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Monday, January 31, 2011

A birdie and a teeny birdie

I finished the second bird from Fa La La La Felt yesterday:
It took so long because I did more embroidery for the wing than the pattern called for. I was going for a paisley look, but it turned into a spiral, and then I got tired of stitching. I attached it per instructions to the clothespin, but it is a bit wobbly so I may have to fix that. My flock of birds is complete, for now.

After making all those birds, it seemed fitting that the next square on my 36 Squares should be a tiny little bird:
I used a small scrap of yellow calico that came long ago from my mother's stash, and tacked it in place with small stitches. Detached chain stitches for the tail and wing, a french knot for the eye, and straight stitches for the beak, and the bird was done.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Hearts and Yo-Yos

While going through magazine patterns looking for the Hawai'ian applique, I realized I have quite a few heart patterns. I thought it might be nice to piece a bunch of these together to form a sampler. So they'd all fit together well, the squares (or rectangles) will have sides whose lengths are multiples of three.

One pattern had an elongated heart made from yo-yos. I made 14 1 inch yo-yos and sewed them onto a rectangle 3.5 by 6.5 (unfinished):
I love yo-yos. They are fun to make, versatile, and retro. To make a yo-yo, you could buy a two-piece plastic yo-yo maker that will tell you where to cut and where to sew, but why add more plastic to the planet? (I will confess I have the plastic doodads to make flower-shaped and heart-shaped yo-yos, because those are tricky to do freehand.)

You could break out your compass from Geometry class and draw perfect circles onto your fabric, or even make perfect templates in every size you might want, but that's a lot of perfection for yo-yo making, which is not an exact art.

You could do what people did decades ago, which was to grab cups and saucers and cans and use those as your templates.

But what if you are as lazy as I am, and don't want to go get up off the sofa? My "technique" is adapted from Alton Brown's tip for cutting a parchment paper circle to line a round cake pan. Cut a square with sides that are roughly double (a little bit more if you are hemming the yo-yo) the diameter of the yo-yo you want (no need to use a rotary cutter and ruler for this -- freehand it):
Fold the square in half, and then in half again:
Fold it along the diagonal to make a triangle:
Fold it in half again (and again if you can manage it), forming a wedge shape and keeping the center point in your fingertips:
Now with scissors trim the top of the wedge to even up the outer edges:
This will be the circumference of the circle; if the circle is small (as is mine, with a 2 inch diameter), trimming in a straight line will be good enough. For much larger yo-yos, you may want to trim the top in a gentle arc, mimicking the arc of a circle, or your final shape will be more like a hexadecagon.

Unfold, and you have a rough circle, ready to sew:
Now just sew it as you normally would to make the yo-yo. If you've never done so, it is quite easy. Fold in the edge (or don't, I often make yo-yos with raw edges) and begin a running stitch around the circumference:
Once you get back to the starting point, gently pull the thread on either end to gather the circle up:
Pull tight to close the center, and knot and trim the threads. Pull on the gathers a bit with your fingers to shape the yo-yo if necessary. You're done!

Monday, January 24, 2011

2 Squares in a week?

I'm on a roll!
January can be a dreary month, especially when you get hit by snowstorm after snowstorm after snowstorm, so I always like to have something pretty and light and colorful in the house. That's why I made the birdies, and that's why I made this. I took a few inches of pink lace and gathered it into a circle, and placed a scrapbooking doohickey with sequins and beads in the middle. Simple and shimmery like the snow. Well, not the dirty snow on the curb.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Aloha Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini

I have a minor little obsession with fiction that has a "craft" theme of some kind, so of course I have read Jennifer Chiaverini's Elm Creek books, which center around a fictional quilt camp in Pennsylvania. The books are decently written and well-researched, although to be honest it's the kind of fiction I generally would not be too interested in if it were not for the quilting connection. While most of the books are set in the present, Chiaverini has written several taking place before, during, and after the Civil War. And while good for her for her depiction of slavery and racism and the abolitionist movement, I generally don't enjoy reading those books, because it is too depressing.*

So I was excited that the most recent one, The Aloha Quilt, was set in modern times. Unfortunately, it centers around Bonnie, a character I never found that interesting and who is pretty insufferable here. She goes to Hawai'i for several months to help a friend set up an inn and quilt camp, but also to get away from her awful, soon-to-be-ex-husband. And that was a major flaw in this book -- in the first book Craig appeared, he was a decent, if flawed, man who was deeply contrite over his almost-affair. In the next book, he was a conniving jerk who tried to hide assets in preparation for a divorce. In this book, he is an irrational, controlling, violent lunatic, who apparently never once behaved like a decent man (and so what does that say about Bonnie, that she chose to marry him anyway?). People do occasionally point out he is not a bad guy, but that is hardly credible given how cartoonishly evil Chiaverini has him behaving. I know that in real life some people do behave this way during a divorce, and that the adversarial legal system brings out the worst in divorcing parties (a rant for another day), but that does not make for interesting reading. Especially when Bonnie is such a whiny doormat about it.

Moreover, she is ridiculously judgmental of her friends. When Craig threatens to claim half of Bonnie's ownership in the quilt camp and her friends act quickly to help her sell her share to another member, so that the camp cannot be touched by him and she can continue to work there, Bonnie instead complains about how betrayed she was because her friends did not allow Craig to destroy the camp in a show of loyalty to her. Really. And when another friend admits to a long-ago infidelity, Bonnie completely overreacts, supposedly because it reminds her of Craig's actions (except he never actually cheated on her until long after their separation and her refusal to have anything to do with him again). In short, Bonnie was kind of a pill.

On the other hand, I learned quite a bit about Hawai'i (I so want to go) and Hawai'ian quilting, and it inspired me to try some Hawai'ian appliqué myself. I have a breadfruit pattern from a magazine, but I decided to try my hand at designing my own, a Hibiscus pattern (common in Hawai'i, but also in Puerto Rico; my mom had some in her garden). I folded a 15 inch square piece of freezer paper into eighths (as if I were cutting a snowflake) and drew a design of half a flower and half a leaf:
I then cut it out, but apparently not carefully -- I guess the folds were not precise enough, because one portion ended up too thin. I'm not sure how I want to proceed; the traditional method says to cut out the drawn eighth and pin it it to fabric folded and ironed in eighths and cut around the shape to create the applique. However, I'm afraid I'll make the same mistake, and the inner folds will be cut too narrowly, especially because my pattern is quite a bit smaller than traditional (no way am I attempting a bed quilt). The alternative is to iron the whole paper pattern onto fabric (brightly colored batiks, by the way), which would work because it is freezer paper and it would allow me to correct mistakes and be more careful cutting, but it would also take a tediously long time to cut it out, and I am not a patient person. I have to think about this.

*I had the same problem with Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, an excellent book that had me cringing throughout the first half, because yes I get it many early comic book writers were Jewish and of course a story like Superman kicking Hilter's ass is the ultimate wish-fulfillment and yet the worst supervillain could never compete with real, actual evil in the world, et cetera et cetera et cetera, but stories involving the Holocaust NEVER END WELL, and I don't want to read fiction that makes me want to curl up in a corner and cry, no matter how good it is.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Solitudes by John Crowley

The Solitudes, part one of Crowley's Aegypt cycle, comes highly recommended. I learned about it from Dirda's book chat, where he declared the books some of the best ever. It is highly praised by any number of well-regarded book critics. It is about Pierce Moffett, a historian specializing in arcane knowledge, who develops the notion that there are other versions of the world that have existed and will exist, that switch in and out leaving only the barest traces of their existence -- "There is more than one history of the world." Moreover, there are all sorts of metaphysical layers; Moffett is inspired to write a book about his notion, a book which appears to already have been written by a local author, but which might also be the Aegypt cycle itself by Crowley. This is exactly the kind of book that I love.

So why couldn't I get into it? I can see why it has been praised by so many, I can see the interesting ideas Crowley is developing. But the book just didn't engage me at all. I dutifully read it every time I was on a train or subway, but never felt the need to pull it out and read just one more page. I don't even know what to write about it now, because it was not a bad book by any means, or even a boring book.

I'm not in a rush to read the other three in the cycle (there are other books I am dying to pick up), but I think I should at least give the second one a shot, sooner rather than later.

Monday, January 17, 2011

My Poor Neglected 36 Squares

All throughout December I thought about, and even planned, squares to stitch, yet I never quite managed to pick up the fabric. Today I finally did, and created a square to commemorate the last month and a half:
Advent candles for the month I spent making things that had to be finished.

A stocking for Christmas, like the beaded one I made.

A Champagne glass for New Year's Eve. We spent this one as we have many in the past, taking care of a sick Beadboy1 and splitting a bottle of Champagne after the kids are asleep.

A crown for Three Kings' Day, which passed completely unnoticed in the house as we battled the Great Cold Virus of 2011.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

A Flock of Birdies

Now that we seem to have recovered from the plague that befell our house, I have the energy to write about my current project.

I think last season was the season of the bird -- every publication, it seemed, had at least one bird ornament to make. Because of my aforementioned craft obligations I was not able to make any, but now that Christmas is over I'm ready for some pretty little birds to get me through dreary January and February. Besides, birds are appropriate year-round.

I already had a few birdies in my collection:
The one on the upper left is felt, and was a gift last year from my Aunt. The bottom, patchwork bird was made by my mom when I was a little girl; there is a matching heart, too. The one on the upper right I made, also from felt. It's funny, the memories that get attached to things. I bought the pattern in November 2005; I remember, because it was right after my father died. My brother and I were staying with my mom, and after we had taken care of the business of the funeral and other matters, we needed to get out of the house. I had heard of a quilt store an hour away, and we thought a little drive would do us good. But it was a grey, miserable day, and we could not shake the sadness of why we were there in the first place.

The first new addition:
This pattern was in the 2010 Better Homes and Garden's Christmas mag (I forget the exact title). The pattern called for needlefelting the wing onto the body, using a bit of felted striped sweater, and then using the back of the needlefelting for the outside of the ornament to give a fuzzier, softer look to the wing. It seemed like a great idea, and I had a brightly-colored fair isle sweater I never wore, so I felted the sweater and cut it up. Unfortunately, the reason why I never wore it (too thick and bulky) meant disaster when I tried needlefelting -- literally within seconds I broke all five needles on my needlefelting tool. Refusing to give up I tried felting it with just one needle, but that needle bent almost immediately. Defeated, I appliqued the stupid wing on and left it like that.

Felt and Calico birdies:
I've seen birds all over made from scraps of felt and calico, and I love love love the look. But then, I have a great fondness for old-fashioned calicoes, and I can't wait for them to come back in style. These birds were particularly inspired by ornaments I saw a long time ago in a catalog. I cut the bodies out of fabric and sandwiched in the felt tails and beaks. Rather than leave a gap in the sewing to turn them, I sewed all the way around, then cut a slit in the fabric about where the wing would be to turn them right-side-out. I then stuffed the birdies and appliqued felt wings on, covering the hole. I need to remember to stuff in more filling than I think -- these sorts of things look better firmly stuffed.

Paper cloth birdies (color is off; should have waited for daylight):
Simple -- I cut bird shapes out of the paper cloth, and used scraps for the beaks and wings. I sewed the wings on each side and then sewed the two bird sides together, attaching the beaks at the same time. At the last minute I stuck in a loop of thread for a hanger.

Golden partridge:
This is from Fa La La La Felt, a wicked awesome book I picked up in the fall with dozens and dozens of easy felt ornaments and decorations. I want to make every item in that book, and this is a start. The idea of attaching a clothespin to clip the bird onto a tree branch is nifty, and from another felt bird from this book I'm working on. Still have to finish the embroidery, but I have a good-sized flock now.

Monday, January 3, 2011

A Little Crafting for Me

Because I am overly-ambitious when it comes to crafts, I find myself during the Advent season scurrying to finish sewing, stitching, baking, beading for other people, trying to meet a Christmas Eve deadline. If I make a batch of ornaments, I usually end up keeping one for myself, but I rarely have time to complete the crafts I wanted to make just for me. But once Christmas day and my obligations have passed, I have until Three Kings' Day to make up whatever I want.

Last Tuesday, the cookies were baked (and being eaten), the goose and pernil were cooked (and being eaten), the presents were made and wrapped and unwrapped, the driveway and sidewalk were shoveled (so much snow, oh my God so much snow), and my mother and brother were safely in the house after a harrowing drive through the blizzard's aftermath. I spent the day at a loss on what to do -- I wanted to do something crafty, but what? I could work on this:
but as much as I love the design, sewing through copper mesh is both slow-going and painful. Besides, I wanted to bead. Looking through some bead magazines in a half-assed attempt to pick up, I found this Bead & Button pattern for a beaded stocking, free for subscribers. Perfect!

I made the little stocking as directed (making a few tiny color changes):
but it was lacking something. Then I noticed the instructions had a "tip" for adding fringe to the top of the stocking, making the white band "fuzzy" like fur:
Just the touch that was needed. I now have a cute little stocking to add to my collection (which I forgot to put up this year).

Saturday, January 1, 2011


Now that I've given them, I can write about them.

For Beadmom, a dishtowel with an embroidered woman who has her priorities straight:
The design was originally a cross stitch pattern from the Dolly Mamas line:
It was a largish design, however, and I find cross stitch to be a little tedious, plus I had previously cross-stitched another design from the series for my mom, so I did it in embroidery instead. Conversion was easy -- I just traced the outlines of the cross stitch pattern onto white cotton and started sewing, using whatever stitch struck my fancy. Her hair is made from layers of detached chain stitch; I had a close-up of it, but did not realize until now it was too blurry. And, of course, the towel is no longer in my possession.

Once the embroidery was done, I cleaned and pressed it and sewed it to a dish towel. I added a border of grosgrain ribbon and purple lace to gussy it up, with the intention that the towel be more for display than for cleaning. (I'm not crazy about the ribbon, but I did not have time to go to the fabulous trim stores in the city, and so I had to make do with what I could get from Jo-Ann's.) (The lace I already had.) (Ignore the fact that I forgot to miter the last corner.)

For Fr. Beadbrother, who likes all things space- and alien-related, an Arecibo bookmark:
I got the pattern here. Once cross-stitched, I sewed it onto blue felt (literally as Beadmom and Fr. Beadbrother were pulling into my driveway). I also gave my brother one of Olisa's awesome green alien ornaments.

Finally, (this is not really a gift) I sewed a little baby Jesus for the 24th pocket of the Advent Calendar, to be hung on a button at the center of the Calendar:
Sometime in the coming months I will back the Calendar to make it sturdier. Plus I have to repair a few pockets, courtesy of an over-zealous search for candy inside by Beadboy1.