Monday, December 17, 2012

Rob & Kim's Fandango Duvet Cover Finished

So, if it isn't obvious already, I'm a little obsessed with fabric designed by Kate Spain.  One of the first lines of hers that I saw and fell in love with was Fandango.  I had bought a little yardage of it from Hancock's of Paducah without having a real plan, but when I saw it in person, I knew the colors were perfect for my brother.  I was home after Christmas last year, and I showed him the fabric and asked him if he'd like me to make him a new duvet cover, and he chose the design I'd just used for my friend Anne's baby quilts.

The duvet top, with a small double strip of fabric that will fold over and encase the duvet almost like the old style of pillowcase.

My brother is a pretty special guy.  He actually inspired my interest in quilting by teaching me a really cool quilt design back in college, having learned it from his wife, and he helped me complete my second quilt (the first being more of an opportunity to show off cross-stitch).  I wish I had a picture of that little quilted wall-hanging we made together - I gave it to my best friend at the time, and it was really cool. Anyway, my brother is a professional potter who runs a studio in Athens, GA, called Good Dirt.  He is talented in so many ways, and I'm so proud of him for pursuing a career where he can teach, help people (he does so much for his community and for charity), make incredible art, use his science background and all of his skill sets, and spend quality time with his family, like walking his son to and from school.  A Rhodes Scholar with a D.Phil. in molecular genetics, he certainly could have been pushed into a career that didn't satisfy him, but he was brave and decided to pursue his artistic side, even though he works like a demon for a lot less money and accolades than he could have received if he'd taken a more traditional path.

So, I'd managed to get my hands on 2 charm packs of Fandango online, but I needed more fabric to make what amounted to two quilts sewn together!  Thanks to the awesome folks at one of my local quilt shops, Tomorrow's Treasures, who kindly sold me 1/8 yards from every bolt of Fandango in their collection with no argument about minimum cuts (so grateful), I was able to make this awesome duvet cover for my brother and sister-in-law, and I even finished it in time for Christmas this year.  Less than a year for a project of this size...I really must love my brother!  ;)

The back of the duvet cover.  The area on the right is actually at the head of the bed, so when they fold down the duvet cover, all those lovely blocks will show.

I pieced and quilted the front in 4 sections, which I then joined using a bit of trial and error.  I tried to take pictures to write a tutorial for how I did it, but I've realized that it really will depend on what you are trying to join as to the best way to approach the technique (plus I can't really show what I did in pictures that well).  On the back, I quilted it in two segments.  The blocks were one unit, and the fabulous print was quilted separately, and then they were joined.  I did a much better job on the join on the back, as it turned out.  Another great reason to practice an idea on scraps first to work out the kinks.  While the front required a lot of hand-sewing to create a smooth seam on the inside, the back was able to be pieced entirely by machine (and still looked really neat thanks to careful pinning on the back while slowly stitching from the top).  Luckily, that is the side that will be more up against their bodies, so a nice smooth join is more important on that side in terms of comfort.

While I did straight-line quilting with my walking foot on the entirety of the top and the pieced section of the back, I'd been practicing my free-motion quilting on all these charity quilts and decided to give it a go on the print fabric by following the design in the print - a great no-mark method for quilting.

Here's a look at the inside of the duvet cover, so you can see the quilting pattern better.  I wasn't perfect, but I think it will give it a nice light texture and a little added interest, and I used a thread that blends so any wobbles were less obvious.  Also, you can see in this picture that I made a hemmed facing to finish the bottom edge of the top, since I didn't want to disturb the pattern with any type of binding. I also did some other lovely couture touches, that unfortunately are hard to photograph, but I'm very proud of the workmanship in this's really well-made and should last them a very long time.  I hope it doesn't get too crinkly after it is washed...I love the crispness of the piecing and the quilting as it is.

And, as usual, I'm not sure whether I like the front or the back more.  I love reversible quilts, even if they are a lot more work!  It was pretty hard for my mom to photograph this monster, but I'm hoping when my brother picks it up from my parents around Christmas that he'll be able to help her take some pictures where you can really see the entire might take the whole family to hold it up!  Two quilts in one gets pretty heavy!  I also can't wait to see it in place on his bed...a bed that he made himself in a lovely craftsman style (did I mention that he is also an expert woodworker, or that he engineered and manufactured his own colored concrete countertops in a nice terra cotta to go on top of cabinets he built from scratch, or that he made his own sink out of porcelain?)  That bed/house deserved a finely made quilt to pull all the colors together, and thanks to Kate Spain's lovely fabric line, a nice design by Cindy of Hyacinth Quilts, and a lot of time and effort by me, I think this fits the bill!  Now I just need to make coordinating pillowcases for both Rob and his wife, Kim, with a bit of yardage and the little tiny scraps I have leftover from the top (and by little, I mean little)!  :)

Quilt Stats:
Rob & Kim's Duvet Cover
Fabric: Fandango by Kate Spain, Kona Snow
Thread: Gutterman and Mettler
Size: ~74" x 76"
Quilting: Straight-line and Free-motion
Special techniques: Precision piecing; Quilt-as-you-go and joining multiple sections, including hand-catching/tacking seams with invisible stitching; Hemmed facing; Enclosure flap with french seams; Zig-zag finishing on inside seams to prevent fraying & flatten seaming

Friday, December 7, 2012

December's Just 3

So, we're already well into December, but I feel like I should set some goals for myself this month, since I have been sitting out of sewing time lately.  I've been really tired lately, both from stress at work and the lack of daylight/incoming cold weather, and I feel like I need to motivate myself, or I'll continue to be a couch potato watching episodes of Elementary and the Mob Doctor (having finally caught up on Breaking Bad and Major Crimes).  There is a part of me that really wishes we never even turned the tv on, but the lazy part of me is happy for ready entertainment when I'm too tired to move.  I'm sure hoping I'll have my mojo back in January.

So, here goes:

1)  Make progress on the QuiltCon charity quilt that must be completed by January 31st.

We were sent a bunch of cool improv blocks that we need to turn into a twin-sized quilt for the Austin Children's Shelter.  By the end of December, I hope that the back and front will be complete, that a sandwich will be ready, and that it will hopefully be being quilted by one or more of the awesome members of the DC Modern Quilt Guild.  Hopefully much of that will happen tomorrow at our DC Modern Quilt Guild meeting.

2.  Quilt Rowan's Chasing Chevrons quilt

I showed my nephew the Chasing Chevrons quilt top that I was planning to give him if he liked it, and he absolutely loved it.  He's a wiggly sleeper, and we all decided this one will tell him which way to wiggle as he sleeps, except some paths might make him fall off of the bed! I just need to get it quilted!  My goal for December is to get all four quadrants sandwiched and quilted.  I can join them and bind them in January, but I'd like to at least get the quilting done while I'm in practice at free-motion quilting.  I am thinking about a concentric circle swirl design, but I'm still not positive about the approach, especially since I want to quilt it bigger than I have been lately.  Perhaps I'll seek the advice of my brave and trusty advisers tomorrow!  I'm still in the camp of preferring piecing to quilting, but I'm trying to teach myself that quilting is fun, too, and knowing a 10-year old boy in Athens, GA, is super excited about having this on his bed means it might actually get quilted in 2012 (and delivered in 2013).

3.  I should be saying "Finish charity quilts", as I know I would feel much better to get them all done and mailed out, but I think I need to take a small time out in sewing for others to make something small for me.  Specifically a pillow for my office chair.  If I end up having to sit at my office on Capitol Hill on the day after Christmas waiting for Congress to decide on how to avert the fiscal cliff instead of taking a week off to relax and sew and cook good dinners for my husband, I'd like to do it in style with something happy looking at me when I walk in.  My little purple placemat is not enough.  I've been watching all this pillow-making in the blog-o-sphere for awhile, and I have plenty of pillow forms that are eagerly awaiting covers/usefulness.  While I'd like to take time out to make myself an actual quilt (shocking), I have a quilt for my mom that I'd like to make first (now that she has seen and approves of the fabric/design), plus I really, really need to get to work on my husband's t-shirt quilt.  He is so patient, and I'm waiting on my test to see how it works to not interface the entire t-shirt, but I've been waiting for that for months.  I need to just get a back on there, sew over a few seams to stabilize it, wash it, and see how it looks.  I shouldn't actually call his quilt a quilt, as I am thinking very strongly of leaving out the batting, since, unlike me, he is often warm.  In addition to my giant granny panties throw quilt for sitting in my comfy chair under, I need to make myself an actual bed quilt with heavy batting, since I'm cold under my current sheet, blanket, and not-quite-large-enough flannel quilt.  Oh shoot...and I probably need to make the purse I promised last Christmas for my niece before this Christmas.  Argh...just 3 is hard...but thanks, Traceyjay, for trying to make me focus.  I have a lot of sewing to do without my mojo, but writing this out felt pretty inspiring.  Now let's see if I can accomplish the 3 (maybe 4, 5, or 6 things I'd like to do this month), and I'll have new goals for January!


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Another charity quilt finish...

So, I was going to enter this quilt in the QuiltCon Modern Quilt show, and though I finished it in time, I didn't finish it early enough to get a nice photo of it.  It's amazing what a bad photographer I am...I really need to read the book my dear friend Anne gave me so that I can learn how to take awesome blog photographs!  And I need to set up a clothesline outside in my backyard, so I can have better light.  Anyhow, I ended up not entering the contest, as I decided I really wanted to enter quilts that I was super proud of, and I didn't want to spend $60 on entry fees with photos that wouldn't do these justice.  While I really like this one and the purple one I just finished a lot, and I like that they are my own designs (though the quilting was inspired by Angela Walters' book and they are based on traditional concepts), they really are just vehicles to practice free motion quilting.  The one I really love, that I finished over Thanksgiving and have no pictures of yet, since I literally sewed the last seam as I was supposed to be heading to the airport, well...that's the one I wish I could have entered.  Alas, it is a duvet cover, so two quilts in one and no binding.  My mom has promised to take photos, so I'll share it really is awesome, and I managed to finish it in less than a!

But back to this little quilt, here it is:

I'm really happy with how much my free motion quilting has improved. I used a variety of designs, including some stencils to stitch butterflies in the center and corners.  I'm still not perfect, but I've been noticing lately that very few quilters are perfect if they don't have a stitch regulator, so I'll give myself a break!  I'd like to practice on a few more of the charity quilts that are in progress (and I'm really looking forward to being done with them so I can start on new projects for family members, including my patient husband, and even a couple for me!).  I'm also just about ready to quilt my Chasing Chevrons quilt.  My nephew (10) is going to be the proud recipient, and now that I've shown the top to him over Thanksgiving and gotten him excited, I need to actually finish it so he can use it!  Little by little, I'm getting those projects checked off my list.  By 2018, I should be done!  ;)

Monday, November 5, 2012

Latest charity quilt finish - Purple Plaid FMQ Craziness

So, I'm more than a little excited about my latest charity quilt finish.  I absolutely LOVE this quilt, and while it is extremely tempting to keep it for my future child (or to claim that in order to keep it for me!), I bought this fabric from Connecting Threads for a charity quilt, so I will give it away to hopefully make a child in need have a brighter day.  But wow...this one will be really hard to part with!  And I'm most definitely going to be making it again in other fabrics (probably purple batiks if it is really going to be to my taste)!  I love the finish that the cream binding gives the composition - and I machine bound it again.  This time, I used 2.25" starting width double-fold bias binding, because I made the binding awhile back, and I had 3 places near the corners that I had to go back and hand-sew, but not bad.  (My new technique is to make the binding before quilting a quilt, so that I don't get bogged down at the end...though the quilting part still seems to be the real slow-down in the process.  I actually enjoy the piecing and binding way more than the sandwiching or quilting, but I'm hoping to change that!)

Hey Angela Walters, don't worry...I'm not quitting my day job (but I do like your book)!
I decided when I pieced this one that it was the perfect design to really practice my free-motion quilting skills, and I'll be the first to admit, I need a lot more practice!  The final side definitely saw some improvement from the first side, but I have a long way to go before I'll feel really proficient.  But..."they" say practice is the key, and I certainly got a lot of practice with this one!  I even tried just following straight lines with my fmq foot, and by the end, I had somewhat even stitches. I also learned that since I can't draw a smooth curve, I shouldn't be surprised that I can't quilt one either!  And yes, I had to take a picture of me snuggling with it mid-quilting.  

I used cream and purple Mettler thread, a little bit of my regular quilting/walking foot, a lot of my FMQ foot, and Warm and Natural batting (that's the big roll behind my head that I got for $200 during a Jo-Ann's sale for all of my charity quilts, though I've since decided I slightly prefer Quilter's Dream batting).  I spray-basted this one at our DC Modern Quilt Guild Sewing Day at Material Girls in La Plata, MD.  (I love Jessie's blog-post about that!)  And now I'm about to go throw it in the wash to see this crinkle effect that everyone in blogland is so in love with that I normally try to avoid since I like my precise piecing/quilting to be evident!  This time, though, I'm hoping that it will dramatically improve the look of the quilting (aka hide the mistakes a touch), but I had to put a few detail shots here pre-wash so that you could see the myriad that when I'm really good we can all have a laugh about how far I've come!  ;)

When I finish the entire current batch of charity quilts (inspired by Katie through 100 Quilts for Kids), I think I'm going to have to find an old cool split rail fence to hang them all on, since they are going to be quite a sight!  2 completely finished so least 4 more to go!  I started quilting on the first pink one last night, and I'm hoping to finish it this evening while my husband is back in New York City for the rescheduled concert from last Sunday.  I made him be my quilt holder before he got on the road, so for once I actually have an outdoor picture of a quilt.  Don't faint!  ;)

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Status Update & Blogger's Quilt Festival

So we survived Hurricane Sandy with no loss of power or storm damage (as far as we know)!  Hooray!  However, it makes it rather hard to take nice outdoor pictures when you are surrounded by a "Frankenstorm"!  I prepared for the loss of power this time extensively, after losing power this summer for several days to the crazy derecho that caused such damage to the grid in the middle of a heat wave.  On Sunday afternoon, I baked fresh cinnamon rolls, filled all our water pitchers, and waited in line in the cold rain for 3.5 hours to get my early vote cast, since we have a super important opportunity in Maryland this election to vote for equality that I didn't want to miss!  I hope so much that we are the first state to approve marriage equality for everyone by the popular vote.  With gay aunts who are very dear to me and a model of a successful marriage, the issue is very personal and important to must be, because I mistakenly only wore flip flops, and it was cold, but I waited for my turn (though I had a lovely chat with several folks in line around me, which made the waiting much easier!).

For this fall's Blogger's Quilt Festival, I had a real debate.  I thought about sharing the first big quilt I ever made, more than a decade ago now, since the improv pieced back is still a favorite design - I called it my Frank Lloyd Wright inspired quilt and always preferred the back to the front.  Alas, it is so faded from constant use that an indoor picture just doesn't do it justice, so I'll share it another day (or better yet, make it again in better fabrics).  Maybe I'll even write it up so it will be my first official pattern!

But for now, I'll instead share my latest finish - a quilt for the new baby of my friend Kakuti and her husband Chris, who will be arriving any day now.  This quilt is a variation on a pattern that many of us used for last year's 100 Quilts for Kids.  I altered it a good bit, so some of the squares are now rectangles and the middle of the three borders is wider than the time, I'll make this even more pronounced, I think, as well as perhaps substituting a larger piece for the center.  I used a charm pack of Half Moon by Moda as well as a variety of black and white prints that I bought in my first fabric shopping spree that I'd been saving for FOREVER!

I pieced the back to take advantage of those wonderful large polka dots, and I wanted to include some red, as well.  I used the binding tutorial from Red Pepper Quilts to machine bind it using a 2.5" starting strip (versus my normal 2.25" width), and I was very pleased with how it turned out...only one place where I had to go back to recatch the binding.  I think the key is definitely lots of pins, and by my third side I figured out how to pin from the top, which made it a little easier.  I also loved her measurements for how to overlap the ends - it worked perfectly and was much flatter than my usual tuck-under-one-end method. 

I did straight-line quilting with my walking foot in black and red. It required a few thread changes as I worked from the center out, but I think it was worth it to have the texture without distracting so much from the design.  I really like how it turned out - as usual, it will be hard to give away, though I'm very excited to share it with such a lovely couple. 

Luckily, when I bought the first charm pack, I decided to buy 2 so I could make one for our future child.  I've been making charity quilts and quilts for close friends' babies for awhile now, but I've decided I really need to start a stash of quilts for when we have a child, since many bloggers have mentioned that they had a hard time quilting once they were pregnant.  So, you'll likely see something like this again if you keep following my intermittent blogging!  I'm going to have a lot of big finishes in the next few weeks to share, and I plan on quilting a lot when I'm in Georgia around Thanksgiving taking care of my mom after her back surgery.  While she rests, I'll be sewing up a storm in the next room between bringing her little cups of tea and snackies!  While I'm home, I am very excited about giving my brother his new duvet cover and my nephew his new Chasing Chevrons quilt, plus I've got gorgeous fabric for a log cabin for my mom that I may wait to sew once I'm down there (or maybe I'll get it done in advance, we'll see)!

Blogger's Quilt Festival Statistics

Finished quilt measures: 40″ x 40″

Special techniques used: machine pieced, machine quilted with walking foot, machine bound

Quilted by: ME!
Best Category: Favorite Baby Quilt, Favorite Home Machine Quilted Quilt

Thursday, October 18, 2012

My latest charity quilt

Despite my best intentions, I only completed one quilt during the 100 Quilts for Kids charity quilt drive.  I probably should have been more focused...instead, I also completed 3 tops, all of the pinwheel blocks for another, and a fun hand-stitched hexy strip that will be the centerpiece of another.  Indeed, I was worried I wouldn't even finish this one in time - on Saturday morning, it was still just a top and a back!  I used Cindy's tutorial, but I only had a partial jelly-roll with no repeats, so I didn't have enough fabric to make more than 3 columns, and I really struggled my way through this one, including unpicking several seams (a rarity for me).  I had started by cutting my jellyroll strips in half so I could make the two sets I'd need, and on the second set, I figured out that I could make them line up better if I went ahead and cut off a 45 degree triangle from each end piece so I could line them up as I sewed the strip sets, since I didn't have any extra fabric to spare!

What really made it a doozy was the micro-stippling.  I haven't done any free-motion quilting in a couple of years now, so I'm very out of practice, but I really enjoyed it.  My stitch length is all over the place, and it certainly is far from perfect, but I think it will make some foster child in Ohio, courtesy of My Very Own Blanket, immensely happy!  (At least I hope so!)  I think it is a good sign for a charity quilt when it is really hard to give it away, and this one definitely fits that bill!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Catch-up quilts...

So, I'm a much better quilter than I am a blogger, but I'm trying to improve.  It seems like now is a good time to try to show off a few older finishes that never made it on here, since I've got lots of in-progress projects that won't be finished for another few weeks perhaps.

My cousin, Kelly, had her second baby right around when we were getting married.  For her first baby, Julian, I made a cute little bib/burp cloth thing (a rectangle to put over your shoulder to sop up drool...not sure what to call it) with a hand-appliqued chick on it, since she and her husband, especially, love orange.  As usual, I didn't photograph it - if I had a nickel for every cool project I made and gave away without photographing, I'd least a dollar!  Anyway, you'll just have to take my word for it that it turned out very cute.  I wanted to do something a bit bigger for her second baby, both for her and as a special thank you to her parents, my aunt Roz and Uncle Dean, who were kind enough to host our completely wonderful wedding reception crawfish boil at their house in New Orleans.  I wanted to finish the quilt in time to bring it to New Orleans, since I thought they might enjoy having the quilt at their house for when baby Archer comes down to visit (or they could deliver it on one of their many trips to see their grandbabies), but I didn't have much time to get it done because I'd been so focused on finishing the quilts that were long overdue for my bridesmaids, Anne and Talia, before the wedding.  

The weekend after our wedding, Bryan and I went to Chapel Hill to see several nights of surf band music (my husband's obsession) and to see where he grew up, meet up with some of his best college friends to celebrate our marriage, and to generally take a stroll down memory lane.  We had a really fun time during the days, heading over to Greensboro one day to our favorite BBQ place, Stamey's, and hiking through the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park that he'd gone to frequently as a kid.  We drove by old houses he had lived in and by the little lake that was the location where he and his brother first "ran away from home" with their backpacks filled with PB&Js and comic books.  We even drove by his elementary school.  (I'm a nut about stuff like that...I made him do the same thing with me when we went to New Orleans for our "official" reception, including my elementary school, favorite park, and the first house I remember living in!)  We saw the house in Chapel Hill that he shared with his awesome housemates in college, the planetarium where he worked (and saw an amazing show about black holes that really blew my mind), and we enjoyed walking around campus.  We also went to some great restaurants for dinner in Chapel Hill that I'm still craving, including the Lantern and Cholonad.  But, the official reason for the visit was the Instro Summit.  I've started to like surf music (especially since we went to Croatia 2 years ago to see an incredibly friendly Croatian surf band called the Bambi Molesters and ended up being interviewed for Croatian television for the length we went to to see the band).  But, I am not a concert-girl, despite marrying a man who likes nothing better than going to see live music.  I knew I didn't need to sit in a little bar for almost 24 hours over the three days watching bands (though I did go one evening and it was more fun than I expected!).  So, I decided to try my hand at a strip quilt, ala Film in the Fridge and after seeing one of the charity quilts Katie made last year, except that I also wanted to do it in the quilt-as-you-go method, and I wanted to do it in the hotel room when he was off galavanting with a few of his college friends the first night of the shows.  I cut all the print fabric at home so that I wouldn't need my cutting mat (though I forgot to cut the coordinating solids I so carefully purchased).  I knew the hotel would have an iron and ironing board, so all I needed was my strips, batting, backing, pins, thread, and trusty sewing machine.  And voila!  I used Kate Spain's Central Park fabric on the front, an old hand-dyed for the back, and Kona cotton (perhaps tangerine) for the binding.  (I should add that Kelly lives in New York and takes her kids to Central Park, so it felt doubly appropriate!)

In my first evening at the hotel, I had a quilt-ish!  I ended up deciding to add quite a bit more quilting when I got home, including some straight lines around the seam lines, as well as tracing some of the curves in the tree print, though I made that harder than it needed to be by using my walking foot.  And while I got the binding attached once I got home, I didn't have time to hand-sew it down until I was on the plane heading for New Orleans!  So, in these pictures, it hasn't been washed yet, but it was wrinkly more from its handling than the was actually pretty easy to keep it smooth as I sewed it down, even without using basting spray (though next time I think it would have been easier to have spray basted the backing to the batting before starting).

In addition to sewing down the binding by hand, I wanted to actually sign the quilt, since that is another of the things I rarely do but am trying to improve on.  I think it helps that my new married name is 6 letters shorter than my maiden name.  It's a bit hard to see in this picture because I just used orange thread instead of perle cotton...why I took all these pictures indoors is beyond me, since I could have taken some really great outdoor shots, but there you least I got my mom to help me snap some pictures for once!

Uncle Dean, the host with the most!
And, I can't leave this topic without a few pictures from the "reception".  I should start by saying that Bryan and I both love eating crawfish.  One of the first times he cooked for me, he made crawfish pie.  And I think one of my big attractions for him was a family from New Orleans (for many, many generations)!  When we were thinking about our wedding, we considered a lot of options, but we decided that rather than have all of my family from New Orleans trek to DC, it would be a lot more fun for everyone if we just traveled to New Orleans!  So, my awesome aunts from Champaign, Illinois, my brother and nephew from Athens, GA, my parents from Atlanta, GA, and Bryan and I from DC/MD all descended upon my uncle's house for Memorial Day weekend!
The traditional "crawfish race"!
My aunt, in particular, was very worried about the heat of New Orleans that late in the season, so in addition to the standard crawfish boil tables under tents, they set up a little cooling spray system on the side of the tents that worked like a champ.  We were all dressed in our grubbiest clothes (which was funny when I tried explaining to the lady at Nordstrom's Wedding Suite that I didn't need lovely white shorts for my crawfish boil reception...I don't think she understood what is involved in a crawfish boil!).  And we sat around eating crawfish, crabs, corn, mushrooms, potatoes, whole cloves of garlic, onions, and spicy sausage.  We had bought a doberge cake from Gambino's as our "official" wedding cake - half chocolate and half lemon.  This is a wonderful cake, but really the reason I wanted it was because my dad's dad ("Pop") always loved lemon desserts, and especially lemon doberge, and that was my way of bringing him, in spirit, to our celebration, even though he passed away almost a decade ago.  In addition, my uncle Bud and his wife, Dena, brought us a lovely cake that had whipped cream, berries, and maybe pastry was delicious.  Aunt Roz had bought beautiful flowers and had some really fun decorations.  My brother also brought his mandolin down and played some music for "our first dance", which my honorary Aunt Cathy filmed.  It really was wonderful - better than I had even imagined.

Intense concentration on putting crawfish into my mouth!

My brother, Rob, continuing the family tradition, and sharing a crab claw with his son, Rowan

...who happily accepted.
The happy couple, complete with my aunt's hysterical wedding decor!
Bananas Foster in action!

We also ate at a lot of fun restaurants, including a dinner at Commander's Palace with the famed Bananas Foster (who knew cinnamon thrown on the fire would make such a good show!), the impeccable Mr. B's Bistro, Bryan's old favorite Mother's Restaurant, and Emeril's Delmonico.  And we couldn't go to New Orleans without a stop for beignets and cafe au lait at Cafe du Monde.  But the best meals were at my uncle Dean's house.  We had an amazing brunch the day after the crawfish boil with crawfish etouffee omelets, crepes, fruit, and the best hash browns on earth (made from the potatoes, onion, and garlic from the crawfish boil).  And before we left, my uncle went completely above and beyond and made my absolute favorite - crawfish bisque - complete with the crawfish stuffing in the shells.  Thank you so much, Uncle Dean and Aunt Roz, for being such wonderful hosts.  I asked my nephew which of his aunts' wedding celebrations he preferred, and, of course, since my reception did NOT involve putting on a suit or sitting through a boring ceremony but did involve eating delicious food, playing horseshoes, fishing in the canal behind my uncle's house, and playing lots of fun games, well...I won hands down!  :)

Friday, September 28, 2012

WIP List

I seem to be starting and making progress on lots of projects many, in fact, that I feel a bit out of control (perhaps because my sewing room is out of control), so I thought I would try to get a handle on my "to-do" list.

If you haven't heard about the fabulous 100 Quilts for Kids charity quilt drive by Katie at Swim, Bike, Quilt!, you should definitely check it out.  It's a pretty simple concept.  Make a quilt or 2 to donate to a child in need through the charity of your choice, locally if possible.  Take a picture and link it up by October 15th, and help spread the word.  
Swim, Bike, Quilt

I'm happy to see that the 100 quilt goal has already been reached this year, so I've decided that if I can't finish all of these in time, I'm going to take my time and donate them as I complete them.  I really want to use this as an opportunity to practice/re-learn free motion quilting, and the calendar has just been moving too fast.  I did just enroll in Angela Walters' Craftsy class on quilting negative space (and bought her book...aren't I the groupie?), and Aubrie sold me on Leah Day's website - wow!

Last year I only ended up finishing one quilt, though I had pieced another cute top.  One of the things that was stopping me from finishing that quilt was that I needed to piece another top to see how much fabric I'd have left for the back from this collection (or so I told myself).  Well, in basically one sewing session a year later, I had it done.  I have to say, this one is really going to be hard to give away, which I guess is the sign of a really great charity quilt.  I love purple, and I love the simplicity of the design.  It's ridiculous, but I can't stop looking at it.  I made up the pattern as I went, but I can see making more in this design, so I should probably write down what I did (though, as usual, I learned some things along the way that I would change).  I'd originally intended to turn everything on point (and still might in a follow-up quilt, since I still have lots of a jelly roll left), but I loved that plaid, and I didn't think it would work as well as setting triangles, plus my center square ended up a little bit rectangular, so...happy accidents an opportunity to get creative.  ;-)

Meanwhile, I also started playing with some more jelly rolls that I bought at the same time as the fabric above from Connecting Threads.  (I do have to say, I'm not terribly happy with the quality of the fabric or the precision on the cuts...the charm squares were a mess and some of the fabric I'd ordered had flaws, plus the cuts were so wavy that my 1/2 yard of that purple bordering the plaid was not even close to being a half-yard, so it went from my choice for binding to sashing (and I just realized I need to figure out what I'm going to do for binding now - doh!).  That said, the price was right, the prints were pretty, and I'm making it work, and I have no reason to think it won't be "good enough".)  I'm going to make this batch into a quick Ohio roads quilt - I've already sewn them all into blocks, so I just need to sash and potentially make setting triangles - I'm thinking about putting it on-point for something different.  I think this will be a really sweet little quilt for a little girl.  With the leftovers and the charm pack, I'm going to make a more reversible modern quilt - and I finally will get to use my new rotary circle cutter!  Stay tuned!  :)

And this part of the stack is going to become a cute chevron quilt, using Cindy's tutorial as inspiration. I've already sewn a few of the white strips to some of the strips, since I like having multiple quilts going to use as enders/leaders, but I should have read the tutorial more carefully.  But...I'll make it work, though it may not be quite as perfect as hers is!  I bought charm squares in this line, too, as I originally had a different idea, so I've decided to play with hexies, thanks to several awesome members of the DC Modern Quilt Guild, who have totally inspired me! 

I have this quilt that I need to get quilting for my friend and colleague, Kakuti, who is due in November.  I also have a second set of squares to make a very similar one for me, as I absolutely love it and I want to start making baby quilts for our eventual child.  I've read of too many pregnant women not feeling up to quilting to wait until I'm actually pregnant to make something for our future child!  But...those projects do seem to take a backseat to all the rest, I'm afraid.
I don't have pictures to show yet, but I also need to complete my brother's duvet cover, my nephew's quilt, my husband's t-shirt quilt, and a little pinwheel charity quilt that I made using the 60 half square triangles I put together lickety-split at the DC Modern Quilt Guild sewing day, where I gave a little demo of the grid method for piecing hsts.  I'm a big fan - that's what I used to make the Chasing Chevrons quilt, and if we live long enough, I'll post a tutorial on here...I took all the pictures, but I find incorporating pictures into Blogger to be difficult.  There must be an easier way!

Also, I have the fabric ready to go for the Giant Granny Pants Quilt Along, and I want to make a quilt for my mom, too, using a modified log cabin (though I still feel like I need some other fabric to get what I want out of it.

Oh, and I want to make a quilt like the one Katie made recently for my friend Talia, who is due in March, but I'm waiting to find out the gender of the baby before final fabric selection (and because I can't start one more project right now before I finish up a few!)  I think I'll take a fair amount of time off work now while Congress is slow while they are out campaigning...I feel certain that after the election I'll be a lot busier!  So expect to see a lot more finishes soon!  :)

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Chasing chevrons

I'm posting this from my phone (so forgive the lack of links), but I wanted to show off my completed top from Jennifer's Chasing Chevrons quilt along over at That Girl, That Quilt. I laid it all out on my king-sized bed (and floor) to decide on block placement, and little by little I got it all put together! I turned one block the "wrong" direction from the pattern, but that's not bad, considering. I plan to do a scrappy binding, and my smart mother suggested a dark color for the back, since it is for my nephew and she's already worried about the light front. I have a few leftover scraps and blocks that won't really go with the charcoal back as well, so maybe I'll throw the extras into a little doll/charity quilt. Now, I just have to figure out the quilting! I've recently enrolled in Angela Walters' Craftsy class and bought her book, plus I've been whipping out lots of charity quilt tops, so I think I'm finally going to really try to become proficient in free motion quilting. I might even take a vacation day to tackle it...I'm that excited!
(Sorry for the dark cell phone pictures...eventually I will get better about this!)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Saying goodbye to our fur-baby

One of my favorite pictures of our sweetie.

So, we've had a really tough couple of weeks.  We lost our cat, Pilgrim, one week ago, and it has been absolutely devastating to us.  I'm hoping that writing about the entire sad experience will help me process it, since I can't seem to get past it (though it has only been a week, so I'm not surprised that I'm constantly bursting into tears.)

Her official name was from a Widespread Panic song called "Pilgrims": "Little black kitty crossed our path, wearing little fog feet..."

Pilgrim started acting a bit strangely a little more than 2 weeks ago, and then exactly 2 weeks ago, she woke us in the night meowing in a very pitiful way while she was trying to use the litter box.  She'd not been as interested in eating as usual, so we called our wonderful veterinarian's office on that Wednesday, and we got a Friday morning appointment to bring her in.  Dr. Golden examined her and took a blood sample, but she was a little dehydrated and he couldn't get a urine sample, so I took her home to watch her and wait for her to use her re-jiggered litter box so I could grab the sample. 

When we got home, I'd chided myself that we had over-reacted, since she was happily eating her tuna treat, sitting on my lap, and seemed back to her old self.  Late that afternoon, I got a frantic call from my husband asking me if I could get her in the crate by myself and meet him at the vet because she was in kidney failure.  My grandfather's kidneys failed when he was dying, so just those words had a lot of baggage for me, and I could barely call Bryan's mom to tell her the news through my tears.

Dr. Golden was hopeful that it could just be an infection that had knocked out her kidneys, and if we could support her kidney function, perhaps she would be OK when the infection was cured.  She hadn't given me a urine sample, so he collected that and gave her subcutaneous fluids (and taught us how to do it), as well as antibiotics, a stomach calming medication, new food, an appetite stimulant, and his cell phone number, and we took her home.

Pilgrim was an angel, tolerating the twice/day fluid treatments, medications, etc., and she'd actually eaten pretty well on Friday and Saturday, but by Sunday she lost interest in her new food, and we spent pretty much all of our long Labor Day weekend holding and petting her and trying not to freak out completely.  She wasn't interested in playing, but she was happy to be pet and sit on our laps or in her favorite spot on our bed and she was no longer waking us with pitiful cries over the weekend, so we were hopeful that we were getting her better.  She woke me up very early on Tuesday morning just to be pet and loved on, and for once, I didn't mind the pre-dawn snuggle...I am grateful we had that time now.

On Tuesday afternoon, we were heading to our vet's office to get more fluid treatment and needles, but she still wasn't eating so he asked us to bring her in to check her kidney function.  We still had a few days to wait on the results of the culture that was being grown from her urine, so there wasn't much more to do, though Dr. Golden called the lab and found out that, while inconclusive, it appeared to be a gram-negative organism, so we still had some hope since the antibiotic she had been on was better for a gram-positive organism.

Well, when her kidney function results came back, they were even worse, despite giving her an entire iv bag full of fluid over 4 days, so he had us take her to the emergency vet hospital in Annapolis so she could have iv fluids overnight, as well as starting her on a new antibiotic.  We were a wreck, of course, but got her over there and spoke to the doctor there, and she seemed hopeful that Pilgrim could make it through this infection.  We went to dinner with my mother-in-law, Margery, who lives in Annapolis and takes care of Pilgrim for us when we are out of town (and we did pretty well...only started crying once during dinner).  We were supposed to go home, but I wanted to go back to the hospital for the evening visitor hours, and the vet there came out and told us that they'd done an x-ray while we were at dinner and had seen some masses that concerned them and that one of her kidneys was very enlarged, which is the opposite of what they expected.  I thought the worst, but she still seemed very hopeful, which, in retrospect, I wish she hadn't shared, as that really got my hopes up.  We got home, and it felt so weird to be in the house.  It was Pilgrim's first night away from home since I'd met her two and a half years ago, and I could barely sleep without my baby pressing up against me (which is what she did every night).

A few weeks ago, when I'd just put my freshly laundered blanket on the bed, I found someone breaking it in for me.

On Wednesday afternoon, they sedated her to do an ultrasound and take a biopsy (and to be able to examine her, since she was apparently not very cooperative with the strangers at the clinic...go figure that she'd finally had enough of being poked and prodded).  They found that she had pretty extensive lymphoma in her kidneys, lesions in her intestines, and after talking to Dr. Golden, we determined that chemotherapy was not a kindness, since it was not likely to be successful and would not be pleasant for her.  We went to pick her up, hoping that we'd have at least a few more days with her, but in the meantime, she'd also ended up with fluid in her lungs and was having difficulty breathing.  After seeing how bad it was when we got to the hospital, we didn't want to have her in distress overnight, so we talked to Dr. Golden and he was going to come by at 8:30 or 9 p.m. so that we could have a few more hours with her.  We'd hoped that her difficulty breathing would ease up when we got her home to her familiar surroundings, and she seemed alright on the car ride home in Bryan's arms.  But, when we got her inside, she was having difficulty walking.  She had no interest in her favorite treats (that we had just ordered a dozen bags of), and it was clear that she was uncomfortable.

I took this picture a month or so ago...I love how Bryan would get down on the floor for "pettings".
Those couple of hours were probably the saddest hours of my whole life.  We tried to pet her, to let her be on the bed where she was normally comfortable (but she didn't seem to want to be there), and we tried to let her lay by the back door to look out the window, which is something she always liked, but she was just clearly not herself, and we finally called Dr. Golden and asked if he could come earlier.  We didn't want her to suffer just so we could have longer to say goodbye.

Dr. Golden is a saint.  I can't say enough about how grateful we are to him.  He spent so much time with her and us after hours (until after 7 on Friday night), calling us on Saturday morning to check in, talking to us on Labor Day when we were concerned about her appetite, and then talking to us extensively on Tuesday and Wednesday.  On Wednesday night, he came to our house, moving very slowly and quietly so Pilgrim wouldn't be scared.  He was so gentle with her and with us.  When we were as ready as we could be, he gave her a shot through her IV to sedate her, and then he gave her the second shot that was the euthanasia, explaining everything in advance and then again as he was doing it.  Bryan held her so that she could see both of us as she passed, and we petted her and hoped that we had made her as comfortable as possible.  It was surprisingly peaceful, and then Bryan insisted that I leave the room for whatever had to happen next (listening to make sure that there was no heartbeat and preparing to take her away for cremation).  Of course, as soon as Dr. Golden left with her, we both totally lost it.

Bryan has had Pilgrim in his life for more than 14 years.  In fact, the only person with whom he has shared a roof longer is his Mom.  Bryan's ex-wife had found Pilgrim and Mojo as kittens at a junkyard in Alabama.  They were probably too young to be separated from their mothers, who were nowhere to be found, and Bryan had to bottle feed her, teach her how to use a litter box, everything.  He had a baby album with her kitten pictures in it.  And when his ex-wife left him, Pilgrim kept him going and gave him a reason to get up every day.  She took care of him as much as he took care of her.  She was his baby girl, and he would have walked through fire for her.

I'm allergic to cats, and when I first met Pilgrim, I wasn't so sure about her.  But after our first few visits, I could see what Bryan saw in her, and as our relationship grew, I realized I'd fallen in love not just with Bryan, but with Pilgrim, too.  I never thought I could get so attached to a cat, but I've realized that Pilgrim wasn't "a cat" - she was our baby, and I miss her so very much that it hurts.  We will probably get another cat in a few years (once we've had a baby and the child is old enough not to hurt a kitten), but I don't think any future cat could ever live up to Pilgrim's sweetness.

She really liked to "help" me with my work on days I teleworked.

"Mom can't sew today...I like her pillow."

"Really Mom...I'm more important than sewing!"

Meeting her grandma Sue.  Pilgrim was usually not one to jump in the lap of a "stranger", but I guess she knew pretty fast that my mom was her friend, too.

How can anyone resist that face?

"This laundry basket may be broken, but I'd like to jump in and out of it, please!"

Sunbeam and texture...perfect napping opportunity.

Nowhere else I'd rather be than in my parents' lap.

"Mooommmm...wake up!  It's play-time!"

"You can bind this while I hold it down for you."

"Quilting is such hard work - time for a nap."

Our snuggle-bug...may she rest in peace.