throw Up

I have finally finished cutting the 3 1/2" squares for my herringbone quilt. My mother asked: “how many squares is that?” Good question. I whipped out my planogram and numbered the squares along bottom edge, then the side, and multiplied. 896. 896! And I have overcut quite a few of the fabrics because I wasn’t certain where it would fall in the range, so I have likely cut over 1,000 squares.

Each tone is numbered from one to 28 and laid out in order on the newly upholstered antique loveseat. As I piece, I have to close my mind to the big picture and just look at the numbers in the strip I’m working on. Because the vertical bricks are greens, and I’m piecing vertical strips, I first go through and pick out my green pairs, sew those up, then pin them in order on the back of the loveseat. For strip #1, it is only the odd numbers that are paired. For strip #2, it is only the even numbers that are paired. I suppose #3 will be back to odds, but I digress.

After the greens are sewn, then I refer to the planogram to pick out the blues. Since the blues are horizontal, and I’m sewing vertical strips, I will always have mismatched blue pairs, or singles at the top and bottom of the strip.

I sewed the first strip and stared at it. My plan for the day was only to do one strip, but I was curious how the second strip would work next to it. So I pieced #2 and attached that to the first strip. Then I stared at it.

I showed it to my mother when I went to her house to photograph the finished shrug. She wanted to throw up - not because it was ugly - but because it looks incredibly complicated.

I stopped at the office and told Mike that I sewed the second strip because I was curious how it would look, knowing, of course, that it should look like the planogram he made for me in Illustrator. He smiled sweetly, like “you poor thing,” but when we went home and I whipped out the strips he changed his tune. There was the head tilt. Then the “I thought you were doing zigzags” comment, followed by “so if this color is here, why isn’t it down there?” and “ohhhh.”

Looking at the colors on the quilt in this form it doesn’t make sense. There is no apparent pattern. But the planogram is correct and clearly labeled. I just need to follow it piece by piece, strip by strip, and close my mind to the overall pattern. It will come together.

On a related note: When I went to Bennett’s to purchase more tones, I explained to the woman what I was doing and showed her the planogram. The woman - who had been quilting for decades - said she couldn’t imagine doing anything that complicated. It’s just squares, people. 3 1/2" squares cut, 3" finished.

My mother asked if I had a date in mind for finishing it. It is a summer quilt, so it would need to be finished for May, I think. But it won’t be done this year. I need to finish hand quilting the crib quilt and break down the frame before our first business trip in April. The room I use for a workroom becomes T-Bone’s apartment when we leave and a) pins, needles and cats are not a safe mix, and b) the pet sitter needs a relatively obstacle free space for chasing her down at pilling time. I certainly won’t have time to finish that and a king-size quilt in one month. But I will have the topper finished in the next two weeks because the dining table that I am using for my sewing/cutting table is going in the family garage sale (see above reference to “obstacle free space”) and it will be so much easier to make this while I have it.

The good news? That means it will be the quilt for the new house. And that makes it even more special.