July 30, 2012

We Have Blocks!

Well...we sorta have blocks.  We're well on our way to having blocks!

I tried to pace myself this past week because I don't want to burn out before the quilt top is done.  I took a couple nights, at an hour each, to work on my Easy Bake quilt.  An hour is the perfect amount of time for this quilt; in an hour Tuesday night, I was able to sew all 42 initial blocks; in an hour Thursday night, I pressed them and cut them into more strips.  I didn't feel rushed or like I wasn't doing things accurately.  This is a great quilt for a beginner!

As of today, here's what I have sitting on my sewing table:

I'm sure more advanced quilters see this and wonder what the fuss is about.  But this is big to me!

As you can see, each strip is now made of two fabrics instead of one.  My next step is to sew two strips together to create 9.5" squares, which are the final blocks.  I've matched up each strip to a "random" partner.  I put random in quotation marks because I didn't leave my selection to the quilt gods.  I didn't want blocks to have the same fabric next to each other, so if that came up while I was matching these, I did fool around with it a bit.

Side note, who are the quilting gods?  Kaffe Fassett?  Denyse Schmidt?  I'd go to that church.

Anyway, the second photo is a demonstration of how it should look after the blocks are sewn and I start piecing the quilt top together.  Those were the first three blocks on the stack, so I might not put those together, but I love how there's Christmas everywhere.  This quilt is going to make me so happy!

My plans for this week are:

  • Sew the final blocks together.  I can probably do this tonight, in an hour after dinner.
  • Start piecing the quilt top.  I'd love to get it all sewn, but our week is busy.  Tuesday is our anniversary and we have a friend visiting on Saturday for a week, so a lot of my time will be cleaning this apartment so she isn't completely grossed out.
I also need to buy backing and binding fabric.  There were a few prints not included in the Dear Mr. Claus layer cake, such as the Santas and the Christmas tags.  I'm trying to decide which to use for the backing, and I think I might use a red polka dot for the binding.  What are your thoughts?

If you're quilting, how'd your week go?  I'd love to see anything you've made!  I've been pinning the hell out of quilts lately!

July 27, 2012

Friday Round-Up

Each Friday, one of us will do a little summary of what she's seen around the internet this week.  This could be sewing-related, but it doesn't have to be.  What has caught your eye this week?

Follow me on instagram!  @esposetta
My first week of quilting is over!  I can't believe it.  I'll be back on Monday with a progress report, but in the mean time, here are some things I've been reading this week:
  • Cheesy Spinach Stuffed Shells on Eat.Live.Run. - technically these were posted earlier this month, but I made them for dinner Wednesday night.  Holy moly, people, this is not one for the lactose-intolerant!  The recipe makes a lot of food--I have way more leftovers than I'll ever need--and I made homemade garlic bread to go with it.  Yum!
  • Cherry Christmas by Aneela Hoey for Moda - y'all know I love Christmas!  Cherry Christmas is now out, but you can see a cute overview on this Sewing Journal entry from last year.  I'm debating on whether to buy the collection of fat quarters.  I'd love to make a cross quilt (like Cluck Cluck Sew's Inside Out) with it!
  • The Savannah Craft Brew Fest - we're heading here next month!  Are you?  Nick and I went in 2010 right after we started dating and we're so excited to be going back this year.  I love that little city with all my heart.
  • Personalized Stationary - just as I was typing this, I got an email from Paper Source advertising their new personalized stationary.  I love this style, of course, but there are macarons, hot air balloons--whatever you could possibly want.  For someone who writes cards for any and every occasion, this is so exciting!
  • QuiltCon - Yep, I'm going!  While tickets don't go on sale until August 30, I've booked my hotel for two nights/three days in Austin, Texas.  Nick will be accompanying me, though he will explore the city while I look at quilts all day.  I don't know yet where we'll be living next February, so it's sort of scary to plan a trip this far in advance, but I'm so excited!  Hope to see you there!

July 25, 2012

Sew it begins

Some things you should know before we start: 

~You can expect a lot more of that. Messy puns and the like. Also, a lot of sarcasm and probably a bit of cursing.
~I'm an out-of-work academic. By which I mean I am not paid for my research and writing.  However, I am an academic so I approach most things as a research opportunity and spend more time analysing than actually doing.
~Also, I am a champion procrastinator.  Have been for years.
~I swing between obsessive pack-rat tendencies and righteous de-cluttering sprees.
~I'm slightly frightened of my sewing machine.
So, in general, the perfect person to start quilting.

Double Wedding Ring
Image found here

I have had this idea to start quilting for about a year now.  I have read a few books and watched a movie and went at my t-shirts with a pair of kitchen shears and the glass panes from picture frames as cutting guides, but it didn't go much further.  It didn't go any further, in fact.

I'm not sure why.  Actually, that's not entirely true.  I do know why.  Quilting is work.  Dedicated, intricate, long work.  I don't have that kind of attention span.  I mean I only finished my PhD because I scheduled my wedding date.  Otherwise, that might have dragged on another three years.

However, it is because of my lack of attention that quilting calls to me.  It seems to me at once a painstaking time-suck and a mindful meditation.  The zen of quilting, if you will.

Continuing on this line of thought, there are contradictions about quilting (in my mind) which I find fascinating as an academic, but also as a woman.  I don't love traditional quilting patterns, I have to admit, but I love the idea of a traditional quilting bee.  Women coming together with their scraps and needles and skill and stories and creating something which has a bit of each of them but is greater than it's sum of parts.  I am drawn to the 'modern' quilting patterns of colour blocks and improv piecework, but I'm not thrilled with the idea of quilting alone, wrestling with my machine and stubborn bobbins.

A few years ago I spent 5 months on the road with a circus.  It was grueling and fantastic all at once.  I learned so much about being a wife, mother and woman during those months of endless mud and driving and performing.  It was in the circus I was re-introduced to a kind of physical memory and storytelling.  I experienced how tangible those moments can be for teaching a physical skill, from climbing a rope to mending tights, as well as maintaining a way of life.  I had been in school for so long I forgot the best way to learn about something is to do it.

Two years now I have been a reluctant housewife and in those two years I have learned to find joy in cooking for my two-person family, creating a comfortable, and relatively clean, home and taking on the mending and altering of our clothes.  It has been a struggle to let myself enjoy these things as I was taught they were the yokes which confine women to the home and stifle our ambition and potential.  But after two years, I have come to disagree with these teachings.  Sure, there are many days when I feel trapped by my life of laundry and 'leisure' and feel taken-for-granted or my talents wasted.  But there are also days when I feel proud of something I created which gave joy or comfort to my family and friends.  More pride than I ever felt as an academic with a well-argued article.  There is something very tangible and satisfying in the role of housewife (at times) and I believe in the role of quilter as well.

All that being said, I still have yet to start.

I have excuses, sure (any procrastinator worth their salt has a grab-bag of excuses for anything and everything) but I'm going to try and work past them.

First and foremost, I have begun to identify the pieces in our wardrobe and home which I will transform into something resembling a quilt.  This is an ongoing process.  I have a few bags stuffed in our under-stair storage already earmarked for this purpose but I have a feeling I will be adding more.

Second, I am trying to decide between using a pattern or just free-forming it.  As a complete beginner, I feel I should probably use a pattern or kit, but I also have a very strong feeling I am going to Frankenstein some tutorials together and see where it takes me.

But before I make any real decisions on to-pattern or not-to-pattern, I will acquire a rotary cutter, measuring tool of sorts and cutting mat to replace my current kit of kitchen shears, picture frame glass and living room carpet.

Any suggestions are very welcome.

July 23, 2012

Planning a Quilt, or, An Easy Way to Get Overwhelmed

I am a natural born planner.  I love that time before a project starts, no matter how excited I am about it, because anything is possible.  Anything!  When it comes to sewing, whether I'm planning a quilt or a shirt, I can imagine any fabric I want in any pattern and I'm not obligated or locked into something.  For someone with a lot of structure in her life, this freedom is amazing.

However, because I love blogs and Flickr, this stage can be exhaustingly overwhelming.  I obsessively bookmark and mark photos as "favorite," and I tend to pin a lot of projects I know I'll never get around to.  I put things in my cart on Etsy that are never purchased, but I never lose hope that I might own them someday!

So how do you keep yourself from falling into this trap with each project?  This is something I'm continuously learning, but I think the best idea is to have a plan.  If you have a plan and you hold yourself accountable, you'll find that you can keep your stash in check and finish projects.  You may not finish them on time, but you'll be less likely to give up on something because you didn't think it through and now you hate the fabric or pattern.

For my first quilt, after a couple days of never-ending online window shopping, I chose Cluck Cluck Sew's Easy Bake pattern.

I had been contemplating both online tutorial-only quilts and much more advanced patterns (including the oh so popular Swoon), but in the end, this was a cost-effective beginner option.  I didn't have to buy neutral fabric to incorporate into the blocks--one layer cake was all I needed for the quilt top, and when I was ready, I could purchase backing fabric and binding fabric.  No pressure and only a $40 investment.

The purchase of pattern and fabric went hand-in-hand for me.  I am a Christmas freak and thought, if I buy some Christmas fabric, I know I'll love the quilt no matter what.  That also gives me until December to finish (even though I will hopefully have it done before September!).  I chose a layer cake of Cosmo Cricket's Dear Mr. Claus line.  It didn't contain all the prints from the line, so I can use one that wasn't included for the backing, if I choose.

As of early last week, I was locked into a pattern and fabric.  My plan had played out, and because money isn't growing on any of my trees, I now had an obligation to make it.

To further ensure I would make this, I completed the first step Friday night, cutting the layer cake into strips and matching up random strips.  I'm keeping everything in a gallon-sized bag which is highly visible on my sewing table.

So now that I have something planned, I can get started.  This is often a scary step, because something bad could happen.  No one wants to fail, right?  But, this is also great, because something amazing could happen.  When I first started sewing, I worried I had sunk all this money (and my mom's money, because she bought me my machine) and I wasn't sure I could do it.  I hold myself to high standards, and I didn't know if I could live up to them.  But once I took that first step and attended a class to get started and refresh my very small skills, I learned that sewing came very naturally to me.  When you're a beginner, you have a kind of fearlessness that you lose as time goes on.  You don't know enough to realize darts and buttons are more advanced, and patterns usually come in time.  You just jump in and trust that you'll learn along the way.  I'm hoping quilting goes this way--I'll shoot for the proverbial stars and just hope that I don't mess up too badly.

I would like to show evidence of what happens when you don't stick to a plan.  You spend entirely too much money in one week!

Phew...all this money could have gone toward a new mouse or some RAM for my Mac, but instead, it's sitting on my table in fabric and patterns.  Oh well!  Everyone has a hobby.

Next week, I'll have an update on my progress.  Hopefully the 1/4" seam allowance hasn't eluded me!

July 20, 2012

A Virtual Bee

I have long believed that objects can tell stories and that some objects are better receptacles of memory than any scrapbook or shoe box or text or even brain cells. 

Fast-forward, present day. I have loads of clothes I cannot part with because they have a memory. I dragged them through an international move, because they have a story. I routinely take them out of the give-away bag because they connect me to another time, another version of me, or a loved one far away.  

A halter-top I have not worn since 2005 but cannot give away because I was wearing it when I met Pete.  A pair of cargo-pants I never wear but cannot give away because I bought them when I was with the circus.  A corduroy skirt I haven't worn in years I cannot give away because someone told me I looked professor-chic once. 

It’s my life, from 16 to about 27, in T-shirts.
From family vacations to University activism to my first job and even all the way to the African continent.

What do I do with these items? Suck it up and send them on their way? Write their stories here and hope they maintain? So much of their power is in the tactile. 
And it is because of that tactile power, I have decided I will re-purpose these items. I want to be able to feel them still, remember their stories, but I also want some room in my closet.  As I cut and piece and sew, I will hold the story of each piece in my mind as I give it a new life and a new role in my life.  

But as any storyteller knows, the story is no good without an audience to share in its telling. I have a vision of sitting around with good friends and good wine and scraps of clothes, telling stories, creating stories. Swearing up a storm and ripping seams. 
Of course this isn't likely to happen in real life, but it could happen virtually.  Can we create a virtual quilting bee? 

A stitch 'n' bitch? Heavy on the bitching, light on the stitching until I get a bit better. 

Can I reclaim a bit of the power and joy of the domestic? 

(she cries, brandishing the cooking shears in one hand, because they are the best scissors in the house, and a pair of ratty jeans in the other, in a kind of domestic, barbaric yawp)

That is exactly what I hope to find out.  

**a portion of this intro appeared in this post and this post.

A recurring theme of my life is "I told you so," usually said to me by my mother.  I fought learning how to sew, I fought learning how to cook, I fought classifying myself as a southerner.  Each time I turned to these new hobbies, I could feel those four words--I told you so--floating around me, whether or not she actually said them.  Coming to the realization that I wanted to learn how to quilt was no different.

I've been sewing apparel and accessories for nearly eighteen months, and I love sewing them.  I don't want to give up on it, and my focus, on the whole, surely isn't shifting.  But I still feel the need to branch out, to try as many different techniques as possible.  I've checked sewing, embroidery, knitting, cooking and baking off my list; why can't quilting be next?

Ariel had the brilliant idea for a virtual sewing bee after I asked on Twitter if I was crazy to think I could start and finish a quilt (or more) before Christmas.  She had been wanting to quilt and needed a kick to get in gear.  I am determined and motivated by outside pressure, so it was a no-brainer.  If I had an obligation to show my progress on this blog, I was going to commit, and commit hard.

I do have a t-shirt quilt in the works, but on the whole, I'll be quilting with new supplies--new fabrics, new patterns.  Hell, I might even buy some new pins.  I'm more focused on creating something new for my budding family of four (me, my boyfriend and two cats) to pass down to our grandkittens one day.  (Just kidding--we have our pets spayed and neutered.)  Learning how to quilt will be challenging because, well, I'm teaching myself, and I also tend to move very quickly: in one weekend I typically sew at least one dress and a skirt, if not more.  Quilting is slow.  I will learn to enjoy the process of choosing which strips to pair, which fabrics to cut for which block.  I will learn to love the quarter-inch seam, to find solace in pressing each and every allowance.  Because, if I don't, I'm completely screwed.

A note on the structure of this blog: the basic outline and goal is to post thrice each week--Emily will post on Mondays, Ariel on Wednesdays, and we'll switch off on Fridays.  Schedules keep goals in check--we hope!  If you ever have any questions or comments, or just feel like saying hi!, our emails are listed to the right.  We love hearing from readers!

We'd also love your input!  If you'd like to contribute your story to Squaring Up, let us know!  Even if all you have to talk about is the fantasy of a quilt, we love guest posts.