Sunday, May 30, 2010

UFO No More!!

I am SO thrilled. I first got the idea for this finished object almost four years ago when I snapped this picture:
Yes, the Brat Cat claimed the rose trellis as her turf (we were still living in the house), and I said, "Oh, that is darling!" and took lots of pictures. Then, last summer I took a workshop in turning a photo into abstract art. I worked with this photo and with a shot of the Burnside Bridge at the Antietam battlefield. (I still want to create a quilt from that photo. That's a story for another day, though.)

Anyway, here is the quilt. It's about 18" x 30".

Pardon me, but I totally LOVE this quilt. It has been so much fun to work with. Let me show you my favorite parts (as I type this, the subject of the quilt is draped across the top of my chair, purring):

I was cutting out the flattened circle for the face when I realized that if I positioned the pattern piece right, I could get flowers in the right places.... Isn't that cool? The final embellishment I put on this quilt were the whiskers. I found some sparkly acrylic thread at the store, it was then a question of figuring out HOW to do the whiskers. I got the idea to knot the thread about two inches in, put the needle in at one side of the nose, pull it out the other side, and then knot there. Those are not beads you're seeing at the nose, but knots. For the eye whiskers, the knots are all between the layers.

Those little ribbon roses? Well, six years after my mother's death, I was finally clearing the last of her sewing stuff I would never use when I came across these roses.... hmmmm..... So, it's a little bit of three-dimensional fun in an unexpected place. Also, in these pictures, you can see the several weeks' worth of handstitching to get some subtle color into the blue background.

Anyone who has ever come to my home in the last few years has met the Brat Cat - she is very sociable and very definitely a "self." Her tail is very expressive, and getting that curve right consumed an hour one afternoon.

So, this quilt shows perseverance, attention to detail, found objects, a tangible memory of our house, a tribute to my mother, and a representation of the personality of the alpha creature in our house. Hubby Dearest likes it so much that he's already hung it up where he can see it from his favorite chair - the ultimate compliment.

Friday, May 28, 2010

In My Garden

The weather has been unbelievably nice this past week or so (after we had a couple of weeks of heavy rain). Here are some pictures of how our personal garden is growing:
Those are chives up front, irises in the upper left, and blanket flowers on the right.
The Siberian irises in full glory. The stand gets a bit compromised every summer because cats like to nest in the midst of the patch (and that's okay!).
The peony bush is coming along nicely. We had several peony bushes at our house, and we seriously considered not moving because we loved those bushes (and our extensive tulip plantings as well); so, when we moved here, and I discovered that the previous owner had put a peony bush in the corner of the fence (for natural support)... well!

Finally, the moss roses I planted around the tree out in the common area are blooming. We had a condo board meeting last evening, and after the meeting, the board members praised me for the nice planting.

Here in Ypsilanti, there is a very nice parade on Memorial Day (starting at 9 a.m.) that ends in the cemetery that is not far from our condo. We have attended most years. We stand near the end of the parade route, and the marchers and band members are tired by the time they reach us, so most of us do extra applauding. After the parade, local politicians and veterans groups do some speechifying and wreath laying at the Civil War memorial in the cemetery. The local high school plays Taps. It's a very moving ceremony, and as the daughter and daughter-in-law of long-term military folks, it's an important part of my summer. In honor of my father (dead nearly 38 years), "Off we go...." and in honor of my healthy and vigorous father in law, "Semper fi."

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Those Who Love Us

I thought I would introduce you to the folks with whom I live. I love every one of these creatures as completely as I can, and I'm sure you'll see lovableness in each one from these pictures.

First up, is Hubby Dearest, cleaning up after dinner (what's not to love about that?). The end of next month, we'll have been married for 14 years. We met at church in our early 30s. I was in charge of the ushers, and he was one of the ushers. I thought he was hilarious and smart; unfortunately, he was engaged to be married. When she backed out of the engagement, I sort of made sure that he kept stumbling over me. At some point, he figured out I was always around, and we were married a few months later.
Next up (in age order), is The Big Guy. He came into my life a year before I got married. There's a long story about an abandoned kitten, etc. He is such a Mama's boy!
Then, we come to Baby Boy. He was born in the backyard of our old house. He soon realized that there were cuddles and food inside the house and put on a year-long campaign to move in. He's two years younger than The Big Guy, and they are best buddies. 

Next up is Little Bit. She was also born in the backyard of our old house, but she moved in with her mother. Her mother, however, decided she did NOT want to be a housecat and moved out after a year. She's about four or five years younger than Baby Boy. 

Princess lived in our condo before we did. The previous owners took her with them when they moved, but then they had another baby, and things were not working out. She moved in with us last summer, and we've all been happy about it, except that she wants to go outside and stay there until late in the evening. When this picture was taken, she was putting on an unsuccessful campaign to Go Back Outside Now.

Finally, we come to the Brat Cat, and there've been other pix of her on this blog. Her mother disappeared when BC and her siblings were about three weeks old. She is the Alpha creature of the house. When she's happy, we're all happy, and vice versa.

Now, for some actual craft content! I've been knitting on the Helix socks, and here's a picture of the current progress. I am LOVING this pattern - an easy-to-follow chart and pretty yarn.

I've also been sewing. This past weekend, I did up a small project (no picture, sorry) for DH to take in to his workplace for a silent auction. I also sewed some pre-made ribbon roses onto the showpiece quilt I'm putting in the guild's summer show. My goal is to get this quilt finished this weekend and post a picture next week. I have several other projects backing up in the sewing room. Arrgghh!! Where does the time go?

Finally, I finished reading Starkey's Elizabeth last evening and have started this book - one of the books I plan to present as an option for my book club to read next. I'll put up some notes next week. BTW, the Starkey book is well worth reading if you have any interest at all in the Tudors. It's well written and stuffed full of the kind of detail that makes you feel as though you're reading current political analysis. I give it a 9/10 rating.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Gardening Fun

I really wanted to get up a post earlier in the week than this, but I spent two evenings this week after work putting plants in the garden. We live in a condo that has a small front yard. The previous owner really went to town with filling the yard with perennials (which was what I had done with the front yard of our house - so I felt right at home). It's been a real trick trying to find places to stash the tomato, pepper, and snow pea plants I like to put in.

So, the tomatoes are under the apple treee, between the blueberry bushes, and next to the front gate.

In this complex, if you have an end unit and want to landscape the area near your unit (and use your own money in the project), you are free to do so. So, I put some portulaca under the tree next to the driveway. I also created an herb garden last summer and have been adding to it as the whims occur. The local library held a fundraising plant sale this month, and that's where I got these plants. I also got a pink daylily plant and some nasturtiums to fill in another part of the public area.
It's not terribly exciting, but this is about as gardeny as I get.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Summer Sewing Plans

On Sunday afternoon, faced with three quilts that are due by mid-to-late-July, I decided to figure out some summer sewing for me. I respect the ready-to-wear industry, but I long ago stopped relying on it for anything other than underwear. Here's why: I am a middle-aged, overweight woman who works as an administrative assistant in a mid-level job where I'm surrounded by graduate students and professors who work in labs and dress in jeans. Have you looked at the clothing options out there for people "like me"? Did I mention I'm also cheap frugal? I refuse to dress in unflattering polyester-type pantsuits that make me look fat and sloppy?

You see, this is what I think I look like:

Does someone who looks like that dress in ugly clothes? I think not. So, I dress in pretty colors with flaring skirts and dresses that have defined waists that show off what figure I have without screaming at the world FAT!!! (For the record, my blood pressure readings have been consistently at or below 115/70 for the last 25 years, and my cholesterol reading is in the 180s.) I think I dress like a competent adult who has her own style. By making my own clothes, I can accommodate my body, pick flattering colors, and make sure there are pockets in the dresses and skirts. So there!

So, on Sunday afternoon, I pulled out a blouse pattern (that needs to be "upsized") and some pretty fabrics. After I cut out the blue fabric, I had the rogue thought that it looked like those "robes" they give you in the doctor's office. Every time I look at the fabric, I have that thought all over again. I have found another blue fabric that I will probably use instead.

I also pulled a skirt pattern from many years ago. I didn't look at the pattern very closely, but I'm not afraid to widen patterns and otherwise modify them. There is a fly front on this skirt that I will probably eliminate in favor of a back zipper.

Finally, I LOVE this fabric and will probably turn it into a vest. Isn't that a fun fabric? I also have a couple of other garment projects lurking in the closet.

For the next month or so, however, I will be be deep in quilt production mode; but at least I have some plans to indulge my wardrobe building.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Finished Objects Friday

Okay, I'm going to cheat and show off a project I finished five years ago. The squares in this quilt are all 1/2" larger in both dimensions than they were supposed to be for an online swap for which I'd signed up. At 49 pieces per square, I was NOT going to redo the squares, so I put them together for a quilt for my husband's study. The corners of the squares are in the middle of the four-patches. See in the close-up where a burgundy square and a red square butt up against each other unevenly? That's a borderline.

The border is from the beginning of my pinwheel fixation, with some random other squares thrown in. I pieced those pinwheels to each other (and to the quilt itself) while riding shotgun on a long trip back from visiting the in-laws. A lot of the white fabric in this quilt is leftovers from my wedding dress (which I made from cotton eyelet lace).

I am in charge of a members-only donated fabric sale at the quilt guild tomorrow. We loaded five cars with boxes from the storage unit this afternoon. It'll be fun.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

What I'm Reading Wednesday

I meant to post sooner, but I've been battling a head cold - yuck!!  Meanwhile, the queen of the basement study is on her throne as I type this:

Anyway, let's start off with a link to a wonderful tribute to Ray Bradbury. This piece appeared in Slate on Monday, and it is well worth sharing. I first encountered Bradbury's work in the early 1970s when I was an eighth grader. You remember how, when you were in school, there were different groups? There were the "cool" kids who dominated the lunchroom and most of the clubs; there were the "jocks" who spent their lunch hours shooting baskets; there were the "burn-outs" who slunk behind the school and passed around cigarettes. In junior high and high school, I was one of the "library kids;" we hung out at the same tables in the library, usually studying, but always reading and talking about books. This was the social group that passed around copies of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and George Orwell's 1984. It seems we were all reading science fiction, and Bradbury's books were part of that mix, along with Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and others. I have kept in touch with very few people from those years, but the books and authors we discovered together have sustained me through many a difficult day.

This week, I am reading two books - one I started sort of by accident, and the second is for my book club. At a used book sale last fall, I picked up a copy of Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes. I am about a third of the way in, and it's pleasant reading, good for the end of the day when one simply needs a break from real life. She writes very well with quick sketches and happy wit.

The other book is Elizabeth by David Starkey. I am only a couple of chapters in, but I am already feeling pulled along by good writing and a cracklingly good story. If you were to lock me up for six months and tell me that I could read anything I wanted, but the books could only be about one century, I'd pick the 1500s. I mean, please, think about the people: Leonardo da Vinci, Henry VIII, Philip II, Charles V, Julius II, Michelangelo, Catherine of Aragon, Catherine Medici, Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth I, Robert Bellarmine, Ignatius Loyola, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and so many more. This is the hinge century between the "Old World" and the "New World." Western civilization was a very different creature in 1600 than it had been in 1500, and we are still dealing with issues raised in that century. Anyway, I'm eagerly reading along.

I lasted about 20 pages into Barchester Towers before pitching it in favor of Elizabeth.

Finally, I wanted to show that I have been knitting. Here are the Helix socks (toes at this point) from Melissa Morgan-Oakes' book Toe-up 2-at-a-Time Socks.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Finished Objects Friday

Today, I am pleased to show off the two small quilts I have finished for the silent auction that will happen at our guild's quilt show this summer.

First up comes from a small top that someone else pieced, and I backed with a soft cotton jersey fabric. I thought this might work as a baby blanket. You can see that I did pretty minimal quilting in the ditch of the blue patches. In the sashing, I did simple diagonal lines, twisting the quilt 90 degrees each time I got to the edge of the sash. (Quilting is my least favorite part of the process.)

Yeah, the edges of the quilt are a little wavy. I'll steam it a little this weekend and see if I can straighten it that way. (Totally cheating, but I am NOT rebinding!)

I also quilted and bound one of the Scraptastic quilts. You'll see that I did echo quilting of all of the elements, putting the lines about 3/8" apart. For the binding, I simply folded over the back, straightened as I went, tucking as necessary (ooh!! naughty! The quilt police will catch that for sure!), and making it work.
It is not as wonky as it appears here, although I may go in and tack down the centers of those flowers a bit more.

I hope you all have a nice weekend.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

What I'm Reading Wednesday

I've decided that the only way I'm going to be really consistent about blogging is by developing some tags for myself. "What I'm Reading Wednesday" is a good start.

Last week, I read Uwem Akpan's debut collection of short stories, Say You're One of Them. This is not an easy book to read; in fact, I would call this one of the hardest books through which I've ever marched. These are stories about modern-day Africa as seen through the eyes of children and teenagers facing horrific life situations. One reads with a sense of dread and impending disaster. Most of the stories quote people speaking in an odd musical patois that would be hard to understand unless you have been around people speaking English in a variety of accents. I found myself just pulled in to the river of words and drifting along until fresh horrors occurred. The book is very well written, with fully realized characters in utterly believable circumstances. The device of seeing the stories through the eyes of the most vulnerable and least worldly characters works very well.

If you are sensitive and prone to nightmares, please do not read this book. If you cried after seeing Bambi, do not read this book. If, on the other hand, you cried after seeing the movie, Romero, read this book. If the phrase "Triangle Shirtwaist Fire" makes you cry out with indignation, read this book. The biggest problem I had with the book (besides the intense feelings of sadness it raised) was that I got to the end and wanted to know what I could do to fix some of the problems I saw. I wanted to move into action, and no action was obvious.

I had the privilege of becoming acquainted with Uwem a few years ago. He is a Jesuit priest and lived with the other Jesuits in Ann Arbor while getting his Master's degree in English. Naturally, he hung out at my parish, and I invited him to speak to the faculty-staff discussion group about Nigeria. He was rather surprised that we asked him, and he was pleasantly surprised that our group had some knowledge of his country. It took me a couple of years to work up the courage to read his book, and now, I am filled with a great many questions I want to ask him.

Within minutes of finishing this book, I rummaged through a pile of unread books and pulled out Anthony Trollope's Barchester Towers - tales of small-town middle class people in Victorian England - I am such a wimp!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Last Day of Knit and Crochet Blog Week - Yarn and Tools

Thank you for stopping by for the final day of Knit and Crochet Blog Week. I've had a lot of fun posting each day, and I hope it's been fun reading these posts. I've had fun reading posts from all over on these topics. If you want to see more posts about these topics, please go to your search engine and type in "knitcroblo" (and then, either a number from 1 to 7 or the letters wc). The last I knew about 300 people were addressing the topics. Today, I'm tackling Day 7's topic of a yarn I love.

I made the raglan sweater with Malabrigo worsted, and I LOVE it. It was SO soft and so cozy that every minute knitting with it was like a little vacation. I have about a skein and a half left over, and I’m having dreamy thoughts about what I could do with that. Maybe some leg warmers for those days in the winter when I’m determined to wear a dress and nylons despite the weather? Hmmmm…..

I’m going to do the wildcard topic here as well: My favorite tool is a Vera Bradley bag my sister-in-law gave me for my birthday a few years ago. It is the perfect size for a ball of yarn, a pattern, whichever book I’m currently reading, and a small-to-medium project. There are pockets along the sides in which I can stash tools (stitch counter, pens, small scissors, crochet hooks, etc.) With a sturdy bottom, I can leave extra needles in the bag. There is a pouch on the outside of the bag that can hold my sunglasses case. This way, it looks as though I’m carrying a purse and not a knitting bag (not that there’s anything wrong with that). 

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Revisiting Past Finished Objects

This has nothing to do with knitting or crocheting, but of all of the projects I’ve done in the last couple of years, my favorite is the Cherry Lemonade quilt (not my name, but I like it). (73" x 95") I have been fascinated by the optical tricks that come from randomly strewing a lot of little squares of similar colors around. This probably comes out of my adventures in hand dyeing fabric and getting mottled effects. I also love the strong contrast of the yellow and green against dark red. I am thinking of making another piece like this, but with adding some scrappy flowers on top (see my previous Scraptastic posts for pictures of where I'm heading on this).

In terms of projects from which I learned a lot, it has to be my Cosmic Pluto top-down raglan sweater. It is a very comfy sweater, but my failure to measure correctly (that has resulted in a lot of swearing and resewing when doing garment work) really bit me on this project. I simply didn't make the sweater long enough, or the collar small enough. Within the past month, I added a collar in order to stiffen the neckline and keep the sweater on, and I am also lengthening the sweater, including throwing in about an inch of short rows (to compensate for a generous bum).