Happy New (School) Year! Back to School 2012

It's official, folks: my Lars is now a bona fide 6th grader and my Anders has proudly joined the ranks of the 4th grade.  This school year is a new beginning in so many ways.  The school has a new director and lots of new teachers, infusing the start of this school year with their enthusiasm and fresh energy along with some uncertainty.  Lars is upstairs with the 6th-8th grade middle school kids, where he has a locker for the first time and those big kid student desk/chair combos instead of the elementary school desks with cubbies beneath that the lower grades use downstairs. 

Lars & Anders, 2nd Day of School
Bernie missed the first day of school this year because he was traveling for work, so he snapped this picture on the second day -- close enough.  Lars looks like he's grimacing, but I think he's just squinting from sun in his eyes. 

My main concern for this school year is helping both boys to stay organized and keep up with their assignments and deadlines.  It seems as though all of their teachers for this year are strong communicators and well organized themselves, which should make things easier.  We'll still have all of the same extra-curricular activities: piano and Chess Club for both boys and violin for Anders, plus church choir.  Lars will be starting Confirmation classes at our church this year, too, and both boys had so much fun in the school's musical theatre production last Spring that I'd be really surprised if they didn't audition for this year's production as well.  The biggest difference from last year is that their mommy isn't taking on design projects for clients right now, so I don't have meetings with clients, showroom visits, and design projects to work on into the wee hours of the morning.  Less stress, less takeout, less dark circles under my eyes!

To all of you with school aged children of your own, Happy New School Year!  May the months ahead be filled with learning, adventures, and the wonder of discovering the world all over again through the eyes of your child.


Meet Mr. Froggy-Bunny! Fusible Web T-Shirt Applique

Nope -- this shabby bunny isn't the Velveteen Rabbit, although he has definitely been loved enough to become "real" via Nursery Magic.  This is Mr. Funny Bunny, who came to us from the Build-A-Bear Workshop many years ago courtesy of Auntie Jani.  I remember the first night Anders slept alone in his Big Boy Bed, and I did this deep James Earl Jones impersonation voice, speaking for the bunny (can you picture this?) and said "I'm Mr. Funny Bunny.  I shall protect you in the Big Boy Bed.  I eat monsters like crackers!"  That was the beginning of Mr. Funny Bunny, and Anders has snuggled up with him at bed time every night since.

Mr. Funny Bunny is beginning to show his age, and I decided to spruce him up a bit as a surprise for Anders' birthday. 

Plain White Bear T-Shirt, $5 from Build-A-Bear Workshop
I bought a plain white T-shirt for the bunny from the Build-A-Bear Workshop store for $5.  I know; I could have made him a shirt from scratch, but: 1. I didn't have a pattern.  2. I didn't have any scraps of the right kind of fabric.  3. I haven't made a T-shirt in a long time and I'd have to hunt down some directions.  4. I didn't feel like it.  5. I ran out of time. 

I actually wasted at least an hour hunting down commercially digitized frog embroidery designs on the Internet, as my initial idea was to machine embroider a red-eyed tree frog on the shirt.  I was on my way to get my credit card from my wallet so I could purchase and download a $12 embroidery design when I was struck by common sense like a bolt of lightning.  Seriously?  A $12 design to go on a $5 shirt for a stuffed animal?  I also harbored nagging doubts in the back of my mind about how a densely-stitched embroidery design would behave on the flimsy knit shirt fabric, and I didn't have any scrap fabric to practice on.  Would it pucker and pull the shirt fabric?  Or would the design stitch out beautifully, but end up so stiff, bulky, and scratchy from thread and stabilizers that my son wouldn't want it on his bear at bed time? 

Then I had a fusible web applique epiphany, and remembered that I had scraps of leftover quilting cotton with frog prints from Anders' Froggy Quilt of Many Colors.  Perfecto!
Leftover Fabric from the Anders' Froggy Quilt

I cut a square of Pellon Wonder Under fusible web and fused it to the wrong side of the frog fabric, per manufacturer instructions.  It helped that, with this particular fabric, the print was very visible from the wrong side so it was easy to place the fusible web exactly where I wanted it.
Fusing Wonder Under to the reverse side of the applique fabric

Then I carefully cut out the frog, leaving rounded edges so there would be as little scratchiness as possible.  I peeled off the paper backing, positioned my froggy on the tiny shirt, and then fused the applique in place with my iron and a weird padded tailor's board contraption that finally came in handy after 10+ years gathering dust in my sewing room.  It was probably on some list of "Tools for Beginning Sewers" back when I got my first sewing machine.  This is the first time I've used it for anything, but really, it would be handy for pressing the boys little shirts and pants, too. 

Now that the applique was fused into place, I just used a narrow zigzag stitch and 60 weight black cotton embroidery thread along the outer edge to secure it permanently so the edges don't start to curl up when it goes through the wash.  Raising my sewing machine up out of the cabinet so I could use the free arm was a huge help, because I was determined not to have to open up the side seams. 
Using the Free Arm to Secure the Applique Edges with a Fine Zigzag Stitch

By the way, in the photo above I'm using Applique Foot #23, which is supposed to be ideal for what I was doing.  However, this presser foot sits entirely behind the needle, with no toes in front, and I experienced a lot of flagging (fabric coming up along with the needle after every stitch).  In retrospect, this could have been caused by the Microtex sharp needle I was using, and I might have had better results with a ballpoint, jersey, or even a Universal needle since the T-shirt was, after all, a knit.  I didn't think of that in the thick of things, though, so instead I switched to Open Embroidery Foot #20.  I still had plenty of visibility with this foot to place the zigzag stitches precisely where I wanted them, and the toes at the front of the foot kept the T-shirt fabric from popping up every time the needle came up through the fabric. 
Open Embroidery Foot #20: Plenty of Visibility for Applique, Better Fabric Support than Foot #23

One of my favorite things about this little project is how low-tech it was.  You don't need a fancy computerized machine for this one -- just a regular household iron and a sewing machine with a zigzag stitch.  If you didn't have a sewing machine at all, you could sew the edges of the applique down by hand and it would come out just as nicely.  You could use this method to decorate a onesie for a baby, or plain T-shirts for older children.  Quilting cottons like the frog fabric I used are relatively inexpensive and come in SO many colors and prints, including all of your children's favorite characters, and if you don't have a quilt shop nearby you can shop online at sites like eQuilter

One caveat: Because this frog fabric was leftover from a quilting project, I knew that I had already prewashed the fabric and checked to make sure the dye would not run.  If you're going to applique a dark fabric onto a light colored shirt, prewash both of them separately before you begin and make sure you rinse out any loose dyes before proceeding. 

Easy as pie!  It sure is nice to squeeze in a "quickie" project in the midst of an 11+ month quilting project. 

Happy 9th Birthday, Anders!

August 13, 2003: Welcome to the World, Anders!



September 2003
11 Months Old; July, 2004
1st Birthday Cake, August 13, 2004
2nd Birthday, August 13, 2005: All About Firetrucks and Ambulances
3rd Birthday, 2006: Favorite Froggy Shirt and Frog Temporary Tattoo

4th Birthday, August 13, 2007
5th Birthday with Cousins Alex & Timmy, August 2008
At the School Playground, Just After his 6th Birthday, August 2009
Ready for Golf at Kiawah, SC, just after his 7th Birthday, August 2010

At his 8th Birthday Laser Tag Party, August 2011

In Florida a few weeks ago, end of July 2012, almost a 9-year-old

Happy 9th Birthday, Anders!  We love you!


August FMQ Challenge: Wendy Sheppard's Jester Hats

I was so excited when I found out that quilter Wendy Sheppard of Ivory Spring was giving the August Free-Motion Quilting Challenge tutorial at SewCalGal.  I have admired Wendy's work for a long time.  She's a tireless, prolific, and truly inspirational person who supports and encourages the work of others.  Her Thread Talk posts contain the best quilting tips and tutorials I've seen, and I refer to them often.  To view the original August Challenge tutorial, learn more about Wendy Sheppard, and see some examples of her breathtaking quilting, click here.  Come back when you're finished.

So, you're back?  Good.  Wipe the drool off your keyboard and let's get down to business!  Wendy's tutorial covered an allover motif she calls Jester Hats.  I spent at least an hour trying to doodle repeating jester hats on my iPad before I began quilting. 
My Jester Hat doodles, drawn in FREE Paper app for iPad in the waiting room at the pediatrician's office


More Jester doodles in Drawing Pad app for iPad
I am still having trouble with these allover designs in general -- anything where I have to concentrate on stitching a shape, while simultaneously thinking about how I'm going to travel with that motif to completely fill a space without getting stuck in a corner, leaving an unquilted "island" that I can't get back to, or crossing over a previous line of quilting.  I am not thrilled with my results for this exercise, but I think it's a fun motif with a lot of potential.  Like anything else, it will get better and better with repetition.

I used a pretty fat quarter of batik fabric with ugly Bob the Builder backing fabric and a scrap of Hobbs Heirloom Tuscany Silk batting, a 75 Schmetz Quilting needle, and 40 weight YLI variegated machine quilting thread for this sample.  You can see the jester hat pattern better from the back...  and it looks much better from a distance.  Trust me!
My Jester Hats, Backing Side Up

I had trouble visualizing the jester hats, so then I tried thinking about them as the number 3, or as chubby little baby tushies, or mushrooms that turn into the horns of a ram.  With the contrasting thread color against the backing fabric, every awkward "oops" jumps out at you.  But if I was stitching this in a thread color that blended into the background fabric, I think you'd just get the effect of the pretty texture without the mistakes being so glaringly obvious.  Here's what the sample piece looks like from the front:
My Jester Hat Sample, Right Side Up
Not as bad, right?  Or so I tell myself.  Here's one of the Up Close and Ugly shots:
The View from 6"
See those weird mushroom/chef's hat thingys?  Or are they Smurf feet?  How did that happen?  When Wendy quilts jester's hats, there are definitely no Smurf feet!  Also my stitch length was all over the place, mostly because I was experimenting with speed and never quite found the right rhythm that would keep the curves smooth without being so fast that I lost control.  Next time I attempt this design, I'm going to switch back to the finer thread weight that I'm more comfortable with and try making the motifs much smaller.  I just thought this particular motif would be fun to stitch big and bold with the variegated thread.  And I'm sure it would be, if it was done well!

Meanwhile, I'm about halway finished with the free-motion paisley fill on Lars's Drunken Dragons quilt.  I'm a little nervous about how densley quilted the circles are compared to the rest of the quilt, and I hope that the whole thing will get softer and snuggly again after I wash it for the first time.  I do like the way the paisleys look, though, and I never would have believed that I could quilt this design at all if you'd asked me a month ago.  If I can learn to quilt paislies, then surely I will learn to quilt jester hats with more practice!
FMQ Paislies on Lars's Drunken Dragons Quilt (In-Progress)
I'm using Mettler 60 weight 2-ply cotton embroidery thread for Lars's quilt, and I still feel like the dense fill pattern is making it stiff.  I wonder if the silk thread that Wendy Sheppard often uses would be softer?  I think she mostly quilts with Aurifil Mako cotton thread or with YLI silk thread, neither of which my local Bernina shop stocks.  I may have to order a couple of spools online just to play with.
Okay, enough blogging -- back to quilting!

And the Quilt Goes On: FMQ PAISLIES on the Drunken Dragons Quilt!

Paisley FMQ Fill Added Between Flame Paislies
Well, it seems that all the paisley-doodling I've been doing on my iPad over the last few days has really paid off.  I only practiced stitching this paisley free-motion quilting fill pattern for a few minutes on a scrap of fabric and batting before I felt like I could start in on the real quilt -- but I've been doodlling the design on my iPad with a stylus every chance I got over the last few days.  Not only did this allow me to practice the quilting design at times when I wasn't near the sewing machine, but it also saved a lot of fabric and thread.  I'm so excited about how this looks that I had to post it right away!

Completed Half Block
Surprisingly, the small paisley fill pattern is easier for me than the large FMQ flames that I quilted earlier, radiating out from each quilted medallion design.  You don't have to move the quilt as much to stitch little shapes as you do for a long line of quilting, so I'm finding that my stitches are coming out much more evenly (more or less the same length) with less effort and the whole process just feels so RELAXING.  I think the paisley fill between large flames will help to camouflage the jerky, uneven quilting from the early part of my learning curve, and they also help to make my blazing suns look like blazing suns again instead of like big Roses of Sharon with leaves.  However, I'm going to need a lot more thread to do the remaining 35 blocks...

Now that I see how densely I ended up quilting this, I'm really glad that I choose a lightweight quilting thread instead of the pretty-but-heavy 40 weight machine quilting thread.  Already I'm feeling some stiffness that I hope will soften up when I wash the finished quilt, but if I'd used 40 wt thread I'd have a cardboard quilt by the time I was finished.  The only bummer is that the shades of Mettler 60 wt cotton embroidery thread that I chose only come on dinky little 200 meter spools, and I've already gone through at least 10 of them and I'm headed out to buy 6 more spools tomorrow.  This is not, I repeat NOT, an economical way to buy thread.  I really need to get my hands on some of that Aurifil Mako 50 weight cotton thread that everyone has been raving about -- it comes in pretty colors including variegated (love!) AND comes on nice, big spools!

I finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.  This quilt, begun in October 2011, WILL be finished in less than a year.  And then I'll start another one.  ;-)

Free-Motion Quilting on my iPad

Quilt Doodling in Notes Plus app for iPad
Several of the free-motion quilting experts in SewCalGal's 2012 FMQ Challenge have advised doodling new quilting designs with pen and paper to get comfortable with the designs and commit them to muscle memory.  I don't take a notebook with me everywhere I go, but I usually do have my iPad.  Lately, I've been using the Notes Plus app on my iPad, along with a stylus, to practice doodling fill designs that I'm considering adding to Lars's Drunken Dragons quilt. I can doodle at red lights, I can doodle in the drive-through line at Starbucks or at the bank, I can doodle at a restaurant while we're waiting for the food to come, or while watching/listening to the Olympics on television.

Notes Plus is a powerful note-taking app that allows you to create documents combining handwriting, sketches, vector shapes, photos, and even audio.  You can click here to watch a YouTube video that walks you through the features of Notes Plus.  At $7.99, it's pricey for an app, but I originally downloaded it to use as a tool for taking notes in meetings with my interior design clients -- snap a photo of that window, record measurements, ideas, etc, and even move things around on the page so you can go back and add another idea after you've run out of room.  Then the notes can be exported as images or PDF files.  No more misplacing important pages!  Anyway, I think Notes Plus is a great tool for business or student note-taking, but there are simpler, less expensive options if you just want an app for doodling quilting designs.

Might I suggest:
Screen Shot of the Drawing Pad app for iPad
At $1.99, the Drawing Pad app for iPad has a much friendlier price tag than Notes Plus.  It seems to be geared towards children, with an in-app store for purchasing coloring books, etc., but I like the colors and different brush strokes.  This app also allows you to import a photo as a background.  This is a very handy feature.  Say you're reading a free-motion quilting tutorial online, like Wendy Sheppard's August tutorial on SewCalGal's blog.  The tutorial post includes photo sketches of Wendy's Jester Hat quilting motif.  All you have to do is save that image to your iPad, import it into the Drawing Pad app, and you can practice tracing the design over and over and over again on your iPad until you've ingrained that design into your muscle memory to where you can recreate it freehand.  Once you can draw a fill pattern almost automatically, barely having to think about it, it will be much easier to sit down at the sewing machine and quilt that pattern.  You could also use the import photo feature to practice quilting on an image of your actual fabric.

Okay, app developers out there: Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to develop a Free-Motion Quilting App "FMQ for iPad!"  It would be based on a simple drawing app like Drawing Pad, but it would have some fabric backgrounds and quilting designs included in the app, like Stippling and Feathers, for instance.  The biggest difference would be that, instead of drawing with virtual markers, ink pens, or chalk, the FMQ for iPad app would let you draw with lines of thread stitches, maybe even letting you use an eyedropper tool to pick up a thread color from your fabric image, and definitely giving you the option to draw with variegated thread stitches.  Hop to it!



They're Baa-aaaack!!! The Dessert of Deadly Destruction

Lars, Anders, and the Triple D Dessert: Death, Demolition, and Destruction!
Imagine an entire 9" round cake layer, topped with one scoop of every ice cream flavor on the diner menu, surrounded by sliced bananas, smothered in a gallon of whipped cream, drizzled with chocolate, caramel, and strawberry sundae topping and sprinkles, a dozen or so maraschino cherries, and two waffle cones.  That's the Triple D dessert on the Big View Diner menu -- a dessert that is FREE to anyone who can finish the entire thing all by himself (or herself).  Anders says the Triple D stands for Death, Demolition and Destruction.  We stopped at the diner for an ice cream treat after saying goodbye to Oma and Opa, and I thought maybe the four of us could split this dessert.  I had no idea it was going to be THIS big.  Bernie was disgusted.  The boys were gleeful!  Mission accomplished.  Welcome home, Lars and Anders!

Working Out the Kinks on FMQ Paisley Flames

FMQ Leaves/Flames/Paisleys Getting Smoother
Out of 35 drunkard's path blocks in this quilt, I have just over half quilted with what was originally supposed to be flames, but looked more like leaves, and are evolving into paisleys.  You'll remember that the motif in the center of each circle was stitched flawlessly and automatically by computer, thanks to a digitized design and the embroidery module of my Bernina 200/730E machine.  My first impulsively-stitched FMQ thingys radiating out from the computer-stitched designs were crooked, jerky, and wretched.  I hoped that, if I just kept at it, they'd get better and better and the ugly first attempts would disappear into the finished quilt, but they didn't seem to be getting much better after the first few days. 

At first, I was stitching these "flames" from the outside in, quilting the outline shape first and then trying to fit the concentric arcs of stitching inside that outline.  I did a little research on Leah Day's fabulous free-motion quilting web site, and realized that the flames I was trying to quilt were basically the building blocks of her paisley fill design -- and she says to start with a small teardrop, and then build out from the center.  I decided to try it that way today and -- to my amazement and delight -- I instantly was able to achieve much better results.  See how the lines are smoother and the stitch length is more consistent?

Today's FMQ Efforts

Unfortunately, it took a long time for me to work the kinks out with this design.  Whatever -- I just keep telling myself that I'm doing the best I can today.  If I waited to do FMQ on a real quilt until I was perfect, I'd never get enough practice in to get there.  I do think I'm going to have to add something else between my flames/leaves/paisleys, but it's going to be something EASIER that I have practiced successfully!  I just want this quilt to be done already and on Lars's bed...

In other news, my little boys are coming home the day after tomorrow after three weeks of traipsing around Florida swamps, zoos and beaches with their paternal grandparents.  Yippee!  Note to self: Three weeks is TOO LONG!  It's too quiet in my house when they aren't here, and even though I did the weekly laundry in half the usual time, it was depressing not to have little undershirts and frog pajamas to fold.  I miss their noisiness in the morning, their hugs, and our nightly bedtime story routine.  Even my dogs are concerned -- they go into the boys' bedrooms, turn around and give us this significant LOOK that says, "HELLO, Pack Leaders!  Haven't you forgotten something important somewhere?!  Where's the rest of our pack???" 
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