Thursday, February 26, 2015

Snow, Snow, Snow While I Sew!

We got more snow last night, on top of the snow that was left that fell on Feb 21, which fell on top of the snow that was left from Feb 17. It's kind of fun to these Texans, me and the kids, as long as we don't have to go anywhere when there is ice on the road. I like having snow to look at, especially as it wafts down, much better than all the dead brown stuff.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Rotary Cutters, Sharpness, and Another Sneak Peak

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas...no, that was a couple of months ago. Tonight snow is possibly on its way again and I *am* and *have been* dreaming of returning to 18th century sewing. Meanwhile I have been quilting, quilting, quilting for my son.

This quilt began two months ago, in early December. One of the immediate problems I faced was a dull rotary cutter causing my shoulder muscles to rip apart in deep pain. It seems to matter not what type of rotary cutter I buy, or what size. They always lose their cutting sharpness in the beginning stages of each project, even when I begin the project with a new blade.

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Although this has been a consistent problem, this time I did a bit of googling and found that numerous forums and blogs suggested running the rotary blad through a wad of aluminum foil. Hmm, why not? Can't hurt.

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I pulled out a sheet of aluminum foil and folded it several times so that it was a bit thick. Then I set it on top of a self-healing mat, and ran my rotary cutter through it several times. The next time I used it on  my fabric, the blade was much sharper than it had ever been!

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Looking at all these candy cane stripes makes me think of a White Christmas again. No, I would not sew candy cane stripes for my son. Stay tuned for another peak!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Bias Edges, Quilts, and a Sneak Peak

I am currently working on a quilt for my son to take to college. Um...he started college last August. Then I got sick. I'm healing now and making up for lost time, so I have this quilt heavily on my mind and I have a few tips I thought I'd share.
Anywhere last summer I found a pattern I knew he'd like and which looked quite easy. Then I started working on it and to my dismay I realized that every block entailed the sewing of bias edges to bias edges in order to create the design. Bias edges create quite the fear factor for those who sew in general, and for quilters specifically.
Until recently bias edges have caused me little concern, until the last quilt I made for my son. That quilt had to undergo a significant design change due to the wonkiness that resulted in the stars due to bias edges.  That is the quilt that now bounces between home and college depending on where  my son is spending the night, because his new college quilt continues to be a work in progress. (A bit of that saga later.) Also I had grand hopes that his college quilt would not suffer the same fate of bias wonkiness that his previous quilt suffered.
Many quilters deal with bias edges by spraying the fabric with starch. There are pros and cons with that. Of course the good thing is that starch stabilizes the fabric. The bad thing is that the starch attracts silverfish which destroy fabric. Therefore I always avoid starch, but knowing I had bias edges to deal with, and knowing I failed completely last time, and it would be exceedingly difficult to be oh-so gentle with the edges because I'd have to sew bias edges together on the hypotenuse of triangles no less...I conceeded to some quilt friends that I was going to try the starch. Then I thought I'd hopefully wash it out after the quilt was done.
That is when one of my friends recommended Mary Ellen's Best Press, which is advertised as being "non-clogging, non-flaking, no residue and acid free". Being acid free was another important consideration for me now that I've met and toured with museum curators. Although I don't expect this quilt to be a  museum piece, neither did the makers of the quilts that are in  museums. Even so, I still don't expect this to be a museum piece, but beyond that is the knowledge that acid and chemicals do damage. I avoid chemicals as much as I can. I have no idea if there is starch in this product or not. It is clear, but I thought I'd take a chance, due to my inexperience and lack of success in quilting bias edges.
I had no idea where to find it locally because I generally don't like to order things on-line and wait. I needed this product today. Nor did I want to pay for shipping, especially when all I could find were humongo bottles on-line for purchase.  Where I live in Northern Virginia it is difficult to find a grand selection of anything in the area stores.  I am quite surprised and disappointed, because I thought moving near Washington DC would provide a huge shopping mecca, but not so. There are many stores, but little variety. How I miss San Antonio, Texas (yet I still love the history and beauty of Virginia). Same stores, but more stuff to choose from!
After much deliberation, I decided to try Suzie's Quilt Shop. Of all the quilt shops in the area, and even though there are some closer to me with less traffic, I reasoned that if anyone of the local quilt or fabric shops had this product, it would be Suzie.  And I was right!
I walked in to the store and headed to the notions section, but I barely got past the cash register counter just inside the door when I saw a basket of these..
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So beautifully packaged and an amazing assortment of scents...I had fun choosing  my selection! Wow! Choices! In Virginia!
With hopeful confidence I returned home and cut out my triangles after spraying and pressing  the fabric with Mary Ellen's Best Press...
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and they all stayed pretty much in place as I continued with the rest of the quilt. The bias edges are the hypotenuse of each triangle, where the red meets the blue in the one set and where the white meets the blue in the other set.
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By the way, there is a difference between ironing and pressing. Ironing is a back and forth movement. I do not do that when I work with my quilt pieces, because that can distort the fabric, and is a tip I forgot when I made my son's star quilt, which is linked above. Pressing, however, is an up and down movement. I place the iron on top of the fabric and hold it there a bit, then lift it up, instead of sweeping it side to side.  I keep placing the iron on the next spot and then lift it up, working  my way along the length of the quilt. So far...so good! =) 

Monday, February 23, 2015

True Grips-Quilt Gadget

Some of my many stitching projects that I've been working on in the last 6 months has mostly entailed quilting for various reasons...some of which will soon be revealed! Along the way I've endeavored to seek some improvements in various troublespots. I'm glad to report that I have stumbled upon some wonderful tips and gadgets that I would like to share.
While I was working on my Thanksgiving quilt last autumn, I was shopping at my new favorite quilt store, Suzie's Quilt Shop, when I saw these...

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True Grips! My  problem in some of my recent quilts has been the ruler slipping when I use the rotary cutter. This is not good, because it skews the size of the strips/blocks/triangles/etc, so that the many hoped for identical pieces that are quickly cut out are not identical at all. They are instead a bit off in size here and there. That is one of the first enemies to quilting.
Even though I'm not usually a gadget gal, I knew these could possibly solve  my woes with rotary cutting. These are little adhesive rings, as the package claims, that easily peel off. I then stuck them to the back of the ruler.  You can see two of the adhesive rings on the underneath portion of the ruler if you look closely in the photo.  To the right I have shown a perfectly straight strip that I had rotary cut after I had put the adhesives onto my ruler.  Yea!
That long ruler only needed about half of the adhesives in the package. I applied the other adhesives to my large square ruler too!
True Grips are one gadget I highly recommend! More tips soon to come!

Guess who?

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Saturday, February 21, 2015

More Snow!

What a busy week for snow!

Tis the season to cancel plans to stay home and safely enjoy the snow and ice!

A snow squall came in Valentine's evening, a week ago, shortly after dusk, horribly icing the roads.  The ice wasn't fun.

Monday night a snow storm canceled my plans to visit the Library of Congress open house to learn to use their library/reading room and get a book card of my own...from the Library of Congress! That was a  huge disappointment to cancel. Oh well. Another day. When the snow and ice were done, we had 5" of beauty!

Wednesday we had another snow squall. We all got home just in time before the fierceness hit!

Today we got another 7.5 inches and ice, which canceled a historic trip to Alexandria today, and will cancel a trip to visit my son to join him for church tomorrow. I think all churches in NoVA are canceling services.

I'm glad to have lots of sewing to enjoy while watching the lovely snowflakes fall! The birds seemed to love the snow. It fell quite gently, as opposed to the two previous squalls we had where I'm sure all the birds battened down the hatches of their nests.


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7.5" total!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

18th Century Cross Stitched Needlecase


During my recent convalescence I spent a great deal of time resting because any movement brought discomfort. However I was becoming quite antsy on the couch, a sure sign of some bit of healing and recovery, when I remembered that I had several 18th century needlework kits in my sewing stash. I'm usually  so busy with big projects of laying out fabric and patterns, which I have not been up to at all, that a little project sounded perfect! Thus I collected all my kits and shared them here and chose the needlecase as my quiet little project.



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 I lost the buttons that came with the kit, so I dug out some buttons from my button collection that looked like mother-of-pearl which seemed more historical to me than plastic buttons. The rosettes and buttons were sewn on to allow the petals to pivot open.

Now for those who might be asking, "How historically accurate is this?"...well, here we go!  I bought this kit at Poplar Forest and when I saw it, I immediately recognized the similarity to an extant needlecase I saw in Gail Marsh's 18th Century Embroidery Techniques.  If you have a copy of the book, there is a lovely photograph of one on p165. The needlecase shown there is from Gawthorpe Hall, Lancashire, UK. Their needlecase is made of silk, with embroidered flowers. Although the back is not shown, the book says that needles are stored on "little squares of chamois leather." Mother-of-pearl buttons are used for the rosette pivot...hence my choice to use my mother-of-pearl looking buttons.         

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This kit came from The Posy Collection, which creates many needlework kits for historic sites across America. I asked them where the inspiration for this cross stitch design came from. The designer replied that she worked very closely with the Poplar Forest staff and also with one of the ladies at The Hermitage (President Andrew Jackson's home in Tennessee) who sews historical clothing for museums! 

The similarities between the extant silk case from Gawthorpe Hall and this one from The Posy Collection for Poplar Forest are:
  • both are petal shaped
  • both are bound by ribbon
  • both are decorated by lovely needlework
  • both use a rosette with buttons to allow the 2 petals to pivot
  • both have chamois to store needles between the petals   

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Cross stitch was done in the 18th century.  Monograms were cross stitched on shirt and shifts, known as laundry markings. Also I took a pinball class at Colonial Williamburg's Costume Design Center and one of the designs we learned used cross stitch. Cross stitched samplers were worked by the young ladies of that time. Whereas my son is often asked about his Latin studies when we visit Colonial Williamsburg (asked by the interpreters in 18th century character), my daughter  is asked if her sampler was completed yet! 

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In the kit from Poplar Forest, it said that Thomas Jefferson's grand daughters often visited, often did needlework, and most likely had needlecases such as this. (Poplar Forest is Thomas Jefferson's private retreat, which we have enjoyed visiting, even while Thomas Jefferson himself was there, entertaining historical guests like King George III and Benedict Arnold!)

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I have a needle in the chamois for illustration...and I might add it was quite difficult to stick in there!

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I did find the blog, Gawthorpe Textiles Collection here. Although I did a search, I couldn't find their needlecase there. However I am now following them in case they ever do share more photos of their lovely embroidered 18th century needlecase!

If I learn any more details about the history of stitched needlecases, I will add it to this post! =)

But now, time for the HSF details, because at the last minute I decided to use this for this month's Blue Challenge, since I might not have time to complete my original "blue" project. Also, I thought other historical seamstresses might be interested in this little needlecase!

HSF 2015

What the Item Is:  Needlecase

The Challenge:
"Make an item that features blue, in any shade from azure to zaffre." -The Dreamstress

Fabric: aida cloth, cotton, chamois

Pattern: Kit from The Posy Collection

Year: 18th Century

Notions:  embroidery floss, cotton batting, ribbon, buttons

How historically accurate is it? Quite accurate.

Hours to complete:  About one month, off and on

First worn (used while wearing an 18th century gown, in this case, with the needlecase ): Forthcoming... 

Total cost: $22.95

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Snow, Cardinal and Update

Snow fell once again upon us. This morning we awoke to 5" of snow.  Meanwhile I've been quite quiet here, though I haven't meant to. I've been quite busy working on the quilt for my son, and finishing my 18th century needlecase.  I'm also still recuperating, pushing myself a bit more everyday, and resting lots. Today I saw the ENT and got the good news that I do not have nodules on my vocal cords, but she does want me to undergo voice therapy. She also took me off voice rest. I still have bronchitis but I don't cough when I talk anymore, however I do become quite breathless when taking the stairs and feel uncomfortable when I get overly active, so back to my doc I shall go. Yet all the while I keep feeling a bit better each day.

Meanwhile as I stitch away, there is much beauty to enjoy outside the windows...      

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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Snow Moon

At dusk as we pulled out of the driveway from our house to enjoy dinner out, we saw barren wintry trees etched against a magnificently huge Snow Moon. By the time we came home from dinner, the moon was smaller, higher in the sky, yet was shining brilliantly. Incidentally it was fun to clearly see Jupiter nearby!
Since moving here I've learned that brilliantly lit moons that occassionally appear are given different names. Perhaps this is because the various names of the full moons originate with the Native Americans, specifically from the tribes ranging from New England to the Great Lakes. Each full moon was given a distinctive name, to help keep track of the seasons.  Europeans who later settled in these areas picked up the custom.  (information from the Farmers' Almanac)

In the autumn the Harvest Moon (the name I'm most familiar with) showed so much light that farmers were able to harvest longer in their fields, long into the night. The Snow Moon, however, appears in February, and is so named because February tends to be the snowiest month of the year in America.
When I lived in Texas, I certainly started planning my gardens in February. Forsythia blooms in San Antonio in February. However in Northern Virginia, snow is commonly predicted. Indeed the other day we drove in snowflakes, and more snow chances are predicted in our near future.
Therefore, gardening was least on my mind, until An Oregon Cottage announced day 1 of the Tuesday Garden Party!Spring is just around the corner!

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I used to garden quite extensively when we lived in Texas and I've even won some awards. However as my kids grew older and advanced through homeschooling, I became busier. By their middle school years we moved to Virginia. I was even busier yet. Furthermore, I had a lot to learn about gardening in Northern Virginia! It can get just as hot in the summer as we did in San Antonio. However the winters can be dramatically colder and definitely snowier! Perennials that thrived in San Antonio might thrive as summer annuals in NoVA.

My Goals
Last summer I graduated my youngest from homeschooling. Although we've done some gardening since moving here, my husband did most of it. However he kept coming to me with questions and I kept trying to find time to research answers. Now that I at least *think* I have more time, I hope to devote more time to gardening. I certainly envision more from our gardens than we have achieved. I hope to document some of this for future garden parties. Meanwhile, I have during this winter rest started a tab at the top of my blog page to archive specific garden posts. There aren't many...yet! Stay tuned!

Meanwhile, in celebration of the evening of the Snow Moon, here are photos from our first winter here. When we moved here we were told we wouldn't see much snow, perhaps a couple of inches a year with the ocassional blizzard.  Well surprise, surprise, our first winter here the area received a record 50+ inches of snow for the season! From December through February we had regular snowfalls, and we had blizzards. Most of the blizzards each yielded about 10" of snow. However this February blizzard lived up to the name of Snow Moon...yielding 20" where we lived in NoVA (and 30" in other parts of NoVA), the weekend of February 7, 2010. Here are photos from that month of the Snow Moon.

My Texas Longhorn Grill Shivering in NoVA


Look at all that snow!


This was more snow than we had had at one time yet!


The playscape.


At the edge of our driveway looking down our sidewalk.


My kids have never seen this much snow before. Previous storms brought 10". This storm brought 20".


My husband walking down the plowed sidewalk.


Some creative plowing...


Snow hanging from the roof.


Loved these snow views.


Amazing how that snow just hangs there...


Snow and icicles!


A wave of snow in suspension...


Drama in suspense...


Love the Christmas trees!

Note: This was our first winter in Virginia. I had planned on getting sleds for my kids for Christmas. When I went shopping in December, all the sleds had sold out...because December yielded our first major blizzard. I think this was our third...with smaller storms in between.

My Texan kids sledding on our latest experiment...swimming innertubes!


Look how high the snow is when my daughter stands in it!


Well, my son wasn't getting too far so he enlisted my daughter for a push...


Oompf...well that didn't yield much yardage.



Well, obviously we can't do much gardening on these wintery days. However this is the time for planning. I shall be sharing that in future posts, along with our pre-winter prep of the gardens.