Friday, October 30, 2009

Or take away his barbeque sauce

I was just showing my husband the stippling I've completed on my daughter's quilt (1/4 of the way done!) and he was marveling at all the work I had done, or so I thought. He finally sat back and said, "Shit, if you just put all that energy into something like programming, you'd be making a mint right now."

Should I smack him upside the head or just withhold sex indefinitely?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Free motion flower

Remember this quilt?

From The Bitchy Stitcher

One of the reasons I've been pursuing machine quilting is that I really wanted to quilt the insides of the solid squares with a flower that echoed the flower motif in the black and white fabric. Today I got out a scrap piece of that fabric and first traced one of the flowers, then drew one freehand.

I suppose it would have been smart to keep drawing it over and over until I wanted to stab myself in the head, because that usually seems to be the smart thing to do, but I went ahead and tried it out on one of my practice quilts sandwiches.

Not bad for a first attempt, huh? I can't believe I'm saying that - I usually think that everything I do is so ugly it needs to be quarantined, but I'm actually quite happy with this. Obviously, it needs some work, but if I put that on my quilt, I wouldn't feel bad about it at all.

Now that's an odd feeling.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Stippling strikes again

Hey, y'all. Since our last Bitch Session (patent pending), I caught what I believe to be the Swine Cold and spent several days languishing on the sofa feeling sorry for myself. Once the Porcine Malaise had passed, I decided to finally bind the dreaded Ikea quilt. Remember how much I used to hate binding quilts? Now I love it, and find myself itching to get back to it when I have to stop. I wonder if that will ever happen with pin basting?

Also, while I was in the throes of the Porky Punk, my new Arrow 601 sewing table arrived. Yep, that is the absolute cheapest model of sewing table available. My machine just fits inside the opening, with a little coaxing, and now gives me something approximating a flat surface for my mad experiments in machine quilting.

Last night I happened to check in with my Virtual Quilting Mentor, and found that she has been musing on my remarks about stippling from this post. I was wondering about the pattern that seems to emerge in pictures of stippling that I've seen, and saying that without knowing ahead of time what you are supposed to be creating, just diving in and trying to sew some squiggles and see what happens seems daunting. Leah decided to create some meandering designs with a motif in mind, so that you have something to think about as you stitch. Two that she came up with were "Little Hands and Fingers" and "Alien Fingers."

I decided to give this approach a shot today, with some interesting results. Here is my attempt at making a hand:

Which quickly devolved as I went along:

After that, I just went back to trying to meander with style (which is what I've decided stippling actually is). And, I started doing a LOT better than any of my previous attempts:

Leah was also wondering why everyone wants to start with stippling, and I think it is because there is something appealing about a stitch that is seemingly random. Since we don't have to make regular shapes, it seems that we have more freedom to fuck up and still be pleased with what we've done. It was pretty sad when I couldn't seem to make more than one hand, but after several attempts, I had a better feel for how to move the quilt to make the kinds of curves I've been wanting.

So, the best advice I can give, if you've been wanting to try stippling and haven't been brave enough or if you tried it and gave up: make yourself a big stack of 10x10 or 12x12 quilt sandwiches out of some scraps, and just experiment. Give yourself permission to screw up. But do it over and over and over and over until you figure out what works for you.

And if you do try it, send me a picture. I promise not to laugh or throw fruit.

Monday, October 19, 2009

I TOLD you all to talk me out of it.

First, doesn't it look pretty on the table?

I certainly needed something bright and cheery, since it RAINED FOR 5 DAYS. Seriously, there is not enough Prozac in the world to combat that, especially when the smallest member of your household asks you every five minutes to take her to the playground. Sorry, honey. We have to stay inside all day because GOD HATES US ALL.

So, it was clearly a fit of weather-induced depression that I decided to make good on my threat to try to make a Lone Star out of a Moda jelly roll.

Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

I honestly thought that, having worked with diamonds before, that the strip piecing method would actually be easier. I also thought that I had somehow figured out how to arrange the strips in some magic moment of clarity that didn't involve actually reading anything or even, apparently, looking at a picture of one of these quilts. Once I realized that I was TOTALLY wrong, I decided to forge ahead, since I had already sewn 3 strip sets together.

I was pretty confident that I was cutting on a good 45-degree angle, and I was careful to recalibrate every few cuts. But then came sewing the cut strip sets together.

Obviously there were several false starts as I realized that you can't match up the seams at the edge and still have them line up at the seam line itself. I managed to figure that out, but nothing lined up properly at all, as though everything had been cut and sewn inaccurately. WHICH IT HAD NOT.

Consequently, my diamond was sort of...curvy.

It was supposed to be 5 rows, but after I realized I was making something from another dimension, I said screw it and scrapped the project. I mean, I do have a certain stock in trade with bad sewing, but even I have limits.

Next: pinwheels!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Or, a rough approximation of it. The pictures kinda suck, as my subterranean lair has no natural light.

Now, about an hour into this project this afternoon, I get a comment on my last post from my virtual machine quilting mentor, who said, "The aim is just not to cross your lines." And I thought, "TOO LATE, EGON SPENGLER!"

I crossed the streams; I looped; I made points instead of humps. I did everything wrong and and it was really hard, and it took up a whole spool of thread, almost. The back looks like shit up close, since there are several places where the thread looks strained, as though just the motion of pulling the quilt around was messing with the thread tension. At one point, the needle just plopped right out of the machine as I was sewing!

And I loved every minute of it. It was actually kind of exhilarating, especially as I realized that, as badly as I was doing, it was still okay. I get that baby bound and on the table and it will do just fine. A whole quilt done like that certainly won't win any awards, but my girls will love it anyway.

And if learning quilting has taught me anything, it is that no matter how much I suck now, if I keep at it I am bound to get better. How fun is it to know that not only do you have a ton left to learn, but that it is all perfectly accessible, given time and practice? You'd think I'd have made it to 40 having learned that already.

I did have fun, O Virtual Machine Quilting Mentor. I really did!

All apologies

My quest to stipple a quilt continues, and I thank you all for your assistance along the way as I pick your collective brains for advice. However, I need to publicly apologize because in my feeble attempt to praise and publicize the amazing Leah Day, I mentioned that I thought her filler designs for quilting were for more arty quilts.

WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. Leah pointed out that in order to use them for "regular" (for lack of a better word) they just need to be made larger and looser. Mea maxima culpa, Leah.

ANYWAY. All I am trying to figure out is some goddamn stippling. The thing about stippling is that there seems to be a rhythm to it, a pattern within the randomness. There must be a way to know when to curve back, how far to go, when to run off the edge and start again in a new spot. Fuck if I know, man. I'm told that after doing it for an entire quilt, that I will get it by the end. Somehow, I doubt that.

But to distract myself, I started thinking about borders and how it would be neat to have a separate border design, and I began rooting around in a box of stencils that my mom gave me when, in a moment of insanity, I mentioned that I might be interested in learning to hand quilt. And looky what I found in there:

Stippling stencils!!! Naturally, I tried to make use of them, but all I have are some chalk pencils, and that is WAY too boring, trying to fill in those little holes with a piece of chalk that is just a bit too big for the purpose. So I went back to just flailing blindly, like I always do. It works for me.

I have decided to go with a soft lavender, same color front and back, and to just say "fuckit" to the bobbin tension. At the same time that I made the quilt, I made a table runner out of the same material, so I pin basted it this morning and, after a hearty lunch, I plan to attack it with thread and turn it into something unholy and thoroughly offensive. Pictures soon!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Next question!

I have decided to go with either a pale green or a soft lavender for the quilting on my purple/yellow flowery quilt, but I am NOT keen on having my stitches show since I suck, so I'd like to do a dark purple on the back, to match the backing. I'll use the same color to do to the borders, which will (I hope) have some sort of pattern and will not just be stippling like the rest of the quilt.

But I'm having a problem, and perhaps you have some insight into this as well?

No matter what I do, the top thread shows through the bottom of the quilt. Now, the manual says that this is because of the thread tension, but changing the thread tension doesn't help or creates the opposite problem. There appears to be no balance. So I did some reading and concluded that perhaps it is the tension of the bobbin thread, which I am told is adjusted using a small screw on the side of the bobbin case. Now, I can barely get that screw to move at all, and what little I did move it made no discernible difference. I changed to a finer needle, and that seemed to help a wee bit, but the problem remains.

What do you do to achieve thread parity on your sewing machine? Please note that I am not into voodoo or any other kind of spooky ritual and will not sacrifice a goat, but I am willing to consider explosives and the judicious use of baseball bats.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

On to better things

Last month I received two "fan emails" from readers who had seen my article in QH and then came to read my blog. The second email was from Leah Day, and at the time, that meant nothing to me other than a pretty name. She mentioned that she had an email newsletter and would be linking to me in the next one, and, of course mentioned her own blog, which I dutifully checked out.

Ho. Ly. Shit.

Stop everything that you are doing and please go to Leah's insanely fantastic blog, 365 Days of Free Motion Quilting Filler Designs.

Now, I have just quilted my first quilt, not in free motion, just in the ditch with a walking foot, but I have been practicing my free motion anti-skills on some blocks that didn;t make it into the final quilt:

(If your eyes are bleeding or you feel like vomiting, go look at this for a while and you'll feel better.)

Obviously, I have a lot of work to do, just to get stippling down. Now, Leah's blog is mainly about filler designs, and I believe that these are intended for more arty quilts rather than ones the kids will be throwing up on. Nevertheless, her work is truly inspiring, not just because she is indeed creating a new design every day for a year, but each design HAS AN ACCOMPANYING VIDEO SHOWING HOW SHE DOES IT.

I know.

So then, I see that she has links in every post to her online shop where you can buy some of the supplies she uses, such as quilting gloves and slick Teflon surfaces for your sewing machine, and what not, and there I find, MORE VIDEOS. And these are geared towards morons like me. Check out this one on stippling. In it, she says those magic words that make a quilter like me get all tingly: Give yourself permission to mess up.

I think I'm in love. (Sorry, David.)

Seriously. Please go check it out. If, like me, you have never machine quilted but you have always wanted to, you'll find help and inspiration here.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go sit by the mailbox and wait for my gloves to arrive.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Mystery solved

*UPDATE 10/8/09* OMG. I called my doctor with questions today, and she flipped out because the nurse gave me bad info. She said that, yes, CMV does "reactivate" but that doesn't mean you get sick again. She has no idea why I was told what I heard yesterday. The real issue? Vitamin D deficiency. I'm on a prescription supplement for the next 12 weeks. I'm very, very relieved, but also? PISSED OFF!

I am now utterly mortified by what I wrote below, but I'll leave it so you can make fun of me.

I really should be going to bed now. The little one had a night full of bad dreams and finally had enough around 5 a.m., when she demanded to go to the kitchen and play with paints. But I kinda need to write this down, so that I'll come back to it and remind myself that I have some serious work to do.

I've written numerous times about what I believed was anemia (see here, here, and here). I have these "episodes," as I like to call them, where I suddenly feel very tired, like lie down on the floor tired, often for days or weeks at a time, accompanied by a vague nausea. Since I was told I was anemic around a time that this happened, I always assumed that subsequent episodes were anemia as well. Turns out the first one probably didn't have anything to do with being anemic.

In the summer of 2001, back when I was still a lowly optician, I became strangely ill. I kept having a recurring low-grade fever, that would arise for a day and then go away, and then come back again. Headaches. And the most god-awful fatigue. Back then, my husband and I only had one car, and he used to pick me up from work every day. And I can remember getting in the car, and just collapsing in tears because it had taken so much effort just to get through the day.

I had a great doctor back then, and when I told her what was going on, she gave me the biggest round of tests I have ever been through, but we came out with an answer: cytomegalovirus mononucleosis. CMV mono is caused by a different virus than the usual "kissing disease" mono (that's Epstein-Barr), and nearly everyone has been infected with it at one time or another, but not many people get sick from it. Except those with compromised immune systems, such as AIDS patients, and, apparently, me.

There was and is no treatment except rest, and I was out of work for six weeks. Six weeks of ungodly boredom, and a stupid determination to get things done even though I was supposed to do as little as possible. I would feel marginally better one day and decide to do laundry or go for a walk, and then wouldn't be able to get out of bed for the next three days. I think I read the entire internet and saw every episode of Charmed, ER, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer that existed up to that point.

Going back to work was hell, because you don't just wake up better one day. You take an average of how you have felt over the last week, and if it is above a certain level, you go, "okay, better go ensure my continued employment now." But I got better, eventually, and forgot all about it.

So the other day, as my bloodwork is all coming back normal, my husband says, "What about the CMV - could it be back?" And I went, "Nah. Impossible. Once you're done you're immune, like chicken pox."


CMV is actually related to the chicken pox virus and other herpes viruses and, like them, cycles through periods of dormancy and what is called "reactivation." In reactivation, the soul-crushing fatigue and nausea return, as well as other symptoms such as headaches. The only treatment is rest.

I never knew this. No one ever told me that once I got this virus that I would be living with it forever, that those weeks of weakness (I remember one day not having enough energy to pick my feet up when I walked; I would shuffle from the couch to the bathroom and back, very, very slowly) would return to haunt me over and over for the rest of my life. Anemia or a thyroid problem or vitamin D deficiency, all those things I thought this could be: those are treatable. Endable. This isn't.

I'll grant you, there are plenty other chronic diseases one could have, and I'm damn lucky to have this one. Many, many people have it much worse and I've met some of them recently, breast cancer survivors I wrote about for my magazine job. Those women deal with a hell of a lot worse, and do it with grace and aplomb, so believe me, I do have some perspective.

I was talking with my husband about it tonight, and when he asked what the treatment for it is, and I said "rest," we both laughed. I'm a mom with two small children and a job as a monthly magazine editor. I don't get to rest. Taking a week to stay in bed isn't an option. The only thing I can do is to create as much of a buffer as I can, by being as healthy as possible. I have to eat better. I have to start exercising. I have to lose weight. Those things are the only hope I have of fending off the worst of the reactiviation episodes. And that may not even work. And I've never accomplished them before, despite years of good intentions. But it's all I have.

Off to bed now.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009



This quilt?

From The Bitchy Stitcher

(it has been bordered with a dark purple to match the background of the center squares, and the backing is the same).

What color thread would you use to quilt it?

*What Would The Internet Do?

Monday, October 5, 2009

To clarify

About the Ikea quilt: it's the mom's reaction that was disappointing, not the 2-year-old's. C'mon, y'all. I'm not THAT sensitive!

Sunday, October 4, 2009


Thank you all for your comments the past couple of days - they have been incredibly helpful. I do know that tears of joy and gratitude are not why I make quilts and not why I want to give them as gifts, but to have that happen THE VERY FIRST TIME I GIVE ONE AWAY (and with a quilt that was rather special to me, since it was my first to machine quilt as well) just stuck in my craw. This commenter had the best idea yet: ask if they want one first. Oh, yeah! That would have been smart!

Now, I am about to start production on the November issue of the magazine I work for, so let me blurt out a few thoughts:

1. Oh, hey. Third handbag for grandma:

2. I'm thinking of doing a block swap, though I'm still trying to figure out how it works. Ever done one? Was it worth it? Would you send my block back to me with tire marks on it if my seam was a wee bit wobbly?

3. I'm thinking of trying a Lone Star quilt from a Moda Chic or Treat jelly roll. Someone should probably talk me out of this.

4. My mom wants me to make two table runners for her, which I suppose means that she really is giving up sewing. She has macular degeneration, nerve damage and muscle atrophy in her right hand from carpal tunnel, and several other issues that I'm sure make sewing too uncomfortable for her.

But, of course, to me my mother is sewing. By which I mean, sewing, in some form, whether needlepoint or quilting or something else, has been her passion for as long as I can remember. It is what I will always remember about her, that and her wicked sense of humor, and the things I possess that she has made are incredibly precious to me.

So, knowing that she is really, truly giving it feels like her life is coming to a close, and she is getting ready. But I'm not ready for that, and never will be.

5. And it turns out I'm not anemic. Which is good, but also kinda sucks, because I still have no idea why I have these episodes where I feel like death on a stick. Thyroid okay, hormones all good. Still waiting for results on vitamin D and Lyme disease!

Oh, and the new doctor? ROCKS! Love her. Wonder if she'd like a quilt? I should ask first, right?

6. Y'all are the best. Have I mentioned that?

Friday, October 2, 2009

A Sucky Day

For the last several days, I have been working my ass off to finish the Ikea quilt in time for its recipient's second birthday party, which was this evening. This would be the first quilt I have done completely from start to finish.

On Monday, I taped the backing to the floor, spread out the batting and laid the quilt top over that, pinning it all together with about 7 million safety pins. It was hard work, but worth it because it was a gift for a friend's child.

The rest of the week, I stitched in the ditch, the first time I have ever tried to quilt anything. I had a hell of a time with the thread tension, an issue which is still not totally resolved, and my lines aren't exactly always in the ditch. Wrestling the quilt through the machine and rolling and unrolling it over and over was a lot of hard work, but it was worth it because it was a gift for a friend's child.

The only part I couldn't finish was the binding. I trimmed the quilt and wrapped it up and brought it to the party. My friend helped her child open it, pulled the folded quilt out of the bag, never unfolded it to see the business side, so only saw the backing, put it back in the bag and never said another word about it. She had more to say about a toy cash register another person gave her daughter than about a handmade quilt.

I am so sad right now, I cannot even tell you. I put so much into that quilt, so much labor and so much love. And now, it sits here, waiting to be bound and I feel like I may just not even bother.

Have you ever made someone a quilt, only to wish later that you hadn't?