Friday, October 22, 2010

Haeli's Quilt, continued...

The quilting progresses.

It's going much faster now that I have a quilting hoop/stand combo. Quilting while holding a large round hoop is neither ergonomic nor efficient. The stand has an oval hoop, which allows better access to most of what is contained therein, unlike the round hoop. With the stand, I am able to use both hands for the quilting, one above and one below the work. I'm strongly right-handed, so it goes a bit faster with my right hand below (it "knows" where it is, better than the left hand seems to). But I'm getting better at using my left hand below the work. It's probably good for my brain, as well. And using both hands, even with the "slower" left hand below, is still faster than moving one hand above and below for each stitch. I haven't yet worked out how to do the quilting stitch without taking the needle all the way through the layers - I'm still at the "stab" stitching stage (say that three times, fast). But it's working, even though it doesn't show up very well in the photos.

I'd estimate one-fourth to one-third of the quilting is complete at this point. Haeli's birthday was yesterday, so I hope she will understand when she receives her quilt well after the day.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Haeli's Quilt

I'm making quilts for my grandchildren's birthdays this year, starting with Haeli's (October).

I've always been fond of the sunbonnet baby motif, so when I found a set of stamped blocks from Jack Dempsey, packaged as a baby quilt, I ordered it (from Herrschners, as I recall -- this was several years ago). I never did get around to making that baby quilt, but I figured I could always embiggen it with sashing.

I took a month off work this summer, and just stayed home. Embroidering the Sunbonnet blocks was one of the first things I finished on my "sabbatical".

I planned the general layout of the blocks and sashing on graph paper and decided to use 9-patch and 3-strip blocks for sashing around the embroidered blocks.

Haeli likes purple & pink. I had all of these fabrics in my fabric stash*. Some were fairly recent acquisitions; others have been aging a while, but none of them was bought expressly for this project.

*Yes, I collect fabric, too.

I wanted a really scrappy, random look, and tried not to combine the same two fabrics in more than one or two blocks.

Likewise, when I laid out the blocks to assemble
the top, my only rule was not to have the same fabric in any two adjacent blocks.

I scattered the blocks with the darkest fabrics around a bit, but didn't worry about value any more than that.

I cut the blocks and strips using a rotary cutter over the course of a few days.

I started off very slowly piecing the 9 patch blocks. After the first few, I was able to chain-piece the rest of them. Piecing the 3 strip blocks was even easier.

It took only a day to piece the blocks, and another day to assemble the quilt top. It went together beautifully, although I did have to rip out and redo a couple of seams -- for example, when I sewed the center block of the strip to the 9-patch block on the edge, rather than the one in the middle; or when I sewed an entire strip on upside-down (d'oh!). But the corners matched up pretty well for the most part, and the overall effect is just what I hoped for. 

The quilt is backed with a pink flat flannel sheet; the batting is Warm & White (cotton). I'm handquilting corner-to-corner on the 9-patch blocks, and in the ditch on the 3-strip blocks and the embroidered blocks. I may also outline quilt around the "babies"-- I'll see how the embroidered blocks look once the pieced areas are quilted, and then decide.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Blackwork Embroidery

Much of the embroidery I do is on household textiles. I love blackwork embroidery, which doesn't actually have to be done in black thread, and had a lot of fun designing and stitching this little table mat. 

I picked up leaves on the way to and from the kids' 
school, and selected several, in different sizes and 
shapes, for my outlines. 

I planned the layout of the leaves for one-half of        
the mat pattern, traced them onto paper with an 
iron-on-transfer pencil, and then ironed the outlines onto a 12"x18" piece of 18-count Aida cloth. 
I chose floss in suitable colors, then worked a different filling pattern in each leaf. I really enjoyed trawling through my blackwork resources to select the filling pattern for each leaf. 
In most of the leaves, I worked more densely on one side of the central vein; in others, I increased the density of the filling stitch from the center outward or from tip to stem. 

The edges of the cloth were worked in Nun's Stitch a few threads from the edge, then fringed.

This piece was probably worked fifteen years ago. It's been laundered many times, along with the family wash -- no special treatment. I think it's held up very well. 

Thursday, October 7, 2010

It's Fall, Y'all

Cross-stitched door bows were quite the thing some few years ago -- early-to-mid-1990s, I'd guess.

This is counted cross-stitch, from a Dimensions kit purchased when I worked at the local craft/garden store*. Every autumn, it comes out to adorn my front door for a month or so.

The edges and ends of the fabric band were prefinished, so once the stitching was done, you only had to fold the band into the bow shape (it's not actually tied), secure the center "knot" with a few stitches, and attach some sort of hanging loop.

Dimensions -- and other companies -- made a lot of these kits, with varying designs, some seasonal and some not (kitties, bunnies, "Welcome", etc.). You'd also see patterns for them in stitchery magazines. Most of them were way too cute or foofy for my taste.

I remember seeing patterns for these in German handwork magazines, too, so they were not exclusively a US phenomenon. It must have just been in the air.

*A lot of supplies came home with me when I worked there, as you might expect. The discount wasn't even that great, but when you straighten, dust, price, and put out new stock, you see an awful lot of things that give you an awful lot of ideas. I still have lots of supplies, charts, etc. with yellow clearance tags; they were the hardest to resist. I'm pretty sure I made more money working there than I spent, at least most of the time. Working there also started me spinning my own yarn, but that's another story, for another time.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


I discovered Sashiko embroidery more than 15 years ago. I bought and read a couple of books on the subject, which described methods for marking the designs on fabric, as well as the stitching technique, but I was never quite ready to actually try it. Over the years, I encountered an article or two on the subject, which I read with interest, but didn't pursue further.
When Needleworks Inc. opened their Danville store at Threads of Time in March 2010, I was delighted to discover that Threads of Time carried a line of stamped Sashiko pieces from Olympus, as well as the Olympus threads, needles, and thimbles. 

I immediately purchased some of the pillow pieces, and worked the first one in the traditional white embroidery on indigo fabric, stitching through both layers of fabric. The six-pointed star/hexagon pattern is the "hemp leaf" motif. I'm not sure what the flowers are - but I don't think they're "sakura" (cherry blossom). I'll eventually make this into a pillow. 

 public side of work

back side of work 

You can see in the second photo that I used knots, and wove in ends. There are methods of starting and ending threads (especially if stitching through two layers) which result in completely reversible work -- desirable if you are making a table runner, curtain, or some other item which might be viewed from both sides. For a pillow, I figured it didn't matter so much. 

Next I'll stitch these dragonflies, also in white on indigo; you can see the stitching lines, but I'm afraid the label washed out from the flash. It doesn't have instructions on it, though, just an image of the design and the Olympus item number (240, if you're interested). 

dragonflies pillow fabric

I have several pieces of blue & white yukata fabrics a dear friend sent from Japan, which I'll use as the backing, and perhaps to frame the embroidery. The finished pillows come out about 12.5-13", so some embiggening would not be amiss. 

Japanese yukata (summer kimono) fabrics

When next I returned to the Danville shop, I purchased some more fabric pieces and several more colors of thread. I put an inventory of my Sashiko threads on my iPod, so I don't duplicate colors. I don't think I necessarily want to own all the colors available, but that's usually how it works out for me. 

This summer I stitched a pair of Sashiko pillows for my daughter & son-in-law's new home. You may recognize the patterns. The color is "off" in each of these photos, in oddly inconsistent ways (both fabrics are actually the same color, and I used the same threads for both), but the right-hand pillow in the first photo is probably the closest, albeit a tad darker than reality. 

For these pillows, I stitched through a single layer of fabric, so that I could use the other layer as the back of the pillow. I believe (from the markings on the fabric, which are in Japanese) that this was the intended method. I prefer the stitch-through-two-layers method, however: I like the look, and "heft" of the result, and it's the way Sashiko embroidery was done traditionally.

I have a few more printed pieces to work up, some in dark blue and some in other colors. When I've completed those, I expect to start working my own designs on blank fabric. I'm glad I finally got around to trying it!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Stuffed Butternut Squash Moroccan Style

I was given a nice little butternut squash from a friend's garden - probably about 7" tall.

(not my actual squash - photo is from the Wikipedia link above)

I love squash, but butternut is not my favorite variety*, so it sat on my kitchen counter for a couple of weeks. 

Then I saw some ground lamb at the grocery store. Aha! Stuffed squash! 

I really love the complexity of flavors of Moroccan food - the way the sweet and savory spices play off one another - so I decided to do something vaguely North African with the seasonings. 

I don't cook from recipes very often; I look at them for inspiration, so this will not be a recipe per se, but more like a general guideline (sort of like the Pirates' Code) for making a similar dish. 

Split the squash lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Pour about an inch of water in the bottom of a baking dish and place the squash halves in the dish, cut side down. Bake at 350 until tender (baking time will depend on how old - and how big - your squash is). 

While the squash bakes, drizzle some olive oil into a skillet and brown 3/4-1 lb of ground lamb with a chopped onion and minced garlic. Season with salt, pepper, cinnamon, cloves, and allspice, and a dash of red pepper flakes. Other than the last item, I have no idea how much of each seasoning I used. I cook by instinct, remember? When the onion is transparent, remove pan from heat and set aside. Cover it so the cat doesn't jump up on the counter and get into it. Or just shut him in the basement for the duration.

Remove the cooked squash halves from the baking dish and pour off the water. I cut the stem end from each half and diced & scooped out the flesh from those stem ends. That left me with two "bowls" and a nice pile of diced squash. 

I filled the "bowl" end of each squash half with about 1/4 of the meat mixture, and placed them in opposite corners of the baking dish. I then combined the diced squash from the stem ends with the remaining meat mixture and spooned the resulting mixture into the other corners of the dish. I poured a 5-ounce can of Low Sodium V8 juice over the works, and popped it back in the oven for probably 10-15 minutes. I may have put a piece of foil over the dish to keep everything from drying out. It wouldn't be a bad idea to do so...

It was delicious. The squash was moist and tender due to baking in the water bath. The stuffing had a wonderful blend of flavors due to the Moroccan-influenced spices. 

This served three adults nicely.

I toyed with adding some golden raisins to the meat mixture, and I think I will do just that next time. Pine nuts would be good, too. 


*Butternut squash stuffed ravioli are awesome. I don't make ravioli from scratch - too much work. Biaggi's restaurant makes a wonderful butternut squash ravioli, however, and Lean Cuisine now sells a "spa meal" butternut squash ravioli frozen dinner that's quite tasty.