…and the quilt frame

BOM quilt on frame

This project was put on hold indefinitely for a few reasons.  In the meantime, smaller projects have been finished on the frame and the problems/reasons for not working on this beast have been resolved.  Namely, there is now space for the frame with this over-size quilt on it and I have learned to discipline myself to no more than one hour of hand quilting per day to avoid repetitive stress injuries.

What a happy surprise when I uncovered this quilt I hadn’t seen in ages.  Why, it’s lovely!  This project began as a case of “careful what you wish for.”  Rarely do I win anything in a lottery-style drawing, but I had my heart set on winning these Block-of-the-Month entries back when I was a card-carrying member of our local quilt guild, Country Crossroads Quilters.  It was an unusual project in that everyone had a small piece of the same theme fabric and each quilter was to add companion fabrics and use a block design of her own choosing.  Those of you familiar with these types of activities know that generally participants are given a general color scheme and/or one theme fabric and a designated block design.  So the winner gets a number of blocks that generally coordinate color-wise and are all the same design and she sews them together and has an instant quilt top.  That’s the general theory.

Giving people carte blanche on the design of the blocks made for an interesting assortment and giving a theme fabric with so many colors meant that there wasn’t even really a consistent color theme as some quilters opted to bring out the Christmas theme of the fabric and others opted to showcase the purple.

So for once in my life, I did win the drawing.  It may have been rigged by my friends in the group who knew I wanted these blocks and knew I had been a faithful participant in the Block of the Month project for ages and had never won the blocks whilst some had won multiple times or worse, some had won the single time they threw a block in the mix.  Or, it may have been the universe out to teach me that careful what you wish for lesson.  Either way, I “won” the oddest assortment of blocks.  In the end, there were only 13 that were really useable.  Yes, 13.  Hmmm.  So I took the 5 that went together the best (accent on Christmas, no additional purple) and made a medallion out of those, which you can see in the middle of the photo above.  I confess I did add the Celtic Applique myself to the otherwise perfectly serviceable 9-patch block that just needed a bit of a lift and a shift of scale to be placed center front and play well with the rest of the Christmas themed blocks that had lots of white.  The rest of the blocks were used “as is.”  There were a few more that would not play well with the group no matter how I tried to make them settle in.  I waited to set these blocks until the makers of the unused ones were no longer around to see that their blocks were not included.  That took a while.  And the quilting has taken even longer.  Because of the medallion setting, the quilt got huge.  It’s the largest I’ve ever made.  Also because of the medallion setting, there is a lot of design space that cried out for hand quilting, although in retrospect, sending this off for custom machine quilting probably would have been the wiser choice. (Close-up below showing the block I contributed and some of the designs I adapted.)  I am determined to finish this before my hands and/or eyes fail me.  I’m currently more than half-way and it’s only taken me 15 years or so.  And when I’m done I’ll have a HUGE Christmas themed quilt.  But it will be gorgeous.

BOM quilt close-up

Back to the Drawing Board

Poetry book photo2

 

It’s time to get the studio up and running in the new place.  Since it’s been a while with no regular art production, I thought it best to start with some small exercises to get back in the swing of things.  In the move I found this project, a book of nature poems I got at a library book sale years ago that I felt needed “alteration.”  Altered books are a new phenomenon to me, schooled as I was never to write in books or deface them in any way.  I’m not sure I’m quite ready for some of the more radical alterations I’ve seen, but this book seemed to be crying out for more and different illustrations than it was born with upon publication, a sample of which is shown above. There are 3 or 4 more of these, one at the start of each section, and that’s it for illustrations.  The paper is nice and thick, with good tooth but no noticeable texture and it has aged to a lovely cream.  The poems are organized seasonally, so I decided to add little illustrations of my own surrounding the poetry in the generous margins each according to it’s season, like this:

Poetry book photo 1

 

 

Now, that’s more like it for illustrations in a book of nature poems for me. Spring in my new neighborhood means Loropetalum Chinense, also known as Fringe Plant, blooming wildly in almost every yard, including my own.  After bloom, these shrubs provide the red contrast that every landscape designer seeks for relief from overabundance of green.  It used to be only Flowering Plum provided that in these parts.  Happily, we now have many more choices.  My favorites are red Japanese Maples and certain cultivars of Heuchera, also known as Coral Bells.  I’d like this Fringe Plant much more if it wasn’t so ubiquitous all of a sudden.  Plants go in and out of fashion in just the same way that hemlines go up and down on the runways of Paris and New York and this is the must have shrub of the moment, at least in my new neck of the woods.

Fresh eggs

Fresh Eggs

 

The next best thing to having your own chickens is having a friend with a few too many.

Here’s an omelette-making secret I picked up by watching the pros do it at a buffet brunch:  put only the cheese in the middle.  Any vegetables or meat should go into the pan first and be cooked or reheated to your satisfaction first.  Then drop in the beaten eggs and proceed with standard omelette procedure.  When it’s ready to fold in half, put the cheese in.  Give it some time on each side to finish cooking and melt the cheese.   So much better than having a pile of mixed vegetables and cheese 2 inches high inside plain eggs.

Post and Toss

Or, this why I don’t do sculpture.  Or, why moving is good, bad and ugly.

Sawdust cow

 

This little cow was my first attempt at sculpture in at the tender age of 6.  I remember this being an assignment in first grade and that the sculpting medium was starch and sawdust.  Can that be right?  I also remember my poor little hands cracked and bled from working with the stuff.  How we suffer for our art.

Why my mother saved it and gave it back to me 30 years later is a mystery.  Why I kept it for 20 more years is an even greater mystery.  I assure you it is now where it belongs, in the trash.  Why the cow has a dark shadow on it’s back is not a mystery.  I believed at the time that was what the teacher wanted us to do.  It had something to do with shadows from the sun.  I think I got it backwards and we were supposed to shade the under side of the cows darker because the sun came from above.  Perhaps I was fascinated with the hairs growing out of the teacher’s chin and missed the point of the dark shadows lecture.  Who can say?  I do think it serves well as a reminder that 3-d art is not my strong suit and that letting go of things is healthy.  Letting go of things is healthy.  Letting go of things is healthy.

Oh, did I mention that I moved???  And that’s what I’ve been doing for the past several months?  It’s good to be back.

Many Thanks

Pida bread

 

There are so many blessing for which to be thankful on this day I hardly know where to begin so I’ll start small.  My new-ish Breville mixer is such a step up from the new generation of Kitchenaid stand mixers that I’m actually thankful my previous mixer bit the dust so I could find this gem.  It powers through even whole wheat dough, although today I’m just making Pida Bread from my 2-2-2 Good Bread recipe:

  • 2 cups All-Purpose Bread Flour
  • 2 cups Bread Flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons cold butter
  • 2 teaspoons dried yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups water, divided

First, notice only one ingredient is not 2 of some standard measurement:  the water.  Now on to the method:

In 1/2 cup warm water, dissolve the yeast.  Measure out 1 cup of room temperature water in another pitcher and set aside.

Combine the dry ingredients in mixer bowl and stir well.  Drop in the butter in small chips.

With the dough hook installed and the mixer running at the recommended setting for kneading bread, slowly pour in the liquids.  Knead for a maximum of 10 minutes in the machine.  Once the dough is formed and starting to become elastic at about 5-8 minutes, I like to take it out and finish the last bit of kneading on my bread board because I have never outgrown the joy of playing with dough.  When the dough is smooth and elastic, form into a ball.  Oil your rising bowl, place your ball top down first to pick up a little of the oil and then turn it upright and cover lightly with a damp kitchen towel.  Allow to rise in a warm spot for about 90 minutes.

Divide and shape.  If making baguettes, I shape 2 of them directly as the shaping into the baguette form adequately deflates the dough. I then place them on a baking sheet dredged with cornmeal and then sprinkle more cornmeal on top.  Next, cover with waxed paper or the kitchen towel again and let rise for 30-40 minutes.  Slash just before placing in oven to allow a good oven spring.

If making pida rounds, I divide the dough, round each half into a ball, gently press flat into a circle to deflate and round it up into a ball again, then let rest for 10 minutes to soften as the rounding and deflating energizes the gluten and it will fight the final shaping unless you let it rest.  After the 10 minute rest, I take each ball and press into a well-greased 9-inch cake pan.  Make the traditional pattern of slices on the top with a sharp knife.  Brush with milk and then sprinkle with sesame seeds.  Cover and let rise for 30-40 minutes.

Bake either style of bread in a pre-heated oven at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes.

For easiest slicing and a crustier crust in either style, allow to cool and then reheat in a 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes, but also delicious sliced immediately and always slathered with butter!  I also have it on good authority that the baguettes make nice French Toast.  It makes sense since if there is any left over, it gets stale overnight and stale bread makes the best French Toast.

Most of all, I am thankful for all the wonderful people in my life with whom I love to break bread.  Many thanks and love to you all, wherever you find yourself today.

 

5 1/2 down

Boatneck tee 1
Here’s the problem with stash-busting: if you sew up some stashed fabric but you still have a usable piece left-over, you haven’t really reduced your stash. Sigh.

This is a wearable muslin of Christine Jonson’s Shirred Tee, only I omitted the shirring because as stylish as it looks in all the reviews on PatternReview.com, I realized that the ENTIRE top would be self-lined resulting in a t-shirt that is virtually unwearable most of the time in my climate. Even in winter I wouldn’t wear a double-thick t-shirt because I like to be able to layer jackets and sweaters over tees. But I wanted a boatneck top and this pattern is about all I could find with that detail, so I eliminated the shirring and empire seam, drafted a front and back neck facing and made a simple basic boatneck t-shirt. This could become a TNT (tried and true) pattern with a little more adjustment. It’s a bit snug in this fabric, which has 40% stretch if you really pull and lazy recovery so I need to go up a size for firm knits and keep this draft for the really stretchy stuff above 50% stretch across the grain with lycra to aid snappy recovery. I believe I might also give it a FBA before trying it again, even on a stretchier fabric.

Yes I do see that pucker on the sleeve seam, but this top fits so tightly you don’t see that when it’s on.

Adoption readiness

Kefir strainer
I’m adopting Kefir grains this weekend. Kefir is reputed to be many times more beneficial than yogurt and lower carb to boot. Supposedly, any metal is anathema to the living grains so I laid in this non-metal strainer in order to separate the grains from the milk as directed. This claim is suspect since one of the sites that stridently proclaims that contact with any metal will kill the grains clearly shows photos of a standard metal mesh strainer being used to drain off the kefir and save the grains for re-use. Well, just to be safe. Here’s to my new Kefir grains, slainte!

At the turn of the season…

2013 Garden salad

 

For a short time in the fall, if you get your lettuce seed planted early enough and have indeterminate tomato varieties still hanging on bravely, you can have bursting-with-flavor, vine-ripened tomatoes plus tender, sweet early lettuce leaves and thinnings from your garden in your dinner salad at the same time.  Bliss.

 

Rice for a Crowd

Rice for a crowd

 

Okay, so you know how to make Rice Pilaf from reading my previous post and you have mastered that, right?  Super!  One day, you may want to make LOTS of rice pilaf for a big party.  The recipe is basically the same but I have converted everything to weight and changed the method slightly to accommodate the larger batch.  Here you see everything staged to make several batches.  I make 4 batches of the bulk recipe to serve over 100 people, start around 8 in the morning and have it ready by 11:30 to serve at our annual end of harvest BBQ.

Hope you have an accurate kitchen scale that will measure both ounces and grams because for consistency weighing ingredients is so much better than measuring with cups and spoons:

  • 3 cubes butter (12 0z., or 3/4 lb.)
  • 520 grams Cut Fideo (approximately 6 cups)
  • 1120 grams white rice (6 cups)
  • 45 grams salt (2 Tablespoons)
  • 36 grams lemon juice (2 Tablespoons)
  • 2 Large Cans Swanson’s Chicken Broth (49 oz ea.)
  • 6 cups water (50 oz.)

The method is basically the same as before except you will need 2 very large stockpots.  In the smaller of the two, pour the liquids and heat to just below a simmer while you are sauteing the fideo in the melted butter.  Brown the fideo, remove from heat, add the rice and stir well.  Add the heated liquids, the salt and the lemon juice.  Return to heat and wait for a brisk boil to resume before covering, reducing heat to low and cooking on low for 30 minutes.  This rice will stay hot for several hours if you DO NOT OPEN THE LID until you are ready to serve and wrap the pot in heavy towels or some other insulating material.  When I open the first batch at noon (remember I started at 8 in the morning?) it is still piping hot.  Stir well before serving.  The lemon juice helps prevent the rice from getting too sticky, although this big batch tends to be stickier than the normal size based on one cup of rice and one can of broth. On the stove in the photo above you see my largest All-Clad Stockpot…and I own 3 of these just for this annual event.  It may be their 20 quart model, I can’t remember.  It’s BIG.  If you had a restaurant kitchen, you could make this much rice all in one batch, but you’d have to be the Incredible Hulk to stir the vermicelli and lift the hot liquids to pour them in.  I have found this 6-cup batch to be the very limit that I can manage.  You should be able to serve around 50 normal party-goers with one batch.  I have to make 4 batches to serve around 100 because this crowd has been waiting a full year for the rice, we serve a lot of it on each plate and we offer takeout boxes for the leftovers.

 

Stashbusting con’t.

Blue Oxford Shirt

 

This was some of the oldest un-sewn garment fabric I owned, but cotton Oxford Cloth shirting never goes out of style so now my old fabric is a new shirt and one more piece of yard goods is out of the fabric closet and into the clothes closet.

Also a pattern that had been around for a while has been used.  I’d been wanting to try New Look 6598 for some time.  I like it, but my Coldwater Creek wing collar shirts are made without that facing piece at the back neck you see here edged with with serge stitching.  I suspect they have a single purpose machine for attaching the collar/front band all in one pass.  There is no other way I can see to get as clean a finish as they do.  Anyway, I always prefer a collar on a stand over this style of construction with a facing because every piece is contained and controlled with machine stitching.  When you are wearing the shirt, no one sees the difference, but when you put the garment on, there is always a little fussing with that facing, which is just tacked down, to make sure it behaves and doesn’t flip up where you can’t tack it.

Happily, I got a reprieve from a recent moment of weakness that allowed me to think I needed to purchase more fabric from Fabric.com.  I am not putting a link in for that site, not wanting to enable anyone else’s fabric buying problem.  They were having a lovely sale on knit fabrics and I somehow convinced my self for a few minutes that my collection of knits was getting thin and I ordered 4 pieces of new fabric (to get up to the free shipping amount!) when I had only removed 3 from my stash at that point.  Then I frantically sewed up another piece while I awaited delivery so at least there would be no INCREASE during my stated time of stash-busting.  The delivery never arrived.  I think I mercifully never actually finished the order after all.

So this project makes 5 down and X-5 pieces of fabric left.  X being the mystery number of fabric pieces in my stash when I began and no, I do not want to do an inventory to determine what the original value of X was, thank you very much.