31 March 2010

card catalog

Remember the days when looking up a book or subject at the library meant using the card catalog?
And not an electronic one, but one with actual cards arranged in drawers?
Now I only ever see card catalogs in people's homes.  Where they explain how they got them at a thrift store for an absolute song. And they fill the drawers with all the bits and bobs and emphemera associatied with their favorite hobby. 

Well, if you are one of those people that always wanted a card catalog of your own, and you live near Ann Arbor, make your way to the University of Michigan's Property Disposition  sometime soon.  The place is filled with card catalogs. Rows and rows of them.  $200 gets you one cabinet (6 columns), about 5' tall.  The sides are unfinished (you can see above), I'm not sure about the backs.

I don't have room in my budget or home for a card catalog, but I do think I might head up there again to take photos once my Methods Quilt is finished (since the Methods Quilt is based on a book and the light at property dispo is lovely).

They also have some hospital beds at the moment that would be perfect for anyone shooting a horror film.  But no chairs suitable for sewing tables.  : )

29 March 2010

Can you stand it?

Look at what my friend made in just a few short hours yesterday!
She started the day knowing how to sew and having used a rotary cutter, but never having done patchwork.  She likes the style of Gee's Bend quilts, so there was a goal in mind and a direction to head in. She had four pieces of fabric from the shop and access to my scrap pile.

Awesome results, right?

I showed her 1/4" seams, pressing, and chain stitching.  Then I had her join up fabric in pairs while I busied myself with other things.  I worked with her a little bit when it came time to turn little bits of patchwork into larger units, but for the most part, she didn't need guidance.  I think I mostly just helped her avoid learning things the hard way (you know, seams going every which way). 

I can't wait to see her make more units and finish up this stunning quilt!  She wants more angles in the next bits, so I showed her how to stack-and-whack just before we finished for the day.  The phrase "stack-and-whack" made her giggle.  Also, "fussy cutting."  I guess quilt-speak is kind of funny.  : )

26 March 2010

What goes nicely...

...with a new sewing table?
A new sewing machine!

I've been using an hand-me-down bottom-of-the-line Janome for a while now. It actually worked pretty well for a pretty long time, but had started refusing to go backwards.  Or having decent thread tension if I used cotton thread (polyester, really?) The repairs it needed were going to cost more than the machine was worth to me, so I was resolved to replace it.

Ideally, I would have liked to replace it with a Janome 1600p (or one of its twins, the Viking Mega Quilter or Pfaff Hobby GrandQuilter or TL-98E Juki )---you know something with a large harp and thread snip and needle down setting.  But every time I would get even half way to saving for one of those, my car's muffler would fall off or I'd need dental work or Buzz would need shots...you get the idea...it wasn't happening.

I had asked about used machines at the local shop and not liked what they had to offer.  So I did some research and made a list of less expensive machines that I might like.  A couple of weeks ago, I spotted one of my top contenders on sale for just $200.  Cha-ching! 

This is the all-mechanical Janome TB12 Threadbanger Sewing Machine.  It is a twin to the Janome/New Home L-108 and the Janome Travel Mate 4612 (and probably others, this is a popular style that Janome re-releases periodically with new styling.)

It's here and it works beautifully.  It doesn't have many bells and whistles, but it does have a decent harp (that ruler is 4.5" square). And it is a happy little sewer.  Not fussy at all.

And really, that's all a quilter needs: a nice straight stitch + feed dogs that drop and a darning foot for free motion quilting (or a walking foot for straight line quilting.)

To anyone researching sewing machines, I recommend checking for reviews in the following places:
also, look for Yahoo! groups that are focused on particular models.

Since machines often have twins, keep your eye out for the names of the twin models and read those reviews, too.  If you are having a hard time finding the names for the twins, do a google search for something along the lines of "Janome TB12 same as."

As a final note, I would just like to say that I wish Janome was pronounced "jha-gnome" because "jha-know-me" is weird.

22 March 2010

Exhibit of Gee's Bend Quilts

On Saturday, a friend and I drove up to Flint to see the exhibit of Gee’s Bend quilts at their Institute of Art.  It was such a pleasure to see these quilts in person.  I have seen many images of quilts from Gee’s Bend, but never any close-ups.  These quilts are so different close up.

My friend had seen them in San Francisco several years ago had told me before about the exhibit...how some of the most compelling design elements turned out to be stains, puckers, and worn spots when viewed up close.

I loved the exhibit at the FIA.  I had a camera with me and was going to take a few pictures to share the experience, but when I asked if snapping pictures was okay, I was told no.

And so, I’ve decided to take a page from the book of Michael David Murphy and tell you about the photographs I didn’t take and the reactions you didn’t have to them.

1.    This is a picture I didn’t take of a quilt constructed largely of denim. I’ve zoomed in to a section that is about 1-foot by 2-feet.  You can see that the piece of denim on the right must have been cut from the front of a pair of jeans because there is a worn spot where a knee used to live.  On the left, the denim is from the rear of a pair of jeans; the pocket has been picked off and the denim that was hidden by the pocket is much darker.  It almost looks like itajime.   It makes you think about all the work that people do to modify fabric purposefully when every day we modify the fabric we wear just by sitting on it, getting it dirty and washing it.

2.    This a picture I didn’t take of a quilt constructed of corduroy.  I have knelt on the ground in front of the quilt and shot upwards at it so that you can see the deep pile of the cords. You can also see that the seams are uneven and don’t lay flat.  No, they don’t lay flat at all.  And yet, you would never unpick this and redo it.  “Why are you such a perfectionist?” you wonder. “Does it have something to do with the difference between creating quilts out of necessity and creating quilts that are dispensable?”

3.    This is a picture I didn’t take of a dark quilt.  I’ve zoomed in very closely and caught the light so that you can see how unappealing this shiny bit of poly-blend fabric is.  Unlike the other quilts, which you really want to touch, you have no desire to touch this.  You have no idea why I have taken this picture until you read in my comments that I took it because the fabric read so differently from a distance.  Lovely from afar, unappealing close up.

4.    This is a diptych I didn’t take of that mostly-denim quilt again.  The photograph on the top shows a piece of it that is about 1 foot by 1 foot.  There are so many seams in this potion of the quilt.  The quilter must have cut every usable piece of denim from a pair of pants including these itsy bitsy pieces that have to be joined to each other before they can be attached to the larger strips made from the legs.  The photograph on the bottom shows the whole quilt.  You quickly locate the portion featured in the close-up.  The seams are barely visible.   You nod in agreement as you read my caption saying there should be a book on Gee’s Bend that shows close-up and macro images.

20 March 2010

Five things making me happy right now

1. These placemats from Anthropologie.  Does anyone know how to make those wee pom-poms?

2. These YouTube videos in which a sewing machine mechanic explains all the pieces of sewing machines and also how to maintain your sewing machine.

3.  Friends who think it is fun to help you with your carpentry projects and show up with routers and expertise.

(Which quickly leads to...)
4. A sturdy new sewing table.

5. And I musn't forget the glories of spring! Hello spring, I'm so happy you are here!

17 March 2010

The Green Quilt

Happy St. Patrick's Day!  I love that almost everyone wears green on St. Patrick's Day.  I wish there were more days where everyone wore the same color. It's like we're all on the same team and the sport is happiness.

I finished the binding on the green quilt last night, threw it in the wash, then laid it out flat to dry overnight.  I decided that I needed to photograph it in front of this yellow bakery.  The bakery is in a busy part of town not far from my place. I called around to see if any of my friends were free and I *love* that I had more than one volunteer for my funny little mission.  This is outside in the middle of the day at a busy intersection.  People are awesome.

Some details on the quilt:
1. It is a riff on a quilt by Denyse Schmidt that can be seen here.
2. I think that block of patchwork on the right is too high.  It bugs me a little.
3. It's 50" x 56"
4. The green is Moda's Dill Green, the binding is Moda's Lime Green.
5. The back is red and magenta batiks.  I like it best when this quilt is tumbled up so you can see the front and the back together.

6. I didn't quilt this myself.  I had the long-armer do it.  I asked for vertical lines in lime green thread about 1cm apart with slight variations in the width. And that's what I got! : )

7. The patchwork bits contain some fabric that was clamped and dyed and some I stamped with a little bunny from The Small Object (love her stuff!)  The dyed blocks are not so sharped-edged because I used found objects to make the shapes (In most cases, some MDF scraps).  Have to say, unless I really wanted this look, I wouldn't use MDF again, it really soaked up the dye and got warped and smelled vaguely bloody.

8. The Green Quilt is a wedding present.  It began as a postcard, given on the day of the wedding.  The newlyweds got to make a few choices and then mail the postcard to me.  It's off to its new home tomorrow! Bon voyage, Greenie!

14 March 2010

I think I finally got this fabric pile right.

It just needed that shot of blue.  And, you know, for Joel Dewberry to release his new line (that's where the  bottom fabric came from).

Part of my design process is leaving stacks of fabric around the house.  I think a lot of quilters do this...leave fabrics combinations out, letting them be seen by the corner of one's eye at odd moments, because the corner of one's eye knows things the rest of it may not.  And odd moments, well, those are the best moments, aren't they?

I'm teaching two friends of mine to quilt and our first meeting was Saturday.  Mostly we talked about picking fabrics.  My piles came in very useful for illustrating how I find what works for me and how you have to look past the prettiness of any given print to see the role it will play in a quilt. I kept pulling my piles down, shuffling them around, pulling out important fabrics and then putting them back in.  I'm not sure how much my friends learned from it, but I had fun and they did make excellent choices when we went to the fabric store.

I've always tried to make my own fabric combinations rather than rely on fabric designers to do it for me.  To me it is just a way to dig down deeper into the design element of quilting.  Using fabrics that are all from the same line has always posed two problems: (1) I miss the fun of putting the colors and patterns together myself, and (2) the quilt ends up looking too commercial/corporate/mass produced for my taste.

However, sometimes, I'm sorely tempted make a quilt wholly or mostly from one fabric line. Anna Maria Horner's fabrics have been known to affect me thus.  And Cloud 9's upcoming line "Beyond the Sea" is also just so well combined and fresh and lovely that it begs to be a quilt on its own.

Holy gorgeousness, right? LOVE IT!

I've been swamped with work and migraine-addled, so not much quilting progress has been made other than late night shuffling around in the stash and adjusting of piles, but I am about to have this quilt finished...

It just needs its binding.

And I've cut into my Beyond the Sea fabrics (yep, yep, I talked my way into getting them before the official release...why?  I'll tell you later!)

I hope to find time for actual sewing soon.  If not, I can always get my daily quilting fix by making a few more piles!

11 March 2010

a little furniture shuffle

I had been keeping my eyes open for something that would help me organize the plexi I have in my shop.  The old system worked well when I had only 10 offerings, but since I keep adding shapes, I was getting a bit disorganized...not my natural state!

Then, Costco (my love for Costco is pretty endless) sent me an email that contained a picture of this:

And it was on sale.  And while a bit ugly, I knew it was the best, cheapest option that was going to present itself

The problem?  The corner of my apartment it would fit in was already occupied.
I decided to sleep on it.  The next morning I had a plan:
Buy the bin rack, put it in the corner of the office.
Take what had been in that corner and put the tall shelves in the kitchen, next to the fridge:
Take the shorter shelf, which is actually a Vika Furusund table leg from Ikea.  And, together with it's partner, which HAD BEEN next to the fridge...
 make a permanent sewing table for the living room (I haven't done that part yet).
Does anyone have one of those modular tables from Ikea?  Do they just have you screw the legs to the table top?   I ask because I think I'm going to buy a table top from Lowe's or Home Depot as they are a few bucks cheaper and 15 miles closer.

So far, I'm loving the furniture shuffle.

I can't wait to have a permanent sewing table.  I've got plans to make a scrap bin and a trash bin to fit in those Vika Furusund legs (where doggy snouts can't reach them!) 

First project: a cover for the technicolor bin rack!

09 March 2010

batik sweetness

They are done!

If you missed it, the first part of my batik adventure was documented here.

I wasn't worried about the dying part of the batik equation since I do that all the time (instructions here.)

but I was a bit unsure of how much of a pain getting the wax out of the fabric would be.  You see, the fabric comes out of the dyebath still crusty with wax.
The process to remove the wax involves boiling the fabric in a stockpot and then massaging it a bit in warm water  (for instructions you should check out Malka's book)

The book says how long to boil the fabric but not how long it might take to massage the wax out of the fabric. Hmm.  I was a bit trepidatious about this step anyway because my skin is wussy...really sensitive to heat.  Double hmm.

I boiled out the teal fabrics and the undyed tree shape first.  I discovered that the massaging process was comfortable and didn't take too long (10 minutes maybe?)  However, when I boiled out the mustard and rose fabrics the next day, it took a lot longer to massage the last bit of wax out.  This is probably because the teal fabrics total maybe 1/2 yard and the mustard + rose fabrics are about 1.5 yards.  Big difference.  And I think the the mustard + rose fabrics were more densely packed with wax, too.  I should probably stick to boiling out no more than a yard at a time.

Anyway, the results:
Those big round shapes were made with the drain cover seen in this picture:
I had been on the lookout for a potato masher in order to copy Malka's pattern (seen on Flickr).  However, I couldn't find a suitable one (metal, flat-bottomed.)  Then, wandering around the hardware store,  I saw that drain cover and it was metal and flat with an interesting pattern.  It has the disadvantage of lacking a handle, but the clamp held it really nicely (it has a few metal bits that stand up...ripe for grabbing). 

After everything had been through the washer, I took the fabrics to show my 2-year-old friend and he said "Pretty!" 

and then he gathered them up and ran around with them and said "Rossie?  Have it?"  Sorry, little dude, you cannot have them.  They are going into quilts!
They are really lovely and soft though.  I understand his desire to gather them up and high-tail it.

This is the first time I've used Pimatex (a high thread-count prepared-for-dye fabric).  Apparently the high thread count helps it hold and then evict the wax.  Added bonus:  it hardly frays!  I had to snip maybe three loose threads!

The mustard and rose fabrics have a quilt that they are destined for.  Since I knew the size of blocks I would need, I had taken a sharpie and marked out blocks onto one piece of fabric before adding the wax. 
So, some of these are little compositions rather than repeating patterns:
I made the polka dots with a screw.
And yes, next time I'm in the hardware store I'll be looking for more sizes of flat-headed screws. And drain covers.  : )  After all, I still have a frying pan full of wax to use!

06 March 2010

March of the Tools: PaperBack Swap

PaperBack Swap is an online service that hooks up people that are done with books with people that would like to read those books.  You begin by listing books, if someone would like one of your books they request it, you agree to send it, then post it to them (you pay the postage, usually $2.50ish).  In exchange, you get a "point" which enables you to request a book from another member (for free).

Because the system is based on using the USPS's media mail, you've got to be living in the U.S. or a territory/commonwealth or have an APO/FPO address to join.

There are a few online services that organize used book swaps, but PaperBack Swap is my favorite because
* you create a wishlist of books and are notified if someone adds a listing for that book. Unlike other services, you get dibs on the book if you've been wishing for the book for the longest!
*they have paperback, hardcover, and audiobook listings.
*books are all supposed to be mailed within two days...I like things to be speedy!
*you can buy the postage for sending the book through the website
*all of the books are "used," but everyone agrees to only send those that are up to a certain standard (have both covers, no water damage, no writing within)

Here are some of the books I recently received via PaperBack Swap:

You can see they are a bit banged up, but nothing major.

While I'm a big fan of the library, I rarely read novels quickly enough to avoid library fines.  My library doesn't allow you to renew a book if someone else has requested it and this always seems to happen to me!

If you are interested in this free service, go to the main page to sign up or here to read more (they even have an explanatory video).  If you want to list me as a referrer, my account is under the email address rossiebug@yahoo.com. I think I get some points if enough people are referred by me, which would be awesome because the last few times someone has added a book I was wishing for, I had no points to "spend" to get it!  : (  Oh well, I do have some lovely novels just waiting for me to read them!

This Amazon widget shows some of my recent favorites.  This is the easiest way to display these since PaperBack Swap doesn't have widgets, but you can wish for them on the swap website!

04 March 2010


Yep, I finally got down to doing it.
I had Tuesday night to myself, so I set most of it up then:
1. Covered the kitchen table in craft paper and then cardboard.
2. Unwrapped the waxes:
3. Took my scoured pimatex, ironed it, and cut it into 14x22 and 14x44" pieces.
4. Pulled  some pages out of my sketchbook for inspiration:
5. Set out Color Your Cloth: A Quilter's Guide to Dyeing and Patterning Fabric and double-checked that I had all the relevant supplies.
On Wednesday, when my my friends were coming over to batik with me, I only had a little bit of prep left:
6.  Setting up the stamp-making station with all the materials I've been collecting:
A friend of mine who works in produce distribution was supposed to bring me full sized potatoes and carrots, plus bell peppers and anything else he thought looked interesting.  But produce-man forgot about my request (boys!) so we had to make do with the fingerling potatoes and baby carrots I had on hand.  This ended up working out just fine because I raided my grilling supplies and pulled out the corn-handles (the things that keep you from burning your hands when eating corn on the cob), so we were able to keep our fingers out of the wax.

7.  I set out some tubs and marked each of them with a swatch of fabric so that we could sort the waxed fabric according to the color we wanted to dye it (I'll be doing this over the next few weeks). Choices were gray, mustard, rose and turquoise.
8.  Ready, steady, go!


Even Buzz got in on the act!
Everyone found it pretty easy to work with the potato and carrot stamps.  I think I'm the only one that monkeyed around with pop-can tabs, screws, and other found objects...they all worked pretty well.  (I'll get some pictures after I dye those pieces).

A couple of things we all started doing: making a couple of each potato stamp so that we could leave one in the wax pan while stamping with the other and then switching them (this saves you the time of waiting for stamp to heat back up, since it reheats while you use the other one).

One thing that we had trouble with was using brushes.  You see that tree on the left and how the wax isn't really "in" the fabric, but sometimes just "on" it? We couldn't figure out how to get more consistent penetration of the wax when using the brushes.  The book wasn't helpful on this point.  But maybe I'm wrong in thinking this is going to be a problem when it comes time to dye?  Any thoughts?
All in all, the evening of batik was great fun.  I have a new appreciation for how time consuming it is!  This 14x22" piece of mingle-ish loops took over an hour to wax!  Uff da!
I needed a tea break after that one!