Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Happy Hanukkah 2014

I woke up this morning with the idea that we needed a "family portrait" for Hanukkah.  HA!

Just imagine trying to MAKE the cat AND the dog cooperate for such a thing.  Neither of them were in the mood for doing anything that we wanted them to do.  (Of course, if we had gone into the bedroom just to sit on the bed by ourselves, they both would have been eager to join us......)

Then, as we're trying to figure out how to place the camera here and there, (since we're only two people and I actually wanted to BE in the picture too),  we couldn't get a single picture with both of us doing the same thing at the same time (we gave up on the "family" part after a couple of "wrestling matches" with the "kids").  

Every time I ran over to "jump" into the picture, I messed up my hair or one of us was looking the wrong way and I'm trying to give DannyLee instructions the whole time that only confused and confounded him.  

AND, of course, the camera battery chooses this exact same moment in time to declare "death is imminent" and since we were dependent on the flash........

THEN I figured out that the only programs that I have on my sub-computer won't support JPeG files so I had to do the little banner (and hopefully, NO ONE will notice the alternative spelling of "Hanukah" there (except ME!)) and then print the photo and then photograph the print to get a JPeG file that I could upload to the blogsite.  (Thankfully, I managed to "fix" this part of my "mess"!)

Hmmm.....(maybe I should have gone into ya think?)

Bottom line is:  "I tried"!
Hopefully tomorrow, I'll wake up with a better idea!

Happy Hanukkah!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Quilting in Alaska Part Two

Making my first quilt made me very aware of my personal faults and my limitations.  I like making things, but I'm somewhat of a perfectionist and I can get very frustrated when I can't do things exactly right.  That has led to lots of unfinished projects that got set aside when they didn't go the way I wanted them to go.  Since I started these quilts with the intention of actually finishing them, I had to push through that character flaw.  

As for limitations, my equipment is pretty basic and well-used.  The rail fence quilt required me to sew strips together and then cut them into 6-inch squares.  That seemed simple enough until I came up against another personal problem - I HATE ironing.  I will do anything to get around having to iron anything and with quilting - that's a BIG problem!

I quickly learned that not ironing every seam out as I went along caused my 6-inch squares to be anything but 6 inches and there was no way to "fudge" my way around that.  The only thing that saved me from having a horribly "skewed" quilt was that it was only a baby-sized quilt. If it had been any bigger, my end result would have been far worse than it turned out.  

The other problem that tripped me up right away was the only way I had to cut my squares was with scissors and a school ruler.  When you're working with small pieces, a miss-cut can also skew your quilt blocks.  I figured the only way around this problem was to choose a different quilt pattern for my second quilt.  

I went back to Liz's quilt pattern e-book for inspiration and picked the simplest pattern - the stripey quilt.  To add more interest to my new hobby, DannyLee asked me to make quilts for his new grandson and his granddaughter too.  Still glowing with the success of making a baby quilt, I happily agreed.  YIKES again!

I had a lot of thoughts in the beginning about Liz's description of this quilt being "simple" and they weren't happy thoughts.  You start this quilt by sewing forty 42-45" strips of cloth together end to end.  I ended up with a big LOOONNNGGG strip that I didn't know how it was ever going to become a "quilt".  It wasn't like I could just lay this all out on the floor (You can do the math here! My "math brain cell" goes to sleep at midnight.).  I managed not to panic.

As I walked out the instructions, (with LOTS of ironing!), I started to see a quilt emerging and I got really excited.  On one hand, I could see that I was making a quilt.  On the other hand, I couldn't see anything about it that was really special.  So, I decided to unleash my "creativity brain cell" on this project and see just how far I could go with this quilt. 

One of the fabrics had little monkeys on it and I had some "bits" left over from cutting the squares for the rail fence quilt.  As I looked at my "bits", suddenly I saw little pockets.  I LOVE pockets and pockets on a quilt?  Why not??  I had found something that would make my quilt special.  I designed little pockets and backed them with flannel so that toys and papers and such would be more inclined to stay inside.  I also quilted the pockets before I sewed them on the quilt face.  

I didn't make a bed-sized quilt.  The instructions said it would be something like 50"x 64".  I never actually bothered to measure it.  The picture below has DannyLee on his knees on our bed holding it up and he's 6'3" so it's plenty big enough to me.  

"Monkey Shines"

I didn't have a big enough piece of flannel for the backing, and I didn't want to cut up a blanket as I wanted this one to have the same kind of look and feel as the baby quilt as they both went to the same branch of the family tree.  I did have two pieces of flannel that I liked so I decided to piece them together in a more interesting way that just sewing them together with one seam.  

The back of "Monkey Shines"
I did put an edging on this one and after I did that, I tried to "quilt" the thing using "stitch in a ditch" like I'd done on the baby quilt.  "NO GO" on that!  If you look closely at the back, you can see how that went "south" on me right off the bat.  The flannel is too soft and stretchy and I couldn't keep it from slipping away from me.  I fell back to using bits of yarn to tie it all together which was far more fun.  

I was sad at this point that I had "ruined" all my work but the truth is that it wasn't a fatal error and unless you put the quilt down and smoothed it all out to look for my mistakes (or I told you), most people probably wouldn't even notice (or so I can hope!).  Anyway, it's only my second quilt and I've learned a lot from every mistake.

Happily, my great-grandson probably won't care and with the little toys and gifts that I put in each pocket for him, I highly doubt that the quilt will get all that much attention anyway.  So, I'm back to my sewing machine and I'm already well on my way with quilt number three with big plans for quilts number four and five!  

Happy Quilting!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Quilting in Alaska - au Natural!

 So, here I am in Alaska and it's winter and I'm wondering what am I going to do to keep myself busy and as I'm wondering, a phone call from my son reveals that I'm about to have a second great-grandson. 

That got me to wondering what I could send him as a gift that would be special from "me".  And that led me to think about all the things that I loved about my grandmother and that got me to thinking about QUILTS!

The 1st Quilt my Grandmother Made for me.

My grandmothers all made quilts and quilting in Alaska is a natural pairing in my mind.  I love to sew and I sewed a lot when I lived in Thailand, but one of the biggest challenges was the heat.  I always found myself sweating all over my "projects".  Making a quilt just never made any kind of sense.  But here in AK, keeping warm is a bonus and sewing definitely keeps you warm.  It can be a lot of work!  

The 2nd Quilt my Grandmother made for me.  This is called a "wedding ring" quilt.
The funny thing is that as I started learning how to quilt, I found that it also was a fun way to think about my grandmother and her life and all of the quilts that I have and have had in my life.  A quilt is not meant to be just some old blanket.  It starts out as a labor of love (I'm talking about real quilts made in homes here not factory products.) and probably carries far more weight in memories for the maker than anyone realizes.  

As I agonized over the "how-to's" and the little mistakes and the BIG mistakes, I also considered the parallels of life and the mysteries of the ages.  I'd say it's not a hobby to be done while sitting mindlessly in front of the TV.  My brain and my body both had to be totally engaged every minute or disaster lurked in the folds and seams to be discovered at the point of "too late" and "how do I fix that"!

My first beloved quilt came from my step-grandmother who lived in Indiana.  I can't really say for sure that she made it or even how it came to be in my possession.  I just know that old roughly made quilt meant a lot to me.  It wasn't beautiful or soft.  It was made of a coarse, scratchy material like old work shirts in shades of brown, gray and black backed with a piece of red and black flannel.  It was tied with bits of yarn.  I treasured that quilt for years until it finally fell apart.  It passed from my life but its memory remains.  

My Mom is a "collector" of quilts and has quite an eclectic collection of her own.  I was very happy to find this "treasure" in my Mom's pile of quilts last winter.  It's not particularly beautiful and she had no idea who made it or where it came from at all.  It's obviously homemade from a rough polyester fabric (like old work shirts!) and the backing is an old blanket that's soft and cuddly.  Finding this one was like getting my old "favorite" back!

This is my "go-to" quilt and stays on top of my quilt pile......

when I can wrest it from "the cat"!

As my second great grandson prepares himself to come into this broken world, I decided I better do something simple in the hopes that I could get it made before he entered high school.  The idea of using "jelly rolls" caught my fancy just by the sound of the name alone "jelly rolls" - what's not to like about that!  I never had the chance to learn anything about quilting from my Grandmother so it was up to me and my internet skills to figure this all out.

Fortunately, I stumbled across a website by Liz Katsura and she provides a wonderful set of patterns and instructions and even help for the helpless though I didn't have to push that "button".  I sent in an order for a few rolls that had a "boy" theme and some color.

I picked a simple looking "rail fence" pattern for my first quilt.  I decided that denim was going to be my "signature" so I used that as my "anchor".  I wanted my quilts to be unique to my own personal style.  I also love the idea of soft and cuddly so I went to the thrift store in Fairbanks and bought up a bunch of Snuggly fleece lap blankets for the backing.  

It was time to snuggle up to my Grandmother's sewing machine and put all of my skills to the test.  I didn't have any fancy quilting tools.  It was just me, the machine, a pair of scissors and an old gummy ruler from school supplies.  YIKES!

My First Quilt!

Of course, this story just can't end here.  I made this little quilt for my second great grandson.  That got me to thinking that I better make one for my first great grandson too.  However, he's five now so I knew I wasn't going to be able to just make him a baby quilt.  

Making the baby quilt took me three weeks (NOT in actual work time) and I feared the lessons that I learned here weren't going to help me with a bigger quilt.  I did know that I liked quilting, but I still had a lot to learn.  It was back to the drawing board for the next design and a story for another day............

Friday, December 12, 2014

Time Stands Still or Life Goes On?

A Warm December Day in Alaska
 You haven't lived until you've sat in your easy chair and listened to wolves howling in the darkness outside your house!  There's nothing quite like that!

As the days continue to grow shorter, it almost seems as if time has come to a standstill.  We have our daily tasks of hauling wood and keeping up with the house and the "kids" and then, there's everything else......  

We're down to a few hours of daylight at this point but as you can see, we still have some beautiful "sunshiny" moments. The weather has left us with little to complain about as the snow has come in manageable amounts and despite the reading on our silly thermometer, it's really been quite warm for this time of year.  (Our thermometer is off about 10 to 15 degrees or so.)  Our postman says that he's still waiting for winter to arrive.  We're just happy with what we've got right now. DannyLee says that he can live with this.  

Our Pellet Stove
 We've had a lot of fun "doing projects" around the house and as this is my first "own" house in a long time, I'm having a great time redecorating (which for me means moving stuff around to make it all look different!)  

This summer we moved our pellet stove into the kitchen (with a little help from our friends (okay, okay, a LOT of help!)), to push a little more heat towards the back of the house where the bathroom is located. There's nothing fun about getting up in the middle of the night and finding that the pipes in the bathroom have frozen up (like last year).  

I'm doing a lot more home cooking as it's too far to go anyplace where someone might cook something for me and that's been a lot of fun.  It's really changed the way we eat AND the way that we think about food.  We've also given up soda pop and artificial sweeteners and processed food.  It basically means that I have to do a lot more food preparation, but cooking meals in bulk and freezing them in portions is a good way to add more heat to the house.  

We've replaced soda with kefir water, but we're not giving up our iced tea.  Making kefir water is kind of like having another "pet" in the house as the kefir grains have to be fed and kept warm and washed and then you still have to make the kefir water itself.  I've finally gotten it down to a simple routine.  They love "snuggling" up to the warm woodstove, but not too close!

On a sad note, my old laptop that I bought in Thailand in 2006 finally gave up the ghost.  I did manage to save all my pictures, artwork and documents, but all my programs are just plain gone and they're irreplaceable.  I confess that it really hurt, but life goes on and for now I'm working on this tiny little notebook.  It basically has internet access and a dinky little keyboard that makes typing into an adventure, but it's good enough for me.

Losing my computer has caused me to take up a new hobby and I'm really excited about it.  I'll be talking a lot more about that in my next post.  As an added incentive, I'm excited to announce that soon I will be a great-grandmother for the second time.  My dad asked me if that makes me feel old.  I don't think so!!

DannyLee is busy working on his music between mauling and hauling firewood.  He's very excited with the new songs that he has written and practices them several times a day!  We're trying to figure out a way to make them available via the internet if we can actually record them with the equipment that we have here.  All I can say is that he hasn't lost his touch!  
DannyLee Working "It"!