Friday, April 29, 2005

Testing BlogJet

I have installed an interesting application - BlogJet. It's a cool Windows client for my blog tool (as well as for other tools). Get your copy here:

"Computers are useless. They can only give you answers." -- Pablo Picasso

Trying out some new software for writing/editting my blog entries….this is my first real attempt, so here goes.

I’m off to Vermont this weekend for another weekend of quilting at the Henry Farm Inn.  The last couple of trips, I managed to get a ride up with my friend Candy, who was also taking the class.  Candy unfortunately has a conflict this weekend, and Anne Gallo is not going up until Friday, so I’m back to my old standard of taking the bus (sigh).  Paul, the proprietor of the Henry Farm Inn is graciously picking me up at the bus station when I get there.  Anne is giving me a ride back, which is usually a fun time.

We’re doing something a little bigger this weekend, spending all day Friday quilting in addition to the weekend.  This will give us plenty of time to spend at Quilt A Way, which is always a great shopping experience.  My Godchild Emerald is going to be picking out the backing fabric for her high school graduation present.  Note to self:  NEVER agree to make a quilt for somebody before reading the pattern instructions!

This is an interesting quilt to work on.  Emerald has completely redesigned it, elimating the flowery applique and replacing it with sea life.  This is also done in bright colors on dark backgrounds, with the borders and the connecting pinwheels done in sea-colors (purple-blue-green gradients). 

For a queen size quilt, 40 of the triangles are required.  Each triangle has 6 main units, plus 3 of the curved “fan” parts.  These are all paper pieced units.  Do the math…this is 360 paper pieced units, and sewing them all together requires sewing 120 curved seams…I’m so excited!  This will be beautiful when it’s done, but I’ve already accepted I’m not going to have it done by Emerald’s graduation day.




Thursday, April 28, 2005

Round and round the cobbler's bench

Round and round the cobbler's bench
The monkey chased the weasel,
The monkey thought 'twas all in fun
Pop! Goes the weasel.

A penny for a spool of thread
A penny for a needle,
That's the way the money goes,
Pop! Goes the weasel.

A half a pound of tupenny rice,
A half a pound of treacle.
Mix it up and make it nice,
Pop! Goes the weasel.

Up and down the London road,
In and out of the Eagle,
That's the way the money goes,
Pop! Goes the weasel.

I've no time to plead and pine,
I've no time to wheedle,
Kiss me quick and then I'm gone
Pop! Goes the weasel.

So what does this have to do with quilting? Absolutely nothing! However, I wanted to have a title with the word "Round" in it, because I'm going to write about Round Robin quilts. I was also going to title this "Round and round the MULBERRY BUSH", because that's how I always heard the song sung when I was a kid. I was surprised to learn it was the cobbler's bench instead, and there were more than just one verse. So, I present this for your edification.

Anyway, back to round robin quilts. This is the first in a series of articles about a round robin quilt project I was involved with my friends Marcia, Ken, and Cindy, plus my two Godchildren Emerald and Azureen. Each person was going to do a block, and then pass it to the next person to add a border, with the orignal block creator ending up with the quilt for finishing. Here were the rules:

  1. The orignal block was to be no more than 18" finished. 18" was picked because Marcia just happened to have an 18" Hawaiian applique block she wanted to use...what the heck, we're easy!
  2. After the initial block, each person would add a border with a maximum width of 6". If the inner borders did not use the entire 6", you could use up that shortfall up to a maximum size of 8".
  3. The round robin order was me->Marcia->Emerald->Cindy->Ken->Azureen.
  4. Each person had 6 weeks to work on each step before passing it along....where were a tad flexible on the 6 week deadline :-)
  5. The original block creator got the finished quilt and responsible for finishing it however he/she saw fit. Adding a final border was fair game too.

I had a paper piecing pattern I'd been wanting to try, as well as a nice new rainbow gradient hand dye fabric assortment just looking for a project. The pattern was Spiraling Rays by Carol Bryer Fallert. And here was my resulting block.

This is definitely one of those "it's a lot harder than it looks project". The paper piecing made it pretty easy. The only tough parts were sewing the inner circle (which I picked because it made me thing of an eye) and the outer circle. This particular pattern handled the curves by turning the edges of the convex part under, then sewing along the edge with transparent thread and a zig-zag stitch. This took me an afternoon to finish.

After send it along to Marcia, I got a request from her for any extra of the outer blue fabric I'd sent her.

Here is the finished quilt I got back. My friends definitely understand my liking of bright colors on a dark background! This is definitely a quilt that needs to be seen in person rather than a photo. In real life, the fabrics positively glow!

One neat feature I'd like to point out is the outer-most border. This was sewn by my Godchild Azureen, and uses a technique she learned from Anne Gallo during a quilt weekend at the Henry Farm Inn. The squares are made from a pair of 3D flying geese. The outer triangles are folded rather than pieced along that edge, giving each one a little pocket and dimensional effect. I have not quilted this yet, but it is definitely at the top of the UFO list. This will get finished once I complete Emerald's high school graduation (!) quilt.

Next up, border #1 for Azureen's block.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Tiger, tiger, burning bright....

We're finally up to one of those major moments in my quilting that probably stands right up there with my first quilt and the "Uncle Rick, do you notice how worn this is getting"? moment that got me quilting again. Back in May, when my friends and I took our first quilt class at the Henry Farm Inn, we had asked our instructor (Deb Tucker) for recommendations for a class in the fall schedule. Of the classes available, Deb recommended we try the class taught by Anne Gallo and Susan Raban. Deb thought we might enjoy this class because Anne and Susan have a pretty relaxed teaching style. The instructor in the other class had a reputation for being quite the stickler for accuracy, which probably wouldn't be as much fun for us. So, Anne and Susan it was!

The other major change for this class was the discovery of Quilt-a-Way fabrics on the first trip. We had learned about them at the class, and had tried to stop in when we left on Sunday, but the shop was closed that day :-( We took no chances this time, and had called ahead to make sure they'd still be open by the time we got there on Friday. It was not a pretty sight! We were wheeling around office chairs (the Quilt-a-Way version of a shopping cart) piled with stacks of fabrics. The prices were very good, and while I didn't realize it at the time, I was planting the seeds of my love affair with batik fabrics. I picked up a number of nice batiks here from their very large selection.

The plan for this class was a little bigger than the last class. This time, Azureen was signed up for the class too. The last time we came up, Emerald was the exhausted teenager, and slept most of the trip. We were sort of expecting a repeat performance this weekend, but Ken and Cindy did bring along an extra sewing machine in case she got inspired.

When we arrived at the Inn, several people were already there, so we sat around and chatted for a bit. At the first Henry Farm class I took, I had missed the bit about bringing along some quilts for a first night show-and-tell session. This time I was a bit more prepared, bringing along a number of quilts. Among those I showed was Magic Tiles, Rainbow Illusion, and Fade to Black.
I was a bit eager to jump the gun, so I showed off the quilts I'd brought along a little early. I didn't realize it at the time, but one of the people I was showing my stuff to was Anne Gallo, one of the instructors.

Before dinner, Anne and Susan gave us a little lecture about the project we were going to be working on this weekend. Anne started out by saying that there were a few "over achievers" in the class...and demonstrated that fact by grabbing my quilts and showing them to the rest. I'll never forget the little smirk on her face when she described my Rainbow Illusion quilt as my "first paper piecing project". I knew already I was going to get along with this woman! At dinner that night I discovered Anne's maiden name was the same as my last name, and Anne has been referring to me as her "long lost cousin" ever since. I also discovered she and I share a very compatible sense of humor!

The project for this class was a pattern called The Christmas Star. Not a very difficult block, but one that looks very nice set on point. I decided this quilt was going to be a Christmas present for Emerald, so found some nice tiger fabric to use as a focus fabric (Em is nuts about tigers). Oh yeah, around the same time, I'd started taping Simply Quilts on my Tivo box. On one of the episodes, Alex Anderson had mentioned that many quilters had a fear of working with orange. I couldn't think of a single reason why orange would be intimidating...but I also can't resist a challenge. Orange it would be! And hand-dyes, of course. I'd really developed a taste for hand dyed fabrics by that time. This was going to be interesting, and since I already had a plan for who it would end up with, I was fairly certain to finish this one too.

When we started sewing, Em decided she wanted to work on something too, and started asking me questions about how to do the Magic Tiles style quilt. Susan and Anne picked up on her questions, and started helping her with a project. Azureen, meanwhile, whipped right through putting together a couple of Christmas star blocks, and Anne started pulling out additional project for her to work on too. Anne and Susan appeared to have the best time working with those two, and the small quilts they produced came out beautifully. I was so proud of those two girls that day...despite their tendency to raid Uncle Rick's fabric supply :-)

On my quilt, I jumped right to it. I worked until midnight that night, with a lot of help from Anne. By midnight, all of the blocks were assembled, and laid out on a bed ready to be sewn together, but I was pretty exhausted at that point, and headed off to bed. I am very much a morning person, so I was back up a 5 to sew it all up. Anne is also an early riser, so she was up with me helping. With the two of use furiously working together, we managed to get the top assembled by 11, when we needed to have everything wrapped up. I was beat, but had a nice quilt top all ready for finishing. It didn't really come out exactly the way I'd designed it on Electric Quilt. The different colored hand-dyed stars were intended to be more of a focal point of the quilt, but the orange accent parts sort of "took over". Even with that, I was still pleased with the result, and Em loved getting it. And Az managed to con me out of my Around the Twist quilt I'd done back in May.

After I finished this, I discovered that Anne and Susan tended to run these classes at a pace where the students would just piece together a couple of blocks of the project, since the intent was just to teach certain sewing skills. I was the first person who'd ever done a complete top in the single weekend (groan!).

Afterwards, Anne graciously offered me a ride home, since she lives in the Boston area. We had a nice chat on drive back, and we met for lunch out at Quilter's Way after New Years (the day after Ohio State won the national championship!).

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Any sufficiently advanced technology....

"Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one." (Albert Einstein)

Magic Tiles was a quilt I created from a pattern I purchased from the website of a woman from whom I purchased a number of fat quarter assortments off of eBay. At this phase of my quilting journey, I was searching for different styles of quilts to attempt, with a preference for wall hanging sized quilts. This quilt is also a bit of departure for me since it is primarily purple, rather than my preferred color wheel style. It does, however, continue my preference for black as a background fabric.

Even though I had just recently finished a pair of braid quilts that used hundreds of colors, including a wide variety of purples, I concluded I just didn't have enough "good" purples to give me a nice selection of 9 different fabrics to make this quilt. That's pretty typical for me...regardless of how large my fabric stash becomes, the quilt I'm currently working on always seems to require something I don't have. Amazing how that works out, no?

Anyway, it was off to the quilt shop again. This time it was my first trip to Cambridge Quilts. Even though this is in Cambridge, just across the river from Boston, this shop is not easily reachable via public transportation. To get there, I need to take the T up north, then either take a bus to the shop or walk slightly over a mile from the T station to get there. Since I actually enjoy walking, I chose the latter option.

This was a fairly nice shop, with a reasonable fabric selection. I've not been back since this one trip, but that was largely because of the inconvenience of getting there. I was able to flesh out my selection of purples rather nicely on this trip. I also added a number of other fabrics to my supply. When I took my stack of fabrics up to the cutting table, the cutter inquired as what I was making. I sort of gave the off-the-cuff reply "a fabric stash". I've come to use that phrase an amazing number of times since then!

Anyway, Magic Tiles came together fairly quickly. This was a variation on a "stack-and-slash" quilt, where you stack 9 different fabric blocks and do a series of cuts and shuffles. When the cuts are sewn back together, you end up with 9 different blocks for your quilt. Even though I'm sure I followed the instructions in Magic Tiles pattern correctly, I must have made a mistake in the reshuffling somewhere, as each block has only 8 unique fabrics. One fabric is duplicated in each block. This is definitely in the category of a mistake that needs to be pointed out to be noticed. Oops, I guess I just did that :-)

This quilt sort of sat in my finished pile for a while, until this Christmas when I gave it to my sister-in-law Jeannette as a stocking stuffer. This was an attempt on my part to deflect attention from the fact I still had not dyed some wool yarn for her like I had promised :-)

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

And now for something completely different....

"All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That's his." (Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest)

I've been getting complaints that I haven't been updating this any more, so it's time to get back to writing again. I'm just amazed that people are actually reading this! I'm also getting reports of my quilts showing up as screensavers on random that's scary!

This last weekend I had the opportunity to tell a few of my "guy quilter" stories, and I decided this would make a good topic for a blog entry. It's sort of an interesting experience being a male quilter. The experience starts the second you walk into a quilt store. Normally, you get one of two reactions. The first reaction is to ignore you...after all, you're probably only there because your wife dragged you along, so there's no need to help you. The other reaction is to immediately see if you need any help, because you're either a) lost, or b) sent to pick up something from the afore-mentioned wife. On the plus side, once they get to know you, you are remembered the moment you walk back into the shop! I'm recognized now in quilt shops from Boston to Alaska, which is sort of neat.

There have been a number of particularly amusing incidents. A couple of years ago, I took a quilting class from the Quilter's Compass in Quincy, MA. I showed up 15-20 minutes for the class, with my wheeled sewing machine carrier in tow, along with another case of quilting tools. One of the workers at the store commented on how nice I was for "carrying in my wife's quilting stuff". She was a little embarrassed when I pointed out that *I* was the one who was there for the class. Some of the women at that class were embarassed that I owned a better sewing machine than they did :-)

At one of the quilting weekends I took at the Henry Farm Inn in Vermont, we actually had 3 men in the class. Myself, my friend Ken from Connecticut, and Bart, who Ken and I convinced to give quilting a try. Bart's wife Kathy had taught him how to sew, and this was Bart's very first quilting class. We took a break at mid day on Saturday, and ran into nearby Chester, Vt to shop at the Country Treasures quilt shop. This run is a fairly standard part of these classes, so they were expecting us there. First through the door was one of the teachers, Susan Raban, who announced "the quilters are here!". Next through the door came Ken, Bart, and I, which prompted the owner to remark "Oh, how nice, the husbands came along too...". Uh, no, *we're* the quilters!

One of my favorite quilt shops is Quilter's Way, in Concord, MA. Quilter's Way works well for a "car challenged" city dweller like myself. It's right next to the West Concord train station, which makes it easy for me to get to. On the down side, I'm at the mercy of the train schedule, which generally requires me to hang around for a couple of hours whenever I go there. This is a pretty dangerous thing, forcing me to wander around a quilt shop for a couple of hours, particularly a quilt shop with a fabric selection as nice as Quilter's Way.

Anyway, I was hanging around the shop on Saturday afternoon, and the husband of Jane, the shop owner, stopped in. Jane introduced him around, and commented "got dragged along too, huh?". He was a little embarrassed when Jane pointed out that I was one of her better customers.

And finally, the last "guy quilter" incident. I was visiting my sister Shirley in Alaska last summer, and we stopped into a quilt shop in Glenallen. Shirley was looking for some fabric for a pattern she had picked up, and I was helping her audition different fabrics for the quilt. As I was doing this, the owner remarked to my sister that "he actually seems to know what he's doing". I've actually made more quilts than Shirley has :-)

Oh well, that's enough for the first time back. After this, it's back to documenting my quilts again. I've only got about 3 years left to go!