Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Donation Quilt Wednesday--Jaye's blocks

Jaye just posted this week about her own donation quilt blocks for her guild.

I've been trying to be more methodical and regular about cutting my scraps to usable sizes. The sizes I decided to go with are 10" squares, 5" squares, 3" squares, 2 1/2" squares, 2" squares, and 2 1/2" strips. Basically, I start with the largest sizes I can get out of any given scrap and work my way down from there. The sizes I chose to focus on are those used in a lot of the books I own (layer cakes, charm packs, jelly rolls), and those used in the ScrapTherapy method, another book I own. I figured if I kept it simple and easy for me to use them without having to use a whole lot of math (!), I'd be more likely to actually use them.

As we know from recent posts, I've been able to use up some of my 2 1/2" strips in donation quilts. I'm looking forward to more possibilities in my future. Jaye, thanks for the inspiration! Great blocks!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Playing with New Toys

Still in recovery from Mid-Atlantic Quilt Festival, I didn't want to do anything yesterday that required actual...well...brain cells. And so, I thought, that might be the perfect time to simply play with some new toys that I purchased in VA because my brain wouldn't get in my way.

I pulled a piece of kimono silk scrap out of a scrap bag I bought from Laura Murray's booth (Laura Murray Designs). For just a few dollars, I got a bag stuffed with scraps of silks that she'd dyed or painted. It's always a hoot when someone's rejects are so gorgeous!

Choosing a scrap, I got my Shiva paint sticks ready. The first thing you have to do is rub the tips with a paper towel to get the skin off. I rubbed away, accidentally snapping the top of the gold one off as I went after it a little too aggressively. No loss, though, since I can still use the snapped-off tip. Next, I chose one of the new rubbing plates I'd picked up, sprayed it lightly with a spray baste so the fabric would stick to it, smoothed the fabric over it, then went to town using the method that Laura had been demonstrating in her booth--short, light strokes with one color, then another, then another. Loved the result.

Next, I pulled out my Perfect Pearls Mists spray bottles that I'd picked up from Jane Davila's booth. I chose one of the stencils I'd bought from another booth (sorry--forgot to write down the name of that one) and spritzed some pearl white onto the stencil. That will take some practice, but it was fun to test. You can see the smudgy result on the right of the ginko leaves in the center. For the other three sprays, I just lightly spritzed the color over the surface of the fabric just to see what it would look like. I really love that effect--just a very light shimmer.

I've got several books in my quilt library on surface embellishment that I'm perusing again for ideas and inspiration, and I'll just keep playing--I know I'll discover a method or combination of colors and fabric that will create a piece that can be expanded upon or used in another way. I've already got some ideas!

For the record, since I didn't have specific plans for what I was buying, I stuck with basic metallics. So I have paint sticks in silver, gold, and bronze, and mists in gold, bronze, pewter, and white pearl. I figured those would be the most versatile to start with. The vast majority of rubbing plates and stencils are abstract or natural designs, although I have a gorgeous peacock stencil that I grabbed when the vendor reminded me I was buying enough to get one free. Bingo!

On the Stonehenge Mariner's Compass front, I decided while I was gone that I was definitely going to start from scratch. I didn't need a whole lot of brain cells for the first step so I did manage to at least make the new copies of the paper-piecing pattern, this time on my Carol Doak Foundation paper. Today I plan on getting those pieced together. So (hopefully), more updates later.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Slow Quilt Monday--Art

As I mentioned in a recent podcast, one of my sabbatical objectives is to watch several of the Great Courses lecture DVDs I've had stacked up in my house for a bit, as part of the course-swap with my sisters. (We all own different titles and a couple of years ago I swapped some with one sister, and am just now getting to watching them.)

The set I started out with is Museum Masterpieces: The Louvre, a 12-lecture series highlighting some of the artists and periods represented in the Louvre. I'll never remember the detail of which artist created which work and how they compare with other artists of the period, but what definitely sticks with me is the concept of light, color, motion, balance...all those design principles that Jaye and I are talking about and that I'm studying in my quilt design study group.

I'm also working my way through The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron, which is a 12 week series of readings and activities meant to unlock one's creativity. In the first week, she describes "artist dates," a period of time you're to spend by yourself doing a variety of things that will lead to an expanding of your creativity. One of her first suggestions is to visit a museum by yourself. (She emphasizes "by yourself" because then you're free to ponder what you need to ponder and you're not being rushed through or distracted by others' needs or interests.)

I find myself going back again and again to thoughts about light. Some paintings in the DVD series had particular qualities of light, particular uses of light for emphasis and mood, that simply intrigue me. I've seen quilts that seem luminous in their use of color and value to portray light. I'm finding myself inspired to explore that further.

So for today's Slow Quilt Monday thoughts, I'd like to encourage you to find a way to look at some art from another media this week--paintings, sculptures, whatever, anything that doesn't use fabric--to explore what you can carry away from that work to your own.

Mid-Atlantic Quilt Festival--Early Report

Here's the haul. You'll be hearing about all of this in more detail in the days to come, once I wake up and can put two coherent sentences a row, even. I'm a little non-verbal today so I'm making an intentional decision to communicate as little as possible* and simply take the day to regroup. I will quite possibly be posting an episode that requires very little communication on my part to put together. Here's a sneak peek of things to come, not necessarily in this order:

  • A conversation with the Waterfall Gals.
  • An interview with Karen Lee Carter, quilt teacher and listener.
  • An interview with a new quilt shop owner who came at quilting from another artistic field and conversation about how that design training affects her quilting.
  • My own reflections on the Mid-Atlantic Quilt Festival.

OK, I think those are all the words I have in me at the moment. Time to go play with my new toys.

(*Today's Slow Quilt Monday post, posted just prior to this one, was written last week before I fried my brain at the quilt festival. I'm thankful for technology and the ability to take care of business ahead of time!)

Friday, February 17, 2012

Food Friday--Beef Barley Soup

I finally wrote this one down, at my son's request. He moved into an apartment at school this fall and wanted to learn to cook for himself, and this was the first recipe he requested. I'm not sure if he's tried to make it himself yet--this is still the first thing he asks me to make whenever he happens to be home for dinner. By the way, this is the soup that converted my husband from his beloved Campbells canned soup. FTW.

Sandy's Beef Barley Soup
3 medium carrots, peeled and diced
3 stalks celery, sliced thin
1/2 medium Spanish onion, diced
1/2 clove garlic, minced (more garlic to taste)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (or olive oil)
2 pounds chuck roast
salt and pepper, to taste
3 containers low-sodium beef broth (32 oz each)
1 tablespoon beef bouillon
1 can diced tomatoes (28 oz, no seasonings)
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon ground thyme
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 cup medium quick-cook barley

1. Prepare carrots, celery, onion, and garlic. Set aside (keep garlic separate). Trim most fat from beef and cut beef into cubes.

2. Heat dutch oven (no oil) on stove top over med-high heat. After several minutes, when dutch oven is hot, add meat. (No oil should be necessary; can add a little if you don't have much fat on the meat.) Brown on all sides, adding salt and pepper while browning. Remove meat from dutch oven and set aside. Do not wash dutch oven--leave the browned bits.

3. Heat oil in bottom of dutch oven until shimmery. Add onion. Saute until onion about 2 minutes. Add celery and carrots. Saute for about 3 minutes or until onion is transparent and maybe just a little brown. (You can put onion, celery, and carrot in all at the same time.) Add garlic and saute for another minute.

4. Add beef back into dutch oven with vegetables. Stir together, heating maybe one more minute. Pour in broth carefully, stir to combine.

5. Add bouillon, tomatoes, celery seed, thyme, and Worcestershire sauce. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil. (Taste after it's at a boil--add seasonings as necessary.)

6. Add barley, stirring while adding. Stir to make sure barley is not sticking to anything. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to simmer. Simmer for approximately 45-60 minutes, until barley is tender.

7. Barley absorbs liquid and seasonings, so taste every 15 minutes or so during cooking. If soup gets too thick, add water then beef bouillon to taste.

  • As you can tell, I cook soup in vats. Whenever I'm making this one I'm expecting to send containers home with my son and usually also my nephew, so I make it in volume. You can obviously decrease ingredients proportionately if you're not cooking for an army.
  • You can use precut stew beef, but I usually end up cutting that into smaller pieces anyway so I don't know that it saves me time, and it's more expensive. You can also use different cuts of meat--when I want to step it up a notch, I've been known to use a sirloin. Too lean, though, and you don't get much beef flavor out of it. You could use leftover cooked meat if you wanted--just adjust your cooking time and seasonings accordingly.
  • I love thyme so I tend to use a lot of it. Adjust seasonings to your own taste.
  • I also love the depth of flavor that extra bouillon brings to the party but if you're concerned about salt you will probably want to omit that. Check the comments on my chicken noodle soup recipe post for some readers' suggestions about alternatives to bouillon. Link

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Donation Quilt Wednesday--and some Progress!

As I was doing some surfing-of-the-cyber-type recently, I ran across another great site full of free, downloadable patterns that make great donation quilts, the Q.U.I.L.T.S. group in Schenectady, NY. (QUILTS stands for Quilters United in Learning Together, Schenectady--love that acronym!) Check it out.

Remember to share pictures in the Quilting for the Rest of Us Flickr group for donation quilts!

On to the progress: I also finally got back to my sewing machine yesterday--woot.

We're doing a "roosting robin" in our guild this year--in other words, a round robin that you don't pass. (Someone in my guild used the term "roosting robin" for it--I don't know if that's the official name or was just her joke but I find it a good descriptor so I'll roll with it.) The way it works is that we each do our own projects rather than passing them along, but the leader tells us what we're adding to it each month. We started in January and I'm already behind. The first month (for January) we were to make a 12 1/2" unfinished center block, then the second month, for February, we were to have made 4 1/2" borders. I'm just working on my center block now. I decided to do a simplified Mariner's Compass for the center, made entirely from the Stonehenge line. I've been collecting Stonehenge for awhile waiting for just the right project, and I hope this is it. The concept I have in my mind is something that will look like inlaid tile.

I had to refresh my memory on paper-piecing since it's been a couple of years since my last pp project. But Carol Doak lives on my bookshelf (she's very comfortable in her little DVD home) so I invited her in for a visit for a refresher course and then dove in. I have 8 Unit As and 8 Unit Bs to do for the compass. Got through all the Unit As with only one little, easily flixable glitch (sometimes a little hard to tell right side from wrong side on some of those Stonehenge, until you've done it the wrong way once and it sticks out like a sore thumb). Finished Unit As are pictured.

Unit Bs started out well, but when I got to seam 2, I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to sew the piece on to get it to cover the space needed. I knew it really should work, I just couldn't figure out how to make it work. Turned everything every which way; no dice. My brain had just completely shut off.

I glanced at the clock. Oh. 9:00 p.m. Yep, that's why. I learned years ago I can't sew past 9:00. My brain completely shuts down, like clockwork. Even, like tonight, when I have no idea what time it is, there's some little internal trigger. Bam. Stupid Time.

So this morning, after caffeinating, I sat down again to look at the Unit Bs and decided, actually, I think it's OK--I may just have to press it a little crooked to get it to fit exactly right. The angle of the seam doesn't really match how the cut piece of fabric would fold across the space needed, if that makes sense without a diagram--so I'm sewing on the seam and but pressing a little off. Probably not paper-piecing-standards but works for me. Unit As and Unit Bs have the same pieces and the same angles--it's just that on Unit As you sew top to bottom and Unit Bs you're sewing bottom to top, and that makes a surprisingly big difference in the geometry.

I've only sewed one test Unit B so far and am about to try to sew a Unit A and Unit B together to see how it all comes out. Once I see that they really do fit together, I'll finish the rest of the Unit Bs. Should have enough time this morning before I need to head out for the day. I've got a lot going on today so I probably won't be able to put the the whole thing together until tomorrow.

Feels good to be back at the machine, even if I did have my Stupid Time glitch. Actually, that felt welcomingly familiar as well. Sandy's back.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Meet at the Waterfall! Mid-Atlantic Quilt Festival

You've been hearing us talk about it--the details have finally been worked out! Join me (Quilting...for the Rest of Us), Pam of Hip to Be a Square, Frances of Off-Kilter Quilt, AJ of The Quilting Pot, and Tanesha of Crafty Garden Mom podcasts, and a whole bunch of our listeners at the Waterfall Meet-up at the Mid-Atlantic Quilt Festival in Hampton, Virginia!

Make your way to the indoor waterfall in the main lobby of the convention center starting around 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, February 25th. We'll gather there, wait until a few minutes after noon in case there are folks in morning classes, and then possibly move to another nearby location depending on how many people we have with us and what's available. (We've got some tentative locations on hold but it's hard to know what will work best until we see how many people we're talking about.)

I know all of us podcasters are anxious to meet each other and our listeners face-to-face! So, meet at the waterfall! Hope you can join us...leave a comment if you plan to be there! (Leave a comment even if you don't--and we'll wave to you from afar!)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Slow Quilt Monday: Scrap Zen

I missed posting last week due to a combination of business travel and an insanely busy couple of weeks. So I wasn't exactly doing the slow quilting thing. Actually, I was doing the "no quilting" thing.

That, combined with my usual seasonal affective stuff going on, has led to a very low-key approach to quiltmaking of late. As of Friday Feb 10th, after I finished the last task of the workday, I entered my sabbatical. That means 12 weeks of a very different schedule with a slightly different focus (although not entirely). Frankly, part of my sabbatical is the slow quilting focus.

On Sunday I ended up with an unexpected day at home. We'd originally had things scheduled one end to another, but due to a snow-storm everything got cancelled. I spent a fair amount of time doing cyber-housekeeping (cleaning out email files, catching up with blogs, planning future posts and newsletters, etc.), but then I really wanted to get my hands on fabric. I was still not feeling up to tackling a quilting project but wanted to get myself ready for today--the first "real day" of my sabbatical (read: the first day I would realize I didn't have to be at work). Today will be the inaugural day of my new schedule, a day that includes professional study and growth as well as exploring how to express myself more effectively through textiles. Today includes copious sewing time.

So I spent a few minutes yesterday organizing my fabrics and tools and thoughts for today, then I decided to take a page out of listener Holly U's book and spend some time cutting scraps. And therein I discovered some zen.

There's something to be said for standing for a period of time simply cutting fabrics into pieces with no plan in mind. What size can I get out of this piece? 2 1/2" squares? Then I'll cut 2 1/2" squares. So let it be done. And what size here? A 5" square and then a couple of 2"-ies of out of the remainder? Then that's what I'll cut. So let it be done. On the one hand, I could feed my need for productivity and accomplishment by seeing the pile of random scrap fabrics diminished and the pile of neatly cut pieces of usable sizes increase. On the other hand, rather than keeping count and worrying about having the right proportion of values, I could simply enjoy the possibilities represented by the plastic baggie of squares on the cutting table in front of me.

Cutting scraps with no immediate plan clearly fits into Slow Quilting, in my mind. It's taking steps to a quilt without rushing; it's allowing possibilities to unfold; it's allowing the fabric to speak for itself. "What size do you want to be? So let it be done."

Maybe this week you'll take 10 minutes, or an hour, to simply cut some scraps without worrying for the moment what they'll become. Just enjoy the fabric, and the possibilities.

**After writing this post, I came down with a stomach virus. Go figure. Day 1 of sabbatical has now been reconfigured to sleeping, sipping water, watching TV, maybe some reading. Serious doubts I'll be able to stand at my cutting table. Had to see that coming.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Food Friday--Pork Chops with Balsamic Vinegar

I had a couple of pork loin chops that I needed to use up, but we'd just had pork a couple of days before. So I wanted something a little different, but I'd also been on my feet a lot that day so I was looking for something fast for which I already had all the ingredients. I went to my Mastercook software and did a quick search, and found a great recipe in one of the pre-loaded cookbooks that's definitely a keeper!

I made it straight-up this time, but I think next time I might try using fresh lemon zest instead. The lemon pepper seasoning I used tasted just a little stale to me, although my husband didn't notice. (I checked later and yep, should've used it a year ago!) I think fresh would be nicer, in any case. I also debated adding a little dried ground ginger--didn't this time, might next time. I usually don't start messing with a recipe until I've tried it as-is once. In any case, I definitely recommend this one. (It's apparently an older recipe because I tried the find the website so I could provide a link but the site no longer seems to exist.)
Pork Chops with Balsamic Vinegar
(based on one from Swift and Company)

Servings: 2
Preparation time: 20 minutes

2 boneless center pork loin chops (1 1/2" thick)
1 1/2 tsp lemon pepper
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp chicken broth
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp butter

1. Pat chops dry. Coat with lemon pepper seasoning to taste.

2. Heat oil in heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add chops; brown on first side approximately 8 minutes; turn and cook 7 minutes more; make sure both sides are nicely browned and it's cooked through. (Internal temperature should be 145 degrees.)

3. Remove chops from pan and keep warm. Add broth and vinegar to skillet; cook, stirring until syrupy (about 1-2 minutes). Stir in butter, blend well. Spoon sauce over chops. Serve immediately.

  • Although the recipe is two servings, the sauce I ended up with could've been enough for four. It's a strong flavor so you don't need much.
  • I corrected a couple of seeming errors in the recipe (or, rather, perhaps I just didn't trust theirs--but my corrections seemed to work well in any case).

And on another note...

Last weekend, my mother-in-law and I took a wine tasting class at the New York Wine and Culinary Center in Canandaigua (if you're local and have never been there--it's a must-do!). In the class, we tried three different NYS wines--a chardonnay, one that's a bordeaux but can't be called such because it's not from France, and a desert wine--a late harvest white blend. We tasted each wine first by itself, and then were given three appetizer-sized dishes: an egg/cheese quiche, braised beef, and pumpkin pie. We then proceeded to taste each dish with each of the three wines; in other words, the quiche first with chardonnay, then with the red, then with the dessert wine...then moving on to the briased beef with the chardonnay, then the red, then...etc. I've done pairings before and it's always fascinating how completely different wine and food can taste together. I didn't like the red much at all on it's own, for example, but then that was my top pick of which I liked best paired with both the quiche and the braised beef--it was great with both of those! The other interesting thing was when the instructor had everyone raise their hands for which pairing they'd liked best in each category, and we were across the board. So the point of the class is, don't lock into certain assumptions, and know that different people at your table may have different preferences, so it's not a bad idea to have several selections at dinner parties.

That being said, taking what we'd learned in the class, I paired a light Pinot Noir with the pork recipe above. Tasty! I could've gone Reisling as well. Might do that next time since my husband and I both decided this recipe is a keeper!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Donation Quilt Wednesday--Other Sewing Projects

Just for a quick change of pace this week, as I was perusing sites with free patterns that work well for donation quilts (fast, easy, but attractive), I came across this list of other sewing projects that would provide some much needed donations as well. If you're looking for some alternatives, maybe you could get some friends together for a sewing day and put together some of these options:

Some great ideas in that list!

(More on those sites with free patterns later!)