Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Dear Santa,

Next Christmas...I promise to have started my gifts in the summertime (before Christmas). My vow is to do a better job of getting things done and wrapped. I would like it that the gifts would surprise even me when they are opened. However, I also know my patience for things good...I am likely to open them to take a peek before the holidays if I forget. Or maybe I could post the images in my blog and then I could research them. Or (in case my family reads my blog), I could post a top secret blog that no one knows my name.....007 Sew Agent.

Of course, I did get the cute little Scottie Dog panel with your pockets on it for letters to Santa. The Scottie dog squares around the panel are each a pocket for inserting letters to Santa Claus or for keeping wish lists. My husband's family has always done a great job of keeping wish lists at his parents' house. Only in the last few years do I recall not consulting with the master list. And of course, there was always the task of being very sure to check off the things on the list that you had gotten. Can't help but wonder if Grandma Reicks would have had a cute holder for wish lists like this, we'd have likely worn out a few of them as we scoured the lists for something in our budget and something that we wanted to give the recipient.

The Scottie Santa Note Panel was fun to build. I loved skittering around the trees so much on the background that I have used it for my blog panel. I used a wool batting (scrap) and the effect was amazing. The trees and scotties popped out and look animated. I know many of you think that those of us who like to machine quilt are incredibly artistic. I can't tell you enough that we are just brave and very willing to wreck a quilt. Silk thread also helps because if you zig off the wrong direction, you don't have a heavy thread to remind you later. I also love, love, love my BSR (Bernina Stitch Regulator). It gives me the freedom to go as slow as I need to go to achieve my design or zip along and my stitches remain the same length.

The other fun (AND EASY) thing I did when I finished this panel was to use one of the my Quick & Easy Binding techniques. I remind you that a quilting judge won't like this technique, but I find it perfect for stuff like this and for placemats and some table runners. First I trim the batting away flush with the top of the quilt. Preserve the backing fabric. This step can be tricky because you don't want to snip through the backing. Then I cut the backing one-inch away from the quilt top. Then double-fold the binding, the first fold being taking the raw edge to the edge of the quilt and then rolling it to the right side. I then blanket stitch it to the front of the quilt.

When I got the top done and the pockets sewed on, I remembered that I should have put loops on top. So, I built loops like a turned pillow. Top-stitched the edges. Then I folded them in half and then used my button-sew-on foot and stitched the loops in place.

Notice the buttons I am using are some antique buttons that cost 15-cents for the package. Sure I know there are some that think I ought to save those things because they are antiques. I don't agree with that philosophy. When I am gone , things like antique buttons will go on the estate auction and bring pennies stuck in a box of junk that someone will regret dragging home. On my Santa banner, I hope they will grace a child's home to give them joy. There is no more noble way for a button to spend its life!

May Christmas be filled with love and peace....jill

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Best of Christmas

The best of Christmas is being together with people we love. Our kids are all going to be home for Christmas. We will spend time with both extended families.

Everything I have said about gifting and not stressing at Christmas is the very real thing. Our Christmas tree has been standing for three weeks in our living room without embellishment. It looked beautiful just standing as the soldier in our living room. This last week, Henry and Johanna dressed it for Christmas. Now it twinkles and we are enjoying it all anew everyday.

It is my sincere hope for each of you that you can find ways to enjoy Christmas and to not stress over things. Your family and friends will more appreciate a well-rested you than an exhausted you and a finished quilt. If you need permission, I GIVE YOU PERMISSION to wrap up an unfinished project. I GIVE YOU PERMISSION to give a copy of The Quiltmaker's Journey to your adult daughter. You taught her these lessons of love and generosity...underline it with a beautiful story.

It is the little things I like best about when the kids are all together...many times we are so reminded that they love the same things they did when they were younger. They like being together most of all. Yesterday at the store, I found Victor and Teddy curled up in one of the offices reading The Quiltmaker's Gift and The Quiltmaker's Journey. They had curled up with some of the display quilts and had their dog, Macy curled up beside them. While Gift is a story they know, they love it again anyway. They have good hearts and aren't afraid to express it by re-reading the parable that many of us love so well. These are young men with adult lives. They laugh with abandon. They can talk politics one moment and then roll about their favorite Calvin & Hobbs antic.

Can't think of a gift better than the laughter and sharing of love of family. Christmas will be full of surprises, fun and hopefully some rest for all of us.

All the Best to You, jill

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Are you done....?

I hate that know the one, "Are you done Christmas shopping?". I think the reason I hate the question is that I don't really Christmas shop. I never really have Christmas shopped. To me that means wandering around with a list of the impossible-to-find, impossible-to-please-with-the-finds and frustration.

I have a real appreciation for people who savor the experience. Gifting is a very personal expression. I have friends who shop all year and wrap with purpose. This year their living room will be decked in silver and black with matched ribbons and gift tags. This is their art form. I love seeing their hand-work.

Some people express themselves in their Christmas greetings. They create intricate pictorial directories of their year and their family and their lives. These are fascinating and entertaining.

Many in my extended family are artists with their baking and cooking. Making cookies involves their whole family. It is an art form. Many of them generously put together packages to give to family and friends. (We feel fortunate to have special people like this!)

I also get to enjoy watching people sew up elaborate holidays. Many who do this carry it out with purpose and planning and most don't seem to be overly stressed over the process. I think THAT is the key to any expression of love for the holidays.

Therein lies the real true RULES to gifting:
1. It must be genuine gifting (not obligatory).
2. It must NOT add stress to our lives.

I have participated in each of these expressions at the holidays to my level of ability and enjoyment. However, with age (and agony), comes wisdom. I don't sew everything. I sew what I want to sew. If I decide to make gifts for my family, I have to make a decision if it will be quilts or it will be pajamas or pillowcases. If I decide to make quilts and start in November, some of the loved ones might get a box of squares. I am not now nor will likely ever develop into the person who would get all this done in July and have it wrapped. The older I get, the less likely I will remember that I made something in July, then I would come up with something else closer to the holidays. Why not just wait for the holiday season and enjoy July?!

My family and friends don't expect gifts of grandeur. They certainly appreciate handmade gifts, but they don't feel less loved if I give them all pillowcase kits and write an invitation to come over on a Sunday afternoon for soup and sewing.

Another great gift that I think would be so much fun is the Softies book. I love giving and getting books. This one speaks to me because I remember studying the Childcraft books with the section on sewing stuffed toys. I did my best to make them. I don't really remember how things turned out, but I DO remember the pleasure of studying the construction techniques and planning and processing the making of stuffed critters. Softies is so inspiring. Just for fun, I think young wanna-be-sewers would be inspired. I think even non-sewers would find this book inspiring. It is an international publication that is fun for all ages. It is definitely a very popular publication this holiday season.

Because I love fabric...the touch of it....the luster....the pleasure of color (oh, am I carrying on--you got the picture didn't you)...I love to make things that really show off fabric. I loved making this apron out of the vintage Santa fabric. The fabric evoked fabulous memories for me and I wanted to enjoy it amply. An apron is a way to do that and to get something done that doesn't consume a lot of time. In fact, this apron (one of my favorites for the smart way you are building the apron), took me just an hour.

I think the fabric reminded me of my grandparents' Tom & Jerry set...and it really made me think of sneaking into their pantry to dip my fingers into the sugary goo of T&J and licking my fingers off. I don't know that I have ever had a T&J just the memories of the vintage Santas on the bowl and the pleasure of my grandma catching me and giggling at the antics was enough to make this fabric make me warm inside. So, I had to make an old-fashioned like Grandpa would be wearing while he was taking the turkey and ham out of the oven.

I will give this apron to someone who will appreciate it as much as I do. My daughter Monica gladly modeled it for me. Then she asked "so, will my butt be on the Internet?" Yes, dear will! And where else better to put the behind than at the end of my blog!! (sorry...that is real cliche)

Don't take on more than you can handle this holiday season. Pick up pillowcase kits, side setting table runner kits, a couple of yards of inspiring fabric and an apron pattern. Wrap them up, put the name tags on the packages. Sit back and look at the bare Christmas tree. If it speaks to you to decorate it...go for it. If not, just enjoy that it is up in the living room. Later on, IF you feel like sewing, unwrap one of those pillowcase kits and sew it up. Wrap it back up finished. If you feel like doing more, go for it. If not...your nephew might ask to come over someday and show you how to sew it up. Or better yet, tell him to bring you some lunch and sit with you while you sew it. He will love to see how you do this with that fabulous method that encases all the seams.

Please note that none of this message is "BAH HUMBUG." It also doesn't involve alcohol or stress. The holidays are a time of expressing love. If you can't do it without stress, then find a way to express love that gives you pleasure ...after all, isn't that the real pleasure....the joy of giving it freely and without stress?!

So, I am off to sew a couple things today because I want to!....All the Best to You, jill

p.s. Our Christmas tree has been in our living room for 10 days with no ornaments or lights on it. It doesn't look pained and it still is making us all happy. Henry actually can water it without digging around the ornaments. Victor has suggested that we not decorate it but enjoy it just this way. I love it that no one is guilting anyone out over decorating. Christmas for us is being together....and THAT we are.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Sewin' Tote Bags--Fun Gifts

I'm makin' bags and totes for Christmas gifts. These are things I can ACTUALLY get done in short order and will be much appreciated. I love the little Stash n' Dash bags. Everyone needs these little totes to fit inside of our other bags. Everything falls to the bottom of the bag even when I have side pockets in my bags. These are great because I can pull out my cosmetics without having the feminine care products falling out of my purse ( I have them in a little zipped bag). I think this is the real world. So many of us are carrying tote bags with computers and all kinds of stuff. My more intimate things need to be in their own bags. PLUS...I have a puppy who likes to dig in my handbag when I leave it on the floor. She may like my lip gloss, but I don't want to share it with her.
Then my other favorite bag is the Frenchy bag. This is a class and quick one to make up. I love these bags out of the new Joel Dewberry decorator fabrics. Therese would love the yellow and gray for herself. I am sure she won't get around to these for herself soon. She would love to have one of these. She loves those fabrics together.

All these bags are from Amy Butler. I love them because they have classy details like pleats and piping. I am really liking how they are making up in the decorator fabrics that we are carrying in the store. The bags will keep their shape better than standard cottons. You gotta stop in the store and check these out. The fabrics are much like twill or denim. I also like to spray the bottoms of my handbags with fabric protector. I don't wash my handbags often but I do like to protect the bottoms from graying from surface dirt. The protector works great to repel water and grime.

Monica made the Sophia Carry-All for a good friend. She even crafted the inside of the bag to be just as classy as the outside. I am sure Ann will love this one. Monica used a fun zipper that we had in the sewing room. In my last post, you saw the building of this bag when Monica peeked out of the opening. I had to laugh when Monica and Therese were chatting about installing the zipper in the handbags. Their mama didn't force teach them how to insert zippers. Consequently, the girls have learned this by reading and by trial and error. I don't often step in on advising them unless they ask. All you mamas out there...did you hear that?! I don't advise my kids on sewing unless they ask. I think this is the biggest secret to why our kids love to sew. It is that I do LESS. I love everything they do. Which means I even loved the quilts that they made that had holes in them because they sewed with a 1/16th inch seam that opened up later on. I even loved the stuff that was finished "wrong". I loved the stuff that they learned about color by finishing it and deciding they didn't like it personally...not that they worried about what my opinion was of it. I'd love to tell you I came to this conclusion because I am wise, but that isn't true. I came to utilize these practices with our kids because I hate conflict. I also don't appreciate criticism of creativity.

When I was a kid, my dad was disabled for a long period of time. He was in a body cast for months in our home. During that time, Dad did paint-by-number oil painting. He made hundreds of beaded strings for our Christmas tree that we wound around pencils to "curl". He made hundreds of styrofoam Christmas bells by painstakingly picking up a pearl bead, a sequin and dipping the tip of the pin in craft glue and painting the bell with beads. There would be people who would think this was rote drill, but it was a creative expression for my dad that helped him cope with being hospitalized and incapacitated for months. As a young girl, I watched my dad make these things and enjoy watching us decorate our home with his "creativity."

Our creative expression is what brings us joy. The process of creating makes us who we are and affords us a chance to have a voice.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Miss My Sewing Buddies

I went to the sewing room tonight after supper and put a binding on a Christmas gift. was a bit dull after all the excitement of the weekend sewing with my family. Or maybe I am just tired. At least I got the binding on the quilt. Now I can sit back and hand-stitch it down.

People ask me all the time WHY I hand-stitch bindings. I think it is why I still read books rather than listen to all of them. It is also why I love to hand-wash dishes rather than put them in a dishwasher. I just don't think everything has to be done fast. I think there is real purpose in doing some things methodically and with meditation.

With this table topper, I also took the time to take a YLI variagated machine quilting thread and do an intricate feather stitch with the machine quilting. I loved using my #10 (which I think might be my favorite presser foot on a Bernina machine) to line it up in those seams and fit this 9mm stitch perfectly. This piece is my recycled piece that I was telling you about. I made it using the Baby Charms pattern that we give away at the store with two charm packs. However when I made it from this recycled project, I first had to cut up the former project. This table topper started off as four Christmas stockings two years ago. I had Johanna (my youngest daughter) machine embroidery some figures on the stockings. She did a great job. I neglected to color check her threads, and I got bright read and green on these classic red and green fabrics. It was not inspiring....I never finished the stockings. Everytime I opened the drawer where they took up residence, they taunted me with "should have checked the colors."

So, when I made my first Baby Charms out of Flirtations charm packs, I absolutely fell in love with this project. Took me an hour to piece what will be a table topper for one of my kids for Valentine's Day. It wasn't the time that was so cool but rather the fact that these toppers started off in what looked like over-sized table runners. Then you run a little magic over them and you get them set on point in less than an hour. I also love that they make a good use of the mixture of fabrics in a charm pack while respecting balance of the fabrics. So much fun which brought me to then buy another two packs from Wee Play. I love, love, love these things. Wee Play has a fabulous print that reminds me of aprons and children's books from my childhood. They are fast and easy and so much fun to watch the cool trick with them. In fact, they are so much fun for me to play with the fabric in these that I am personally taking over kitting these in the store. (Oh, there is another one of my favorite things to do and cut kits.) I love putting together fabrics and working things out in the store like I work in my own sewing room.

Back to my recycled project....I took the stockings apart and technically cut them up into charm packs. I knew I wouldn't have enough to do the table topper; so, I cut up some four patches to be fitted into charm packs. I found a backing that was a leftover in my stash drawers for the back of this quilt. I even took the strips of batting from some of my larger quilts and pieced it together with my #10 foot and a #4 stitch on my sewing machine. Lapping the seams means I can use up lots of my batting bits. Most of my table toppers and runners are the remnants from my bigger projects. Conversely, I often purchase a king sized batting, cut it into fourths so that I have that perfect size (60x60") for most of my lap quilts and wall quilts. This table topper is supposed to be part of an exchange that we do with Henry's family. We aren't supposed to spend more than $5 on the item. So, technically....since this is a recycled project, I consider that I only spent the money on the thread.

If you understand this next concept...we really are a kindred spirit! I wouldn't feel right tossing out the embroidery designs from my recycled stockings (even though I am not real fond of the coloration). So, I am making coasters out of those using my Table Trio technique that I love to use for table runners and placemats. It will give me a chance to frame them up without the flip and sew method I traditionally do with coasters. Gives me a chance to work on mitered corners....just another chance to hand wash the dishes .

Just another day inside my Sewing Brain....I am just relieved that I am sewing again. Too much time away from the sewing machine just is NOT healthy! I don't necessarily think we sew because we have to finish a project but rather that we are happier people when we work on our brains through our creative soul. When I sew more, my whole being is happier.

All the Best to You, jill

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Sewing Night Fun

After work on Saturday, I had errands to and out of the car a few times. Frozen and longing for my warm robe! We got to nestle into the sewing room, full tummy and sewing machine lights blaring. Monica, Johanna and I had just settled in when Therese and Joel arrived to join the fun. Now...if you are someone on our Christmas list, don't get your shorts in a twist if you see something that will be a gift. I'll try to be discreet...won't show you the Minkee boxer shorts I am making for you or the way I am weaving a new cell phone out of the leftovers of metallic threads (I am toying with you here).

Indeed, Joel is getting into sewing too. He recruited the three girls to help him start his toothbrush rug. (Sure hope he is making one for his favorite mother-in-law.) They had a blast using Aunt Phillie's method of tearing strips...tearing nine yards of fabric in less than ten minutes. Doesn't it make you want to join our sewing fun?!

Monica is having a great time creating a purse from Amy Butler for her roommate, Ann. Monica tells that the Sophia Carry-All is going together very nicely. She tells that Ann has bought several purses looking for the perfect one but to no avail. When Monica saw this one, she knew it was perfect. We have all been loving the new Free Spirit heavier fabrics we have in the store. These are wider goods and have a durable hand to them and wil hold up great as purses. We also think they make fabulous skirts but have to admit none of us have done them yet. With winter blowing into Iowa, no one is real motivated to make a skirt presently!

I had a great time building pillowcases from the Wilmington collection, Cookie Cutter Christmas. I love the welcome of a bed with lots of pillows on it. Because I can't really get a quilt done for every bed in the house to be in Christmas style, I still want my expression on the beds when they come home. Pillowcases are fabulous and fun and they are really slick with the pattern we have in the store.

When I am cutting past my rulers, I don't like to use the lines on my mat. That is likely the most inaccurate way of cutting any measurements. The lines on your mat are reference lines. When I cut the larger sizes, I use what my Geometry teacher, Mr. Downing, taught me...mark two or more marks on your measurement and then line up the dots for cutting. (See my p.s. on Geometry class for those of you who know that I am math challenged.) While I use a chalk marker, you COULD use a Pigma pen for a really sharp point. Don't wig out that it is a pigma pen and is permanent, you are cutting the line OFF and any remnants of marks will fall within your seam. I know some people use a ballpoint pen but there is some risk of that ink shedding into your work.

I keep my pattern UNDERNEATH MY CUTTING MAT. That way I always know where it is because I need it regularly and I hate digging around for it. So, if you come into the store to buy the pattern again (because you lost the first one), I will ask you if you looked underneath your cutting mat. I love this pattern because it shows how to create the pillowcase with all encased seams. It is one of those sewer's details that really makes us shine like professionals. However, I find that as many pillowcases as I make, I always need the pattern to remind me how to do it again.

Invariably, I get to be a smarty pants and think I can remember how to sew it together; and I always sew together the first one wrong and get to un-sew it. The other thing I find is really important when I am sewing pillowcases is that there IS a need to pin. I like using a stripe for a cuff and I like that it matches up with the stripe front and back. While this adds time to the process, it is LESS time than un-sewing and re-sewing.

I love the kits of the pillowcases because the pieces are all right there for me to not have to figure out. I really love these kits because they aren't too Christmasy and they respect the colors I already have in the room. Call the store or stop in and see what Karen has been cutting up for some fast kits. These are really classy!

I know I feel great about getting something I have been on a kick of what can I sew in one hour. Two pillowcases took me one hour. Sure, you could get lots more done if you sewed them with a serger, but this (for me) is like my sister-in-law Susie who bakes bread. She doesn't do it because it is faster or cheaper, she bakes the best wheat bread because it makes her happy. Sewing these pillowcases with French seams and an encase cuff makes me smile. I went to the extra trouble to take my skills and make something nicer than I could get at the store. It makes me happy to share my love with my family.

And sewing with them makes me feel the same way. I love getting older because it makes me not drive myself with deadlines for anything but to express love. We are not more loved because we sewed for everyone. I sew out of love not responsibility. I make things because I want to make them and it makes me happy. If I have a deadline looming over get that hand-appliqued quilt done for my sister's co-worker's daughter's neighbor, I have done myself in for a number that isn't mine. I sew pillowcases because it is my chance to interact with some amazing fabric before it is all gone. It is my chance to put a greeting on the beds of my kids when they come home for Christmas. It even makes Henry smile to go to get into bed and see a Christmas pillowcase on the bed.

So, my journey for today is working on making Table Toppers out of charms packs. Before I dug into my favorite method for this (out of two charm packs), I started RECYCLING some Christmas stockings I started two years ago that didn't quite turn out. I will take more pictures of how and why I did that for my next blog. Just know that this was a dead project in my bin of projects that made me sad everytime I saw it. Now, I love what it is becoming. And....if you are a member of my husband's family, THIS will be my exchange gift this year. Yes, that is legitimate. You CAN give a recycled gift. This is technically NOT one that has actually ever been gifted to anyone else. (Oh, and that is my is legitimate only IF the person you are gifting to will actually appreciate the gift more than you did.)

Here's a sneak peek of my next project....and I had better get to the sewing room. The girls and Joel are already there working away. While they all growl a bit when I pull out the camera, you can see that they always seem able to muster a smile.

All the Best to You....REALLY! jill

p.s. Yes, I am math challenged. While I don't make light of disabilities, I like to let people know that I have a challenge and that accepting it has helped me immensely in coping. When I was in elementary school, I struggled with lots of math concepts. However, in the long run, when I became a teacher, my focus was on learning disabilities. I found it incredibly freeing to take what I knew about how we function and find ways to make life functional and enjoyable. For me, geometry was the BEST math class. I loved art and creating. Geometry made a lot of sense to me because I could apply it quite directly to my creating. I am ever grateful to Mr. Downing who didn't know that his tolerance of my incessant questions and a fabulous sense of humor made me realize that being math challenged wouldn't impair me forever. In fact, as a teacher, while I have inabilities to understand some components of mathematics, my ability to apply math to my creative nature opened me up to know how to make a lot of topics palatable to all kinds of learning. I love that I still get to teach every day, even though my title isn't teacher, I think I still have chalk dust in my veins!