Friday, December 17, 2010

Specialty Longarm rulers

Note: yes, there *are* pictures ... but you need to wade through the verbage first.   Just sayin'.  :-)

The big quilt show where I live is Pacific International Quilt Festival, held in the Fall of every year.  It's honkin' big show.  Really big.  Not quite as big as Houston, but it does take a full day to cover all the vendors and another full day to give at least a cursory look at the quilts.  If you want to study or admire the quilts, give yourself another day. :-)

This year, as in the past, I was able to attend with a fellow quilter.  She's not a longarm quilter but graciously allows me to gush and pontificate about longarm topics.  At least she doesn't roll her eyes when I'm looking at her. :-)

One vendor that I really noticed this year was the Quilter's Rule booth.  The items that caught my eye were the templates/rulers that can be used with longarm machines.  Since I'm really still a neophyte when it comes to longarm quilting, I'm always on the lookout for new and nifty toys that will make my quilting life easier.

I found two templates this year ... a tool that stitches circles *inside* the template and a tool that stitches a 5 line cable in a continuous stitch.

The circle tool .... it's one of several that allow stitching of circles of various sizes.   I bought the set that will stitch circles from 1" to 4", in inch increments.  What's the big deal about stitching circles?  Well, in a nutshell, at some point your arm is going to be in the way of the machine.  

Think of a full circle template. Plop that template down onto your quilt.  Hold it there with one hand .. let's say at 9:00.  Now, start stitching around the outside of the template ... say at 12:00 ... remember to hold that template firmly so it doesn't move! .. and when the machine head gets to 9:00 .. OOPS!!  your arm is in the way.  You need to stop stitching .. keep that needle in the down position to keep your place! ... move your arm elsewhere ... then resume stitching.  If you are talented or lucky or if you've practiced enough, you'll be able to resume stitching without a noticeable break in the stitching. 

The point being that, as long as you are stitching along the outside of the template, at some point, your arm is going to be in the way because you are stitching a 360° design.  It's annoying. 

Quilter's Rule has come out with a nifty line of nested rulers that will allow you to stitch the ENTIRE circle *inside* the template!  It's a very ingenious design.    (They have other shapes using this nested feature, but I only bought the circle template.)  This means that as you are holding the template firmly, your arm never gets in the way .. you can stitch the entire circle without stopping.

The vendor manning the booth was doing demos and she showed me how to use this template.  She had me hooked with just the basic circle!  But she also showed me how to do variations, one of which she called "String of Pearls", which is a line of circles that just kiss each other.

I'm working on a quilt right now that I decided I would try the circle template.   Actually, I was cleaning out my sewing room and rediscovered them.  ::ahem::   I didn't realize they had been MIA for 3 months.  :-) 

I probably should have tested the template on a doodle cloth first, starting with stitching a single, stand alone circle.  But, oh no ... I want to work on a quilt!  This particular quilt has two narrow borders, 2" wide.  I would put the 1" circles in a line in those two borders.  Furthermore, I wanted to put a String of Pearls in the border.  Nothing like cutting your teeth on the fancy stuff. :-)

Now when you use templates with a longarm, you need to push the template against the hopping foot while at the same time, pushing the hopping foot against the template.  This keeps the machine nice and snug against the edge of the template for accurate stitching.  Apparently I push quite firmly.  :-)  What I discovered is that I tended to move the circle template so that, when I needed to backtrack (necessary for the String of Pearls), I wouldn't always be exactly on the previously stitched line.  But, I figure this is a case of Practice Makes Perfect and for my first attempt, I was pretty doggone pleased with the result.

In the picture above, you can see the green centerline I chalked in .. this lines up with the guideline on the template.  The top half of each circle is stitched twice; this is due to the technique necessary for String of Pearls.   You can see that some circles are dead-on and some are slightly off.    

[To stitch the String of Pearls, you first stitch a complete circle, stopping at the starting point.  Then you *re-stitch* either the top or bottom half of the circle get to the point where you want the next circle to begin.  In my case, I started stitching at 9:00, coming full circle back to 9:00.  I then restitched from 9:00 to 3:00 ... at which point, the 3:00 position became the new circle's 9:00.   Lather, rinse, repeat.]

The other nested shapes that stitched on the inside are diamonds, ovals, stars and a spider web!  The oval one is pretty tempting.

Bottom line:  I'm very happy with this template.  I do have other, traditional full circle templates, which I can still use but I think it's going to be nice to have this option.  The other available shapes offer me design options that I currently don't have and are worth looking into.

Then, the cable tool.  This incredible tool allows the longarm quilter to use a *continuous line of stitching* to create a 5-line cable!  Whoever thought of this template is a genius.   The drawback is that it's a fiddly template to use.  There are several pieces that must be removed (and replaced) in order to stitch the cable properly.  It's not difficult but you do need to figure out how and where to hold the pieces so the hopping foot doesn't jump on top of the template.  (It's scary when that happens!)

Once again, I didn't bother to practice on a doodle cloth and, as a result, the cable wasn't centered properly in the space.  While instructions on how to USE the template are, thankfully, printed right on the template, there are no guidelines or directions (printed or on their site) on how to gauge positioning.  (There are also some extra markings on the template that are not referenced in the printed instructions on the template.  I intend on contacting Quilter's Rule for clarification.)

As for using the template, once I figured out where to hold it so that the hopping foot wouldn't jump on top of it, it allowed me to stitch out several 5-line cable segments that looked pretty doggone good for a first time!  More practice will let me align the template properly so the lines that are re-stitched aren't obvious.

Bottom line:  this template is fantastic!  Allowing for the fact that there *are* loose pieces, this is a terrific tool.  

In the picture above, you can see (at the bottom of the picture) the seam line that I used as my horizontal guideline.   I didn't position the template correctly, so the last stitched arc extended  past that seamline ... that was my mistake in not centering it.   But, DANG!  Don't those cables look terrific???  I'm really pleased with how they look from a distance!  I figure, once the quilt comes off the frame, is washed and has a chance to wrinkle up, you won't notice most of my goofs.  :-) 

And I want to re-iterate ... that ENTIRE cable was stitched as a CONTINUOUS LINE.  There was a tail to bury at the start and a tail to bury at the end ... and *that was it*.  There were no other starts or stops along the way.  Pretty doggone clever.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Drum roll, please! Accomplishments!

Y'all might have thought I have been doing a very good imitation of a slug.  A sluggardly slug, at that.  I've been talking about working on projects but not a whole lot in the way of pictures.

Well, this post is to show what I've been working on ... and in some cases .. completed!

First ... and no pictures here (because it's a Christmas present!) ... I have finished the hand-stitching for a quilt top.  Whew.  Because of household logistics, I was only able to work on this project on certain days and only during a certain window of opportunity.  At last, this one is done!  The actual quilting will be done after Christmas.

Next: Lumiere de Noel.  This is both a free pattern from Moda *and* a line of fabric.  I liked the pattern but didn't want to spring for the fabric.  Instead, I mostly used stash fabric ... the only fabric from the Lumiere de Noel line is the dark tan/red linear stripes.  I just couldn't find anything, anywhere to substitute for it.   But, the quilting for this is now FINISHED!  woo hoo!  I railroaded the top (i.e. the length of the quilt is parallel to the rails) so that I could quilt each column in one pass.   I deliberately didn't quilt into the star points because I wanted them to be poofy.  I hope they remain so after washing.

I love, love, LOVE the border ... a two-arc swag with beadboard and a 4-lobed flower inside the swag.  I *finally* learned how to do beadboard correctly!  :-) 

I even like the corner treatment!  :-)

Oh, I used Quilter's Dream Puff for the batting .. a first time for me.  I'm looking for a poofy batting that will yield a cozy quilt capable of draping nicely.  I hope that the Dream Puff will fit this requirement.

Next: Carpenter's Wheel.  When last we looked at the Carpenter's Wheel top, the 4 blocks had been sashed and to allow it to be a useable bed-sized quilt, I decided to put a border on the top & bottom.   I am now working on the top border.  This hand-appliqued scroll will be mirrored on the right side of the border.  The bottom border will look the same as the top.

Next: Dress Me Up.  This is my current Forever Project and is a collection hand embroidered quilt blocks.  This is dress #6.  I have already started dress #7.  There are 12 dresses in all.

Last: I was doing some Christmas shopping at an upscale do-dad store .. the store that has all sorts of lovely, lovely china, crystal, flatware, accessories, kitchenware .. even furniture ... that will never see the light of day in my household.  :-)  But I do so enjoy looking at their stuff. 

Whilst wandering around, admiring all the lovelies, I saw a felt pillow with a three dimensional Christmas tree on it.  Upon closer inspection, the Christmas tree was made up of lots of little felt circles that had been tacked onto the felt background but horribly bunched together so that they stood cheek-by-jowl with each other and made a wonderfully dense Christmas tree.  What an incredibly fantastic idea!

And why should I BUY it, when so clearly I could MAKE it?  :-)  Well, in retrospect, it probably would have been less expensive to buy it. :-)   Also, I was only willing to consider making it myself because I have a Sizzix machine (the original one) which would make cutting all those felt circles a snap.  Alas and alack, I don't have a circle die the right size.  To the rescue comes my neighbor, Angie, who has a Big Shot Pro Sizzix machine.  This one takes the bigger dies *and is electric*!!  which means that you do NOT have to crank a handle to get the dies through.  ::swoon:: I fell in love.  Cutting out all those circles was absolutely effortless.

If I didn't have access to a Sizzix machine & a circle die, there is NO WAY, José, that I would have EVER cut all those felt circles by hand.

I didn't have any felt, therefore I needed to buy some.  The tree was made up of LOTS of different shades of green felt.  Wool felt.  Did you know that wool felt is deadly expensive?  That was a revelation to me.  I used acrylic felt instead.  :-)  Did you know that there are not a whole lot of DIFFERENT shades of green felt available?  Joann's had 6, but 3 of the greens were so close in color as to be indistinguishable from each other.  I opted to add a yellow for a little "sparkle".

Luckily, I already had a pillow insert, otherwise, I would have had to buy that also.   

While I was examining the store pillow (without trying to LOOK like I was inspecting it), I saw how the tree was constructed but was unwilling to really take the time to count out the rows and spacing .. so I just kinda guesstimated.  Back on the home front, I cut out the felt background, made a triangular outline shape for the tree and pencilled in a grid.  One felt circle was tacked to each intersection.

Since I did only a cursory inspection of the store pillow, it turned out that I made my grid MUCH TOO DENSE and my pillow has many MORE felt circles than the store pillow!   Ah well ... better than being too sparsely populated.   And I think it turned out cute.

Now, since I have lots of green felt circles left over, I'm collecting ideas of what to do with them.  Any suggestions are gratefully requested. :-)

And that is what I've been working on lately.  :-)

Next up: 
  • square up and bind Lumiere de Noel.  Take pictures. Make webpage.
  • continue working on the applique border for the Carpenter's Wheel
  • make webpage for the Christmas pillow
  • contemplate next pieced project NO! NO! NO!   I need to load the next quilt top onto Lizzie and get some of those tops turned into QUILTS!  No starting another pieced project!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Rubber Chicken is Shelved

We have chickens.  We've had chickens for darn near 20 years.  (egads, I can't believe it's been that long!)  Not because *I* like chickens but because Mr. Pirate contended that it would be a good "educational experience" for our children.  

Yes, that really does mean that *we* now take care of the chickens.  :-)   To be fair, our girls are now 27, 22 & 22 and don't necessarily live at home any longer.  Mr. Pirate also likes chickens.  I will admit to be vastly amused by the stupid creatures. :-)

Our latest flock contains 2 Ameraucanas, which are a breed that lays colored shell eggs (color other than brown).  Well, at least that is what the store labeled them as.  There is conflicting information available as to exactly what is an Ameraucana, the ancestral Auracana and the 'mutt' Easter Egger chicken.  ::shrug::  I really don't care ... our chickens look like pictures I've seen of Ameraucanas and so we shall call them.  :-)

We've had Ameraucanas before and knew that they produce green shelled eggs.  This current batch has been recalcitrant about sitting down on the job.  I've threatened to bring the Rubber Chicken into the hen house, to serve as an example of What Could Happen To You.  I guess the threat worked because two days ago and today, we have collected a green egg.  :-)

I haven't a clue which chicken is producing ... and they are covering for each other ... so I suppose that all of them are safe at this point.  :-)

Two days ago was the bumper crop of eggs so far ... we collected 10!  In addition to the ordinary white Small size (between 35 & 43 grams) that our bantam chickens lay, we get a wide variety of brown shelled eggs (we get all different sizes: medium, large, extra large and jumbo) .. and now!  our green shelled eggs!

One of the brown shelled eggs is noticeably darker than the other brown shelled eggs.  We do have Maran chickens, which are supposed to lay "chocolate eggs", i.e. very dark brown shells.  Since not all of our hens are laying at this point, I'm not entirely sure if the really dark egg in the picture above is one of the "chocolate eggs" or not.

One of the hens has been named Roadrunner  because that is EXACTLY what she looks like as she scurries from the other hens. She's one of the smaller hens and probably lays the medium sized eggs.

I haven't a clue what breed she is, since they all took off their name badges shortly after we bought them.  Silly chickens.   If they don't look like any pictures I see to identify them, then all I can say is that they are chickens!  :-)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

What I Put Up With

Let's see ... I'm trying to work on a needle turn applique project.  It's going to be the top and bottom border of a 60" wide quilt, of which I have already made the center 60" wide square.  I vacate my chair to get "something" from "somewhere" and THIS is what I return to. 

Yes, that is Little Paw, occupying the EXACT spot where my applique is.  See that placemat in the background?  THAT is where I would like to her be ... I have grudgingly sacrificed the immediate useability of a placemat just so she could have some warm fabric between her furry little bottom and the surface of the cutting table.  (The "sacrifice" is because after she sits on ANYTHING, that item immediately needs to be laundered.  She is NOT a tidy cat.)  Apparently, the placemat was deemed Unacceptable .. probably because the "sun" (in the form of the light source ... wasn't there.)  Where was the sun?  On my applique, hence that's the spot to be in.

All righty then ... let's abandon hand sewing for a while.  Let's mosey on into my office.  I can read my email ... catch up on my forum messages ... read the blogs I follow in Google Reader.

But hark!  What do I see in my office?  What IS that dark furry spot in the middle of my office chair??

Why, none other than Sneaker, our Mighty Hunter.  Obviously tuckered out from a day's honest labor of Hunting and Protecting Our Honor.  I don't dare disturb the Mighty Beast of Armagossa for fear that my fetlocks could be severely menaced.  Oh, and don't click on that link if you are easily grossed out.  It most definitely contains Grisly Matter.  ::yuck::

My two favored past times are temporarily put on hiatus .. I'm not quite sure what to do with my "free" time.

Don't suggest housework; that just ain't happenin'.  :-)

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Why is it ....

that I am finding ALL these really nifty Christmas patterns to make NOW?  It's not necessarily that the patterns were created now but I *found* them now.

For Christmas Day, we always use Mr. Pirate's Mom's cream-and-gold china.  It's gorgeous.  I have a dark royal blue tablecloth that sets the dishes off beautifully.  I was thinking that a cream/gold/blue table runner in the middle of the table would be a nice change of decorations this year.   I've found a couple of suitable ideas .... but where am I going to find the TIME to do them???

They aren't terribly complicated (well ... hopefully not TOO complicated :-)  ) but I'm still finishing up a major Christmas present (no details ... "people" actually read this blog!) and all the other stuff for Christmas that needs to be done.

I can just see me starting a nifty table runner and getting MOSTLY done but not in any condition to be used.  heh .. maybe I just should do that so that I will get it finished for *next* Christmas!  :-)

Thursday, December 02, 2010

On the Design Wall: Carpenter's Wheel, part 2

When last I left you, Dear Readers, I was in a quandry as how to expand or use 4 large Carpenter Wheel blocks in a "useful" sized quilt.  I didn't want to make any *more* Carpenter Wheel blocks.

After letting the 4 blocks stew in the back of my mind (or what is left of it) for a while, I came up with this layout.

Putting a half-square triangle in the corners of of the block allows for a secondary design of a Shoo-fly block at the intersections.

The borders echo the outer band of the Carpenter's Wheel, although the green half-square triangles are darker. 

Why?  Well, I ran out of the light green and I had the darker stuff.  :-)

At this point, the top is 60"x60", an excellent width for a "useful" sized quilt, but not nearly long enough.  Therefore, a top & bottom border will be attached to give me the length I need. 

Right now, according to the design I've done in Electric Quilt, I am going to put a large scale scroll applique in the top & bottom borders.   I *think* I like the scroll design ... it was in Electric Quilt's library, making it very easy for me to use.  Yes, sometimes I'm all about easy, especially when venturing into an area that is new to me, as applique is.  :-)

I'm not showing the applique design right now because I just might change my mind.  :-)