Thursday, December 29, 2016

Post-Christmas Wrap

Things were hopping in the sewing room in the run up to the holidays.  I made a quite a few zipper pouches and Christmas tree mug rugs, and stitched the binding down on a quilt on Christmas Eve.  It didn't feel stressful, though.  I enjoyed every moment of it. 

I baked another loaf of Orange Date-Nut Bread (recipe back one post)
Our family does a gift exchange on Christmas called the "Dirty Santa" game.  You are probably familiar with it.  Everyone brings one gift to the party.  They all get put in the center of the floor when it's time to exchange.  We pick a number (or draw a playing card, as it were).  The person with the lowest number starts by choosing a gift and opening it.  Then the next person can either choose a gift to open or steal one of the previously opened gifts.  If your gift is stolen, you choose and open another one. You want to be a higher number in this game, so you have your pick of a variety of previously opened gifts, or take your chances and open one of the other ones.  

It's fun to see what shows up as a re-gift from prior years.  The current record is a cupcake maker that's been re-gifted five years in a row!  Most gifts are new, though.  Most are of the general sort, maybe something edible or drinkable, oftentimes useful, and sometimes funny or totally off the wall.

I went with "useful" this year, and the gift I brought to exchange was a quilt. One I'd been working on, off and on, since October, when I started piecing it on vacation.

I used the layer cake of Aspen Frost fabric won in the Hands2Help charity quilt project giveaway earlier in the year—very pretty, holiday-themed fabrics.  I followed the tutorial for the Precious Gem quilt, found HERE.  

It turned out to be a nice lap quilt size, just right for relaxing on a cozy winter evening.

This was the first time I'd brought a quilt to the Christmas gift exchange.  Judging by the fact the quilt was stolen twice, though, it won't be the last.  It was fun and encouraging to see a couple people vying to stake their claim on it.

Ultimately, it went home with my niece, who, in her words, was happy to "add it to her collection."  I've given her two baby quilts in the past, when each of her boys was born.

She announced her engagement on Christmas, so that was pretty exciting too.  That's her fiance photo bombing in the background!

In the process of quilting this quilt, I found my missing Kwik Clip!  It had rolled underneath the table of my Juki.

* * * * *
In the past few days, I've been giving the blog a little facelift.  Made a new header (not at all sure about my design skills, but I gave it a decent effort, anyway).  Also tweaked a few things on the sidebar, did some general cleanup, and updated the gallery tab and a few other things.  Let me know what you think, if you're so inclined.  

Some after-gift-exchange music time.
I've been listening to and reading some year-end reviews in the past few days, and it got me thinking on the events of my own year.  As always, there were ups and downs, good times and not-so-good.  One of the highlights was that Norm and I got new bikes earlier in the year and had fun exploring the trails on them this past summer.  It also gives me something to look forward to in a couple months.  Yep, Christmas is barely over, it's not even the New Year, and I'm already thinking ahead to bike season!

What's near the top of your personal highlight reel for 2016?

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Sunday Sundry 12-18-16

Come on over and sit a while!  The chairs are extra cushy!

We've had two very snowy weekends in a row, making things look quite magical.  Mind you, I haven't had to drive in it much, so I'm of a happy and generous mindset looking out at the scenery from the comfort of home.  

Last week's snow reminded me of marshmallow fluff.  I was humming THIS tune all day.
 "It's a marshmallow world in the winter...When the snow comes to cover the ground..."

This morning, the fresh snow was like fine sugar, sparkling in the sunshine.  That made it a little easier to swallow the news that today's high was supposed to be -3 degrees.  I think we actually may have gotten to zero or a tad above.

Meanwhile, I've been cranking out the Christmas in the sewing room.  Quite a few more zipper pouches, mug rugs, and other things have been created.  Some of them have already been gifted as well.

Still, there are a couple more things to finish.

A friend had requested a table mat in the colors of a different season.  I've made her ones with Christmas and spring/summer themes in the past, so I chose fall.  (You can find my string ring table mat tutorial HERE, if you're interested.)

Yesterday I basted a quilt but could not find my Kwik Klip.  That's the gadget I use to help close the safety pins in basting.  I looked and looked, to no avail.  I fear it may have rolled off the table into the wastebasket.  Last I saw it, it was in that general vicinity.

Instead, I grabbed a chopstick that I'd been using to help turn the zipper pouches.  

It worked as well as, maybe even better than, the Kwik Klip!

I've had fun making Christmas Tree minis from Kevin's tutorial.  They're a great mug rug size.  

So far, the "tree farm" has produced a grove of six.  Cute little things, aren't they?

In the kitchen, I've succumbed to the urge to bake for the holidays.  No, that's not really true.  I'm baking for ME.  The holidays couldn't care less if I baked!

When I was a kid, one of the things I remember we had at Christmastime was an Orange Date-Nut Cake.  It was baked in a tube pan and then you poured an orange syrup over it and let it soak in.  It was sort of like a lighter version of a fruit cake, as in not quite as dense and minus the candied cherries.  Really sweet, though.  You needed to have it with a cup of strong black coffee to balance the sweetness.

I can't eat that way anymore (no gluten or dairy, and way less sugar), but I miss those flavors.  So I adapted a gluten-free nut bread recipe and it worked!  Minimally sweet (only 1/3 cup of sugar versus multiple cups), but still rocking the orange-date-nuttiness of the original recipe.  Woo-hoo!

Here is the recipe.  Merry Christmas!

Orange Date-Nut Bread
2 cups gluten-free flour (I mixed my own: ½ c. EACH sorghum, tapioca, rice, and almond flours)
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
2 eggs
1/3 cup brown sugar
¼ cup butter or butter substitute, melted (I use ghee)
¾ cup orange juice, freshly squeezed (about 3 oranges, juiced; add the pulp from squeezing back in)
1 Tablespoon fresh orange zest
1 cup chopped dates (use unsweetened whole dates and cut or snip them into pieces with scissors – I  also soak the chopped dates for 5 minutes in boiling water and then drain the water off)
¾ cup chopped walnuts
½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Stir the first five dry ingredients together in a small bowl.  Set aside.  In a medium bowl, mix together the eggs, brown sugar, melted butter or substitute, orange juice, and orange zest.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until moistened.  Stir in chopped dates and walnuts, and chocolate chips, if using.  Spread batter into a greased loaf pan.  Sprinkle with 1-2 teaspoons of coarse granulated sugar, if desired.  Bake 40-45 minutes.  Let the loaf cool for 10 minutes in the pan before removing it to a rack to continue cooling.  Enjoy!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Sunday Sundry 12-4-16

I don't know if you know this, but just thinking about a blog post doesn't get it done.  Funny how that works!

I bet I'm not alone, though, in composing something in my head that never makes it to the page.  Most of the time it's while I'm in the middle of work or another task.  The moment passes, several hours or days, maybe, and then it seems like old news.  If I can even remember what it was, that is. 

Anyway, I want to do a Quilty 365 update before the link-up expires. Nothing like a deadline to get something done!

I got on a roll and actually had most of my November circles made before the second week of the month.  That turned out to be a good thing, because then the wind went out of my sails for a little while and there was minimal-to-no sewing.

Deviating from a color of the month theme, I had more or less decided that November would be a free-for-all.  As it turned out, sifting through the scrap boxes, I was drawn to the fabrics that had faces, so I ran with that.  People, animals, and a few other random things that caught my eye.

In the end, 30 circles.  My total tally so far for the project is 307.  I'm feeling good about that, and hanging in there for the rest of December.  I may not get to 365 before I hit the one-year mark, since I started last January, but it'll be enough to put together a quilt.

* * * * *
In reorganizing the basement, we did a pretty major purge.  Sold a big wrought iron aquarium stand on Craigslist.  Drove three carloads of stuff to Goodwill.  The circle of life:  Quite a bit had come from the thrift store, and to the thrift store it was returned.  Now someone else can enjoy those eclectic acquisitions from past years.  Meanwhile, I'll be enjoying a wonderful sense of spaciousness and lightness.

There's still more stuff to sort through and send away, for sure.  It's an ongoing process.

* * * * *
Now I'm doing some Christmas sewing.  The first gift-giving gatherings of the season are taking place this coming week, so I've got to keep my nose to the grindstone if I want to get done what I'd like.

I was gifted a big box of scrubs recently, from the place where I worked part-time for 10 years.  I'm turning some of them into zipper pouches.

So cute!  I'm using THIS tutorial.  They're going together pretty fast.  It's been a few days since I took this picture, and now there are 11 done. 

Have you seen Kevin's latest post?  He has a tutorial for the cutest little mini-quilt!  I had to try it right away.  I've got one ready to sew together, but no pictures yet.

Are you doing any "secret sewing" for the holidays, or have you gotten it all done already? 

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Sunday Sundry 11-20-16

It's been a rough couple of weeks, folks. I am continuing to process.
I read a beautiful thing this past week on the blog The Irish Aesthete. Click the link to read the short post in its entirety (and enjoy the accompanying photos of gorgeous garden paths), but the essence of it was this: 

"...For all its failings and foibles, the human spirit is resilient. So too is the urge, the need to create beauty, even in the midst of turmoil and disorder. The determination of previous generations to overcome adversity, and to find the beautiful in the midst of ugliness can serve as our own inspiration."

Yes.  Let's continue creating in our own unique, expressive, beautiful ways. Finding inspiration, starting conversation.
* * * * *
In addition to the Quilty 365 daily circle project (which I admittedly do not do daily, but often 3, 5, or 10 at a time), I put together this little half-square triangle piece from the leftover cut-off corners of the Precious Gems quilt top.

This piece is only about 36 inches square, so I'm thinking of adding borders or some such thing to bring it to a size I can use as a backing for that quilt top.

* * * * *
Other things I've been doing:

Rearranging some things in the sewing space.  I sew in the basement and share the space with the usual basement dwelling items of a non-sewing nature. I recently bought a few things at an office rummage sale, and I've swapped out an old desk and two old 2-drawer filing cabinets for a 4-drawer cabinet and a standing-height table for the computer.  There's really a mishmash of  stuff down there, and it's a constant work in process to organize, purge, and ponder use of the spaceIt'll never look like something out of House Beautiful, not even close, but I'm happy enough with recent improvements.

—Scanning old photos and memorabilia.  A military historian within the family reached out to us recently regarding my late father-in-law, who served in the the 7th Armored Division during the Battle of the Bulge.  I needed to delve into the information I had, and since I was in the middle of reorganizing anyway, this has led down a new bunny trail, one I'm happy to take, but it is a bit overwhelming.
—Waking up at odd hours of the early morning and not being able to sleep...3:00 a.m., 4:30 a.m., 5:00 a.m.  On the plus side, I got a photo of the Supermoon a couple hours before sunrise. 

—Discovering new music.  Like the latest release from Dawes, and The Muddy Magnolias.  Whew, those girls can sing!

Watching Versailles.  Because I'm still not over the fact they killed off Athelstan on Vikings, and Versailles is easing my George Blagden withdrawals.

—Generally, just being grateful.  For all of the above and more.  For the mild fall weather (up until this weekend), perfect for walkingFor homemade beef stew and apple crisp.  For friends and kind people.  For laughter and tears.

There is much to appreciate as we head into Thanksgiving, and every day.  What comes to mind for you?

Monday, October 31, 2016

Quilty 365 Progress

This month's Quilty 365 circles are brought to you by the color orange, or what may pass for orange, anyway.  I had to stretch the boundaries a bit to align with the stash, so we have everything from rusty brown to peach, with a twist of gold to boot.
What makes me smile in particular today is the one below, made with one skinny string's worth of skeletons on orange background fabric, plus a stripey narrow string of something else between.  Happy Halloween!
Here is the whole month's worth of orange October blocks.
I missed last month's link up because we were on vacation, but here, too, is the August/September lot of yellow and tan circles.  I made 33 blocks for those two months combined, plus 31 in October, making the total for this project 277 so far.
Now, I'm kind of stumped on November.  In the beginning of the year, I scribbled down color themes for each month, but November was "vintage fabrics?" and December was "holiday fabrics?".  Note the question marks.  I was moving away from the color theme of the month and into the realm of other possibilities when I jotted down those ideas.  

Right now, I'm thinking November may be a free-for-all.  I don't have 30 different vintage fabrics, I know that for sure (and besides, I've used a few vintage fabrics in blocks already; see the orange/teal/black scribble block in the October group above, for example).  So we'll see what happens.

I also finished the quilt top from the Aspen Frost layer cake. It's ready for pin basting and quilting one of these fine days when I feel like moving the kitchen furniture out of the way and mopping the floor.
And I don't think I've mentioned yet the Friendship Circle I had put together before we left on vacation a month ago.  I used the half-square triangles of made-fabric trimmed from the Quilt for Pulse.  When this is finished, it'll be wall hanging size(Also, you won't see the gingham check showing through.  That's my design wall covering, the fuzzy back side of a gingham check vinyl tablecloth fabric.)

Did you have many trick-or-treaters at your house?  We only had a handful this year.  Maybe the fact that trick-or-treat hours yesterday were during the Packer game had something to do with it.

Linking to:  Quilty Folk

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Two for the Road...and a Bump

I took two small sewing projects with me on vacation, along with Everett, otherwise known as the "O' Brother" machine.
Didn't actually sew as much as I'd imagined.  Some hotel rooms were better laid out for that kind of thing, logistically, and some evenings I simply opted to use the hotel treadmill or pool or watch a movie instead.
Nevertheless, I did get a few Quilty 365 circles done.  My orange stash is pretty much exhausted, as far as variety, so I'm going to have to repeat some fabrics or...something/insert creative idea finish out the month of October.

I also started piecing a quilt using an Aspen Frost layer cake won in the Hands2Help charity quilt project giveaway a few months back.
I finished up the piecing this week.  It was simple and straightforward, a free quilt pattern called Precious Gem, found HERE.  
Got it laid out on the design wall, things looked good, and started to sew the first rectangular pieces together yesterday.

One seam in, I noticed something was not right.
What in the world?  Why was there a good half-inch gap between my corner triangles?  Had I cut my corner pieces too small?  Was I supposed to trim the rectangles from the layer cake to a different size first?

I went back and reread the instructions.  Nope, I had followed them exactly.

*...mumbling and grumbling...will it matter?...maybe not...maybe so...ugh...*
Well, the only way to fix the gap and make the points match was to trim a half inch from the length of each rectangle.  I didn't like the idea of losing several inches in the overall size of the quilt by having to do that, but there didn't seem to be another option.  Other than live with the gap, I suppose, but the way I'd planned the piecing, using two different gray fabrics in the corners, was done to play up the diagonal part of the design.  If there's a gap, then is there a continuous diagonal at all?
So I'm resolved now to giving each piece a haircut before I sew them together.  I'm thankful I didn't sew half the quilt together before I noticed anything amiss.  And I'm still wondering how did  I miss something so seemingly (or seamingly) obvious—if it looks easy, why is it not?

Image source and free printable
Anyway, questions aside, time to grab the seam ripper (or rotary cutter) and carry on.  

How about you?  Hit any bumps in the road this week? 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Sunday Sundry 10-16-16

We took a road trip the first week of October, which came about in part due to a shift in employment for me.  One of my part-time jobs was ending because the doctor was retiring, but before I ramped up my hours on my other job, Norm and I decided to hit the road.  
I'd never been out in the direction of Mount Rushmore, something I've always wanted to see, and it seemed a driveable distance, given our timeline, and a decent time of year to go.  So we headed west!

Some of the highlights were:   Badlands National Park...
Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial...
Devil's Tower, Wyoming...
The Mammoth Site in Hot Springs...
There were so many other interesting things to see.  I wanted to learn more about Native American culture, so we stopped at the Akta Lakota Museum and Cultural Center  on the grounds of the St. Joseph Indian school at Chamberlain, South Dakota.  Fascinating history in the exhibits and information as we toured the museum.  
I found particularly interesting to read about the history of quilting among the Sioux culture.
After we left the museum, we paused to see the new 50-foot sculpture installed along I-90 near Chamberlain.  It's called "Dignity" and depicts a Native young woman receiving a star quilt.  According to sculptor Dale Lamphere, “Dignity represents the courage, perseverance and wisdom of the Lakota and Dakota culture in South Dakota. My hope is that the sculpture might serve as a symbol of respect and promise for the future."
It was 37 degrees and raining steadily when I hopped out and took this photo.  But it's a beautiful and inspiring piece, rain or shine.   

There were a couple stops at quilt shops along the way, notably Calico Hutch in Hayward, MN and Heartsong Quilts in Hot Springs, SD.  I could have spent hours (and more money) at both stores, they were fantastic!  As time was limited and we had to be moving on, I was happy to find out I could visit them anytime online.  
I did some stash replenishing between those two, as well as shopping the 50% off clearance fabric sale at Jo-Ann on Columbus Day when I got home.
I addressed my deficit of low volume fabrics in the stash, and I think I did okay.

The last hotel we stayed at on the way back, Microtel in Rochester, MN, had some interesting carpeting in the hallway.  
Quilt inspiration is everywhere!