Thursday, November 23, 2006

A Thanksgiving prayer

Franciscan Starburst teapot, creamer, and sugar bowl

A couple years ago my grandmother presented my with a stack of index cards, requesting that a write a prayer to say before the Thanksgiving meal. By stack, I mean at least half a dozen cards: she evidently thought I was going to prepare a heartfelt, touching, lengthy statement on the bounty of the previous year and hopefulness for that ahead.

She should have known better. I don't do sentimental.

This is what she got:
Dear Lord,
Thank you for food, family, and Franciscan Starburst dinnerware.

My parents and Youngest Brother, endowed with more of a sense of humour than Grandma, were amused. She herself, of course, was less than impressed by the brevity and lack of solemnness. But it was not going to be a Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving meal anyway—with a resident alien (the Mother) in the room, my grandfather's comments about the irrelevance of foreigners guaranteed a tense dinner. So much for the family part.

Franciscan Starburst, however, continues to be worthy of gratitude, so I offer my prayer once more. Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Quilt number 2 all done

Plain Spoken quilt

Once again, the blog seems to have got away from me, this time because I've been stitching like a madman to get the binding sewn onto my Plain Spoken quilt. But now it's done! This is my first real quilt—the first one that's fully pieced together. I wasn't expecting the quilting to make such a difference to the texture, but it makes all the difference. I love it.

It also has the seal of approval from the pattern designers themselves, Weeks Ringle and Bill Kerr of FunQuilts (and authors, of course, of The Modern Quilt Workshop)! After listening to the fascinating interview with Weeks on CraftSanity, I sent a photo of my Plain Spoken top to enter the drawing for a copy of their Color Harmony for Quilts book, and much to my delight I won one. So today, only a day after I finished the quilt, the book arrived with an inscription from the authors: "Your Plain Spoken quilt ROCKS!" Thanks to Weeks and Bill and to Jennifer at CraftSanity—I'm thrilled.

So what have we learned this time?
  1. Press better, lazybones. This was the Mother's friendly admonishment. Ironing is one of my most loathed household chores, so I tried to get away with just pressing the seams from the back of the fabric. But no. I should really press from the front, too. This pattern was forgiving enough; triangles not so much. Will do better next time. A side note: I think ironing fabric added about ten bucks to my electric bill last month.
  2. This big and no bigger! At 96.5 inches long, this quilt tested the limits of the Mother's free-motion machine. I probably could have done with a row or two fewer, since at this size the quilt really needs a pillow tuck. That's actually fine, because I'm not sure how it'd mesh with pillowcases, but if I expect to keep getting freebie quilting jobs from the ever-patient Mother, I'd best keep her—and her machine—happy.
  3. Mitering corners takes practice. I had a breakthrough when I was sewing the back of the third binding corner. I wish I could explain what it was. I think it's too complicated to describe clearly. Nobody tells you how to get the miters to look right when you're hand-sewing the binding to the back of the quilt, and maybe that's why. I just had to pop the excess bulk on the front the other way. Does that make any sense? No, I didn't think so.
For my next trick, a quilt of my own design. That is, after making Christmas pressies, if I can restrain myself. Maybe a little of both for the Thanksgiving break?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Tchotchke Tuesday: Eggplant lady

Eggplant ladyOrigin: somewhere in Africa

Apologies for the break in tchotchke regularity—sometimes you just don't have that bric-a-brac feeling. Taking the slot tonight, however, is this thing. An eggplant with a face and appendages, she serves no function whatsoever. My dad brought her back from a business trip to Africa when I was in seventh grade. Somehow she seems to have made her way into my current apartment—there's a nice little ledge for her in my bathroom, so there she sits, waiting for something better to take her place.

The Queen and a stand on spelling

QE2 card catalog card

My bathroom is home to a smattering of Queen Elizabeth II paraphernalia. And I've been pondering a quilt using library card catalog cards as blocks. Lo and behold, what did I find in the scrap pile at the library yesterday but cards about the Queen herself? I swiftly snagged the author and subject cards for Lilibet: An Intimate Portrait of Elizabeth II. Bibliographic details and QE2—two of my more peculiar interests merging beautifully.

I saw The Queen this weekend, too. The more I digest it, the better I think it was. And Helen Mirren as a clopping, little old lady of a queen was superb.

All this talk of Her Majesty leads me to something I've been mulling over for a while. I live in America, but I'm also Canadian and have spent much of my life in the UK. I (mostly) grew up using American spellings, but I often feel more at home in a British—or loosely, Commonwealth—style. In general, I adapt the style to the audience, but on the Internet, where are the lines drawn? Need I broadcast American language from my own little corner of the web? I daresay I needn't. So from here forwards, I shall spell things here however I like—and I will likely like British spellings. Perhaps it will look affected (much like the sentence 'I daresay I needn't'), but I think of it as a personal solace from being compelled to use American English the rest of the day. Expect cheques, programmes, colours, and group nouns conjugated as plurals in future. Cheers.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Fabric shopping in the Bay Area

When I was in California last month, I dragged the Other along on my first adult trips to quilt shops. I've clocked hundreds of hours in them, but previously only as a grumpy child.

Sometimes it felt like I grew up in fabric stores; Joann's was a particularly loathed locale. Middle Brother and I would try to make the hours pass by scouring the floor for stray sequins, which, because they were shiny, seemed like they were virtually currency. Then we'd play hide-and-seek in the round racks of fabric, driving the Mother bonkers. I could never understand how she could spend SO BLOODY LONG in a single shop.

But now I know. It's a disease.

Philadelphia, as I've complained before, is sadly lacking in the realm of quilt shops. I think there's a magnetic pull to Lancaster County (where I once spent a family vacation that felt like a week stranded at Joann's), leaving city-dwellers with nothing. So since the Other and I were renting a car, I made sure to look up a few quilting stores, relying heavily on this posting.

I nearly passed up StoneMountain & Daughter. Their website hadn't got me excited, so I was going to give it a miss. But in the process of trying to find our way through Berkeley, we happened onto the street where the shop was and I thought we might as well try it out. And thank god we did! It was amazing. The prices were good, and the selection was better. The Other dutifully served as pack animal for the bolts I voraciously grabbed from the shelves. In exchange, we found a print he had liked at Britex but this time at a price I could afford. And I found a few I'd had my eye on for the text quilt (as mentioned previously). It was heavenly. The quilt shops I knew from my Midwestern youth were country-corny granny enclaves, but StoneMountain had modern quilts up on the wall, advertising classes I would actually take, were I anywhere nearby.

New Pieces was another good find, though the prices seemed better at StoneMountain. They'd just received a huge shipment, so there were bolts everywhere. I rifled through all the fat quarter and remnant shelves, since that was at least a way to focus—there was a ton of stuff. I dream of being able to get to places like this in my normal life. (That's the disease talking.)

Legend has it that there are male quilters, and straight ones at that, but even near San Francisco the Other and I were the only men prowling the aisles of bolts. Not that anyone made us feel uncomfortable—they were more than happy to chat with me about my projects. Too happy, in fact: at New Pieces, they got me flustered by asking what sort of things I quilted. What did they mean? Pieced or appliqued? Traditional or modern? What did they want from me? Modern quilting is difficult to describe to a quilter sometimes, 'cause you can't just say, "Oh, it's nine-patch blocks set on point." I guess at this point I only really talk about quilting with people who already know me, who know my taste and my general aesthetic sense. Or perhaps I just felt weird that the fabric I was buying was mainly for building a stash instead of for a specific project.

vintage check fabric vintage bird fabric

We also found a great antique shop with an enormous pile of vintage fabrics—the mythical kind of pile I kept hearing was out there, but had never actually found. I bought a nice mustardy check for the Other's quilt and some bird print for me. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with it yet, but I love it. It looked like one of those vintage fabrics that incite blogospheric swooning (like almost anything Lisa at A Bird in the Hand posts—where does she find that amazing fabric?), so I knew it had to be mine.

A lesson I learned from the Mother after I came back from vacation: do not be deceived by fat quarters. For cheapish fabrics, a quarter yard cut from the bolt can often be less than the precut fat quarters, so unless you need a big square, beware. But am I the only one a bit hesitant to ask the ladies to cut something? It feels like more of a commitment to the fabric, I guess. That's how they getcha.

And speaking of the Mother, she called Friday to say she finished quilting my Plain Spoken quilt! I'm getting my binding fingers ready as I type.