Friday, December 31, 2010

Glass globe lanterns

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Where I live in New York, winter starts early and stays a long time. We have few sunny days, and the long, dark nights can seem bitter and hard. Once the holiday season is over, we settle in for long months of deep and blowing snow, hot chocolate, and red woolen hand knit mittens.

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I like to hang lanterns in the trees and on the porch, so that when I look outside on a bone-chilling night, I see the little glimmers of light and warmth peeking back at me. It helps so much. It reminds me that light and warmth will come back, and that I should enjoy these beautiful and huddled days, too.

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These were made from thrifted glass light fixture globes and lengths of inexpensive chain bought at the hardware store. My husband wound baling wire around the tops of the glass, under the lip, and made three loops, equally spaced. He fastened the chains to the loops, and then joined them at the top with an S-hook. We put a glass votive candleholder and a tea light down inside each of them, and hung them from the porch. Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Vintage French Market Bag

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I bought this little burlap shopping bag at Goodwill a few years ago for 99 cents, and it was so fragile I have been mostly afraid to touch it ever since.

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It spent such a long time hanging on a hook, both before and after it belonged to me, that it had developed a weird shape, and I decided today that it needed a little TLC.

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It’s already had some—there are a few places on the bag that have been lovingly darned, which I adore so much. Somebody before me knew that this bag is worth it.

Here’s what the back looks like:

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Isn’t it wonderful? I am so in love. I wanted to make a calico lining for it, both to offer it some structure, but also because things lined in flowered calico are always better than things that are not.

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I carefully pressed and measured the bag, and then made a simple rectangular envelope to fit inside, turning the top opening edge under 1/4”. Then I hand-stitched it in place using vintage cotton thread. (I made that decision based on the fact that I am pretty sure I’ll still be unable to make myself use this bag for anything. It’s just so fabulous, and it still seems so fragile. I wouldn’t use old cotton thread for anything that might see a lot of action.)

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I think this bag has already seen its share of hard work anyway. I like to imagine it filled with blossoms and baguettes and baskets of tiny pears. Please excuse the silk flower—it is December, after all.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Barnraising Quilt

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I had the flu for Christmas, but it hasn’t stopped me for a second! This quilt is probably completely infested with germs because I coughed constantly while making it, and then again today while photographing it. Yuck! It’s in the laundry right now, as I am typing.

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Despite all my hacking and my low-grade fever, I managed to put together this lovely thing, a variation on the traditional log cabin design called “Barnraising.” I love, love, LOVE the play of lights and darks together. This quilt didn’t really come to life for me until the whole top was pieced—I kept looking at the individual rows and thinking, “Will it show up? I don’t think it’s going to show up…” It just didn’t look like anything, and I was convinced the value contrasts weren’t going to be strong enough.

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It did show up, though, and I am so happy with it. I don’t have a design wall, so I never really see a quilt for the first time until the whole thing is pieced, and even then sometimes I can’t tell what it really looks like until I photograph it.

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This is the big moment—when I lay it out to be basted, and I have to stand on the couch and hold the camera over my head to get the whole thing in the frame (mostly I fail at this) and then I look to see. Yes! The contrast is there, and it worked.

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One thing I learned with Barnraising is that I absolutely must use a walking foot to machine quilt. People, if any doubt lingers in your mind, let it be dispelled now. You need a walking foot, and I know this now because I have a fever forgot to change the foot and machine stitched five rows of quilting with my regular presser foot, and the mess of bunching and puckering was incredible. I threw a mini tantrum and considered abandoning the quilt to the Trunk of Forgotten Projects, when my husband said, “Even with your walking foot, that’s happening?”

Well, that could be it…

So I changed the presser foot, spent forty minutes picking out the bad rows and swearing a little, and after that, it was smooth sailing. Of course. I think you can get a walking foot for your machine fairly inexpensively, unless you have a Bernina, which means you’re already used to shelling out a lot of money for things like presser feet.

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Another lesson learned is that basting from the middle and working towards the edges will, in fact, pay off in the end. (This isn’t my first rodeo, I don’t know why I’m just getting around to figuring these things out.) This top has no puckers, and no bunched up bits. Yay!

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I have a personal rule against using triangles because I am completely lazy and I hate to worry about the points, but I was lulled by the simplicity of this design, and by it’s mostly patchworky-ness, and I didn’t realize it would add about eighty jillion years to the design process, which for me is usually about zero seconds. In order to be sure pattern would work, I had to lay the whole thing out, piece by piece, row by row, on the floor, which because there is a big dog living here and also because the house is pretty small, I did six rows at a time, carefully labeling and tagging and pinning and marking as I went. Then I pieced the whole thing on Christmas Eve (coughing and sneezing and letting my tea get cold over and over again) in one long marathon because I was so afraid if I walked away, my piles would get messed up and the pattern would be ruined.

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This morning, we took it outside to photograph it. I brought my assistant with me, and he helped try to figure out ways to attach the quilt to the barn:

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but throwing the quilt up onto the roof wasn’t really giving me the effect I wanted.

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It does look beautiful up close, doesn’t it? This quilt measures 84” x 84”, and is 24 rows and columns of 3 1/2” squares, or squares made up of two triangles. I used some of my leftover Hope Valley fabrics from Denyse Schmidt, and a big hodgepodge of whatever else I had in the cupboard.

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My grandma is 93 years old now, and is semi-retired, but she has made a lot of quilts, and her triangle points have always been perfect. I think she’d be proud of this one.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Chicken update

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This is Solo, sitting on her nest. She’s a Black x Link hen (which makes her a cross between a Barred Rock and a Rhode Island Red) and she is so named not because she’s lonely, but because someone around here likes Star Wars a little too much. Look at her giving me the evil eye—she doesn’t want me to take her egg, but she never pecks me when I reach under her for them. None of them do, but they stand up and look at me like, “Ah, jeez. I gave you an egg yesterday. You need this one, too?”

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These two white hens are Light Brahmas, and are named Raj and Kuthrapali. Because somebody else around here likes Big Bang Theory a whole lot. Also, in the foreground, you can see Lola, who is a Speckled Sussex. Lola knows she’s beautiful, she’s all, “You’re not taking a picture without me in it, are you?”

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These sweet critters are so much fun, and if you have the room, I say go ahead and get yourself some. They hop up onto my lap, and eat out of my hand, and they give me five eggs a day, which, since there’s a teenage boy in the house, is just about right.

I want to sew little curtains for their henhouse. Would that be too much, do you think?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Embroidered Tea Cloth

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My kitchen table is not that cute. It’s a wood-grain formica-topped thrift store find which is supposed to be just a placeholder until I find something better, but in the meantime, let’s cover that thing up!

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So much better, right? Will you join me for tea and cookies?

I did learn a thing or two along the way, such as: 1) there is no such thing as “quickly embroidering all the way around a tablecloth,” 2) just because something is red doesn’t mean it’s the right red and if you keep going even though you can tell the red you chose is wrong, too blue, you will have a lot of picking out to do later, and 3) ten minutes of planning will make the design better when you get to the corner. Just saying.

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Oh, the shame. Anyway, I do like the way this turned out. It took a lot longer than was my plan (see #1, above) which is fine, since I like to embroider. I do, however, wish I’d given some thought to how the design would act when it got to the corner, and since this took a week of stitching, it wouldn’t have killed me to think that through a little. Let that be a lesson to you!

This simple little cloth is nothing more than a piece of quilter’s cotton, cut to length and hemmed—next time, I would do the embroidery first, then trim and hem, which would have solved the corner problem—and embroidered with a design from Alicia Paulson’s book An Embroidery Companion. (I really, really love that book!)

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Isn’t that lovely? It makes me think of pinafores and snow-capped mountains and coiled blond braids—it makes me feel like Heidi! All that from a little tablecloth. Who cares if the corners aren’t perfect?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Zora cardigan, finished

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Here is Zora, all finished. (Looking back, it appears I have never before mentioned that I was knitting Zora—maybe because half a brown sweater front cannot really be beautifully photographed, at least not by me.) Anyway, she’s done, and I love her!

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Zora is by Kristen Rengren, and you can find the free pattern here. (If you don’t already know about Knitty, go on over there and browse around—I’ll be here when you get back.)

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I can’t forget to mention that this sweater is being modeled on my new Acme (yes!) dress form, which is my latest and most exciting thrifting find.

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Could you just scream? Dear lovely size A seamstress who decided you were done with sewing, thank you, and I will take good care of it. My husband and I tinkered with her and expanded her (ahem) to fit my approximate measurements, but she’s not exactly the same shape. Close enough, though, I think. Besides, now she can model and I don’t have to try and take pictures of myself.

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Right, back to my sweater. The yarn is KnitPicks Gloss in Cocoa, fingering weight, and I used about 7 1/2 skeins. These front bands took forever!

This yarn had been in my stash, actually in the form of another sweater, for several years, until I realized I didn’t like the other sweater that much and ripped it all out. So it’s almost as if this sweater was free! I love that.

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Friday, December 17, 2010

Snow Day Quilt

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We woke on Tuesday to huge amounts of new snow, which meant only one thing:

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When snow flies, make a quilt. Obviously.

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I seem to have accumulated quite a few different fabrics in shades of turquoise and brown, which lent themselves beautifully to this design by Jane Brocket, called “Lisbon Tile” from her book The Gentle Art of Quiltmaking. As it happened, I had a huge piece of that spa tile fabric you see up there, so that became the back, too. It didn’t take me long to have the top done, and by the next day, I had quilted it and bound the edges.

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I took it outside to photograph this morning. Trying to go to school on the beautifully styled quilt portraits of Kaffe Fassett and Jane Brocket, and lacking a crumbling brick wall or rusty bridge piling, I artfully clothespinned it to the crabapple tree and let the wintery natural light do its best. It looked so pretty there, tossing gently as the big flakes drifted down.

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This is the first time I have ever made a quilt from a pattern. I know! It was so much fun—someone else has already done all the doodling and calculating, and all I had to do was just cut out what she said to, and sew it where the diagram showed. Bliss!

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It’s a little smaller than I would usually make a quilt (64” x 74”) since I normally can’t see the point in making a quilt that won’t fit on my bed, but this was made with the idea in mind that I would use it for wrapping up on a chilly morning, or as an extra layer on a child’s bed for a cold night, and for that, it is perfect.

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I love sewing wee squares of fabric together. It’s really the little things, isn’t it?

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Kitchen chair success story

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The sweet smell of victory! These things almost never work out this well, believe me. A few months ago, I was perusing dottieangel’s archives when I chanced upon her thrifty tale of scoring four midcentury chairs, which she, after a little bit of indecision and second-guessing, brought home and gussied up and which are now the envy of everyone.

Of course, months of my own searching revealed a curiously high number of chairs in this style, but each one was more rickety than the last, with screws and globs of glue at all the joints, trying to hold them together. I gave up hope a couple times, and brought home some a lot of mismatched and odd chairs, hoping they would look great together, all painted white, which they might have eventually. Painting chairs is a long-term project though, and one that needs to be repeated constantly, and then the paint gets on the walls and on the refrigerator and anywhere else someone bashes a chair into something. That happens a lot in my house.

And anyway, I have had my share of rickety kitchen chairs over the years, which I am usually fine with, at least until someone gets pinched or when one actually snaps in half while someone is sitting there. (Sorry, honey, but it was just so funny!)

Then, lo. Last weekend at the Goodwill, there were these:

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And there were four of them! And they were not rickety! And they were five bucks each, which is super thrifty. We had the small car with us, but I was not daunted, even though my husband kind of felt they would not fit in there. I knew they would, and we had to tie one to the back as if running off to California to escape the dust bowl, but they all made it home to my blue kitchen.

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I already had the fabric (which was under consideration for curtains until I realized I didn’t want any curtains) and we easily located the staple gun and the staples, which never happens.

The chair seats were insanely easy to cover. I’m sure you already know all about this, but all you do is turn the chair over and take out a couple screws, then wrap the new fabric around, stapling as you go. You can take off the old cover and replace the padding if you think it needs it, but these were in pretty good shape, so I just stapled the new fabric right over the top. Then you screw it back on and it looks perfect, good as new.

I even had good accidental luck with getting the grid pattern on the fabric to line up properly, without even thinking of it on the first chair. It just worked out, which is how I know the angels were on my side or something. Well, that and finding the chairs in the first place, then having enough fabric already, and knowing where the staple gun was, and having plenty of staples in the house. You know, that stuff just never happens!

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Wow, is that my kitchen? Where are the bashed-up walls? Where are the pinchy, rickety chairs? Where is the dog hair? (oh wait, I see it…)

Now I’m looking for a table. Will I get this lucky again?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Crochet ornament round up

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These are Pip’s crocheted baubles; her tutorial can be found here. I made six of them, in different colors, to cover clear glass ornaments. I think the ornaments I used are about 4” in diameter, the yarn is sport weight cotton, (still) leftover from the gypsy pillow. Goodness, I’m getting a lot of play from those leftovers, aren’t I?

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I had to modify Pip’s pattern by adding one row of dc clusters, ch 1 in order to make it big enough to fit on the ornament. I think these are just lovely, full of granny crochet goodness.

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I also made these, again with the leftovers—this pattern is by Lucy at Attic24. Her tutorial can be found here.

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These are so delicious! I want a whole tree, just decorated with crocheted ornaments.

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I have several of these, too, in different patterns, which were made by my friend Sandy. Isn’t it dear? It’s a crochet christmas!