Friday, August 31, 2012

A folly of fabric

Years ago, a quilting friend and I came up with the idea of "a folly of fabric" as a way to describe our purchasing habits. The definition might be something like the following:

folly n. A unit of measure connoting the amount of happy excess added to one's fabric stash with each new purchase.

Mathematically, I think a folly would be a function of the variables N and T, with N denoting the amount of fabric purchased, and T the chances of using said fabric within what remains of one's natural lifetime. Perhaps the simple ratio of N : T would provide sufficient definition.

After the three-guild meet-up in Seattle earlier this month, I definitely returned with a folly of fabric:

Thanks to a combination of mail order and in-person shopping, I brought back a big pile of batiks, some lively and fun children's prints, a range of beautiful Japanese yukata fabrics, a gorgeous set of hand-dyed cottons by Vicki Welsh, and various other irresistibles. Although they're not visible in the photo, there are happy prints with gray elephants, little red mushrooms against a gray background, and a gray geometric that will go into the baby quilt that I'm planning. Work on that quilt will begin soon, once I finish binding my striped quilt.

By the way, did I mention that the African batiks that I ordered from Kallisti Quilts just arrived?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Plum update

I really do make quilts, I promise. In fact, my striped quilt is almost done--I just haven't been taken photographs of the work in progress. But as you can see from yesterday's post, I did cut off the excess edges, and I'm now about half-way through hand-finishing the binding. I'll have photos of the finished quilt before too long.

In the meantime, plum mania continues. But the end is approaching: we've picked nearly 400 plums, and there are just a few dozen left on the tree. Here's what a refrigerator half-full of plums looks like:

I told myself I wasn't going to buy an ice cream machine, but friends of ours, without even knowing of my granita experiments, gave me a book of ice cream, sorbet, and granita recipes for my birthday last week. It was fate: how could I not buy an ice cream maker? Yesterday evening was the trial run, and we had a delicious plum ginger vodka sorbet (same recipe as the granita discussed on August 22, but with ginger-infused simple syrup). I was also reduced to making plum fruit spread (just plums and sugar, and a lot of boiling), and it wasn't bad, but not as good as the sorbet. I'm going to puree a good portion of the remaining plums and store the puree in the freezer, so that we'll be able to enjoy sorbet all winter!

Sunday, August 26, 2012


Somebody found her way into my sewing room a couple of days ago:

Bad kitty!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Plum vodka granita

What's to be done with our vast, crazy surplus of plums? The idea of jam seemed an affront to our beautiful, sweet, fresh fruit, and we don't have an ice cream maker for sorbet, so my neighbor and I started looking at granita recipes. As we surfed the net, I came up with the perfect idea: plum vodka granita! Here's my recipe:

1) Peel and pit enough sweet, juicy plums until you have about a quart's worth of fruit and juice. I used sixteen of our Shiro plums. Put the plums and juice into a blender and puree.

2) Blend in 1/2 c. vodka, or to taste.

3) Blend in simple syrup to taste. I used a simple syrup made from 2/3 c. water and 2/3 c. sugar, but a lot will depend on the sugar content of your plums.

4) Pour your plum/vodka/simple syrup mixture into a 9x13 baking tray and put it into the freezer.

5) After 45 min. to an hour, when the mixture has started to freeze, take a fork to mash it up and mix it around. Do this about every thirty minutes for the next 3-4 hours, until the granita seems as firm as it's going to get. If you want to see the basic technique, click on this watermelon granita link for a Youtube video tutorial.

6) Serve and savor!

If your plums aren't all that juicy, you might try a mixture of plum puree and white grape juice. The granita would probably also taste delicious if you used ginger simple syrup. I'll have to try that variation next time.


Note (added 8/24): When you serve, it doesn't hurt to pour a little extra vodka on top!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Tuesday farm report

Today's harvest:

Did I say we'd have about 180-200 plums this year? Now I'm estimating 250-300! The situation inside our refrigerator is getting ridiculous!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Plum season

We're now being inundated with plums! The photo shows yesterday morning's harvest. The tree has produced about a hundred ripe plums so far, with maybe another 80-100 still on their way. All told, we'll probably have over three times as much fruit as last year, and our friends and neighbors are enjoying their share of the bounty. Our fig tree has yielded ripe fruit for the first time as well. I love summer!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Froggy Tale from the Backside

Here's the back of my cat quilt, as well as the story behind it:

I gave myself a rule that I couldn't buy additional fabric for the backing, so I pieced it together from various leftovers used to make the top, as well as the yard of so of the frog fabric that I happened to have on hand. There's actually a reason for having frogs on a quilt in honor of our cats. One day, when she was about a year-and-a-half old or so, our younger cat came running in with an excited squeal. Dangling from her mouth was an enormous dead frog!

Husband: Is it real? Me: I don't know--do you think it's real? DH: I don't know--what do you think? Me: I have no idea. How about if you find out? DH's pronouncement (upon closer examination): I am afraid it is real.

*Yuck!* I sent DH to retrieve and dispose of the dead frog. When he really had to get close to it, he discovered that it was made of rubber! So much for DH's talents as a naturalist. I don't know whether our cat stole the frog from some neighborhood children or if they gave it to her, but she was so excited and proud of herself for killing an enormous rubber frog. Oh, the mighty hunter!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Cat quilt, 2010

I am slowly beginning to post photos of all of my quilts (at least, those still in my possession). My cat quilt from 2010 has a bit of a story behind it. In 2003, when we were living in Georgia, the neighbors' cat from two houses away decided that she wanted to live with us. Two years later, when the arrangement finally became official, she was pregnant, which is how we acquired our second cat. Once we became a cat-centered, cat-crazed family, I stopped using my quilts, since they were all hand-quilted at that time, and I didn't want two beastly animals to constantly shed all over them.

I took up machine quilting in a serious way two years ago, so that I could finish more than one quilt per decade, and I decided I should make a quilt specifically for the cats, one that I could throw in the washing machine and use until it falls apart. After all, in the winter, it's so nice to read on the couch while lying under a quilt with a warm, cozy cat on top! This quilt was the result:

I used a simple, yet versatile and dynamic, four-patch block that I saw in QuiltLover's Etsy shop. Yellow and orange strips in some of the rectangles added a little extra pizazz.

The quilt is entirely machine-quilted, with YLI smoke-colored invisible nylon thread, since I was just learning and afraid to let the stitches show too much. With the free-motion quilting, I discovered that the tension went wonky when I moved in the left-right direction. The solution was to invest in a straight-stitch throat plate, which limits the bobbin thread's range of motion and keeps the tension in check. It does mean that now whenever I want to use a zig-zag stitch, I have to remember to change the throat plate, or I'll break a needle. What would I do without Harriet Hargrave for advice?

I love the inner border fabric, a Daiwabo design (from the Cara Collection Serenity line) in gradations of gray:

I've used this fabric in another quilt, and I bought some more the other day, in two colorways. I think I might have to hunt down an even bigger stash, before it disappears.

The back of the quilt has another story behind it, which I will tell in my next blog entry.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The latest

It's been a pretty busy last several days. Not in the sewing studio, alas, although I made some progress on quilting the striped quilt, and it's approaching the halfway point. Rather, it's been a fun-filled time with family and friends. I went to Seattle for the weekend to visit family, and also to participate in the big Pacific Northwest Meet-up between the modern quilt guilds based in Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver. I didn't want to blow off my family entirely, so I missed the Friday night get-together and the Saturday outing to sew charity quilts on Vashon Island, but I joined in on the Sunday morning shop hop. It was great to chat with the Portland and Seattle quilters, and I'll look forward to our next tri-guild adventure. Of course, between a stop at Fourth Corner Quilts on the drive down, the mail order fabrics waiting at my parents' house, and Sunday's outing, I bought way too much fabric this weekend. But what else is new?

Today, we saw out of town friends who had a long layover on their way back to the States from Japan, so we took them for a day trip to some places not far from the airport. We had Shanghai style dim sum in Richmond, walked around the Reifel Bird Sanctuary in Delta, stopped by a couple of nearby farm stands, and then spent a little time in Steveston to see the Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site and the wharf nearby. I hadn't been to most of these places before, so in addition to spending time with friends whom we don't see often enough, it was wonderful to enjoy some hometown tourism.

Although it wasn't the best time of year for spotting loads of migratory birds, I loved the sanctuary and will look forward to going back in the fall. We did see herons, sandhill cranes, red-winged blackbirds, and various other birds, not to mention countless ducks and Canada geese. Here's one of the sandhill cranes:

I also liked the birds' tracks in the sand. Could there be a quilt in this image?

All in all, it's hard to imagine a more pleasant summer day.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The quilting has begun!

I started quilting my striped quilt today. I'm just doing straight-line quilting, using a walking foot and a beautiful variegated cotton thread by Sulky for added visual interest. I'm working along the bias, which makes it a little tricky to keep the layers from shifting, even with the walking foot. But Harriet Hargrave says that straight line quilting along the bias isn't cause for undue concern. I have a number of books on machine quilting, but Hargrave's Heirloom Machine Quilting, 4th edition is my go-to guide on questions of technique. So far, my results are looking good (fingers crossed).

I started with a sample swatch. My sewing machine is thirteen years old, and the tension can be a bit touchy, so I always do a test run before I begin quilting. I also wanted to see how the thread would look against a contrasting background. Here's my sample:

I'm happy with the sample, so now, the real quilting begins:

An hour or so later, today's quilting comes to an end, after five rows in one direction, and then three rows orthogonally:

I love the depth and visual texture that the quilting adds, especially with the variegated thread. I'll be out of town this weekend, so it will be a few days before I get back to work on this quilt, but it's off to a good start.

Thursday, August 9, 2012


I haven't been working on my striped quilt, because I was knitting socks for my mother's birthday present (not to worry about spilling secrets--she's not a net-surfer). I finished them last night, and here they are:

I taught myself to knit socks this past winter, when I was working in Massachusetts for a few months, and this is the fifth pair that I've made. Sock-knitting always seemed impossibly complicated to me, but with all of the tutorials available on-line, I finally had the means to develop some new skills, from casting on to turning the heel. Here are a few of the sites that helped me the most:

For casting on: Judy's Magic Cast-on
The Fleegle heel: See Liat Gat's beginner sock pattern on Knit Freedom
The slip stitch heel: Toe-up, slip stitch heel sock pattern from knotanotherhat
Wrap and turn (W&T):
Bind-off tutorials for K1P1 and K2P2 binding: Liat Gat on Knit Freedom

I use the Magic Loop method, which requires just one set of circular needles. For my mom's socks, I used Lorna's Laces Shepherd Sock Yarn, an 80-20 wool-nylon machine washable yarn, and US1 circular needles. The cuff is in garter rib: alternating rows of K2P2 and knit all around. On the top, I used a K2P2 ribbing, which required learning a new bind-off. Thanks goodness for Liat Gat's great video tutorials!

Now, back to quilting!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Batik quilt, 2011

I've been ruminating over my personal style and approach to quilt design, and I think my quilts tend to fall into three basic, sometimes overlapping, categories. First, I have an interest in single block designs, particularly blocks that interact to create larger visual effects. Second, I've been working recently in a much more improvisatory style, one that explores colour, visual texture, and motion through the more spontaneous placement of design elements. Third, I love Japanese fabrics, and many of my quilts concentrate on showcasing their beauty.

Perhaps the simplest single block design is the basic repeated square. Here's an example in a batik quilt that I completed last year:

I made this quilt for "Quilts for Japan," a volunteer project based in Alberta that launched a drive to send quilts to the victims of the terrible earthquake and tsunami that took place in March. As someone who works with and admires Japanese textiles so immensely, I felt a special responsibility to contribute. I hope the quilt made someone's life just a little bit easier, even if only for a moment.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Something else is ripening...

One of the many talented quilters in the guild I belong to, the Vancouver Modern Quilt Guild, calls her blog "What Comes Next?" That pretty much sums up my state of mind, because even though I have one quilt ready for quilting, and another top nearly done, I also have so many other quilts roaming around in my head and begging for existence. Fabric collecting ends up being a vicarious form of quilt-making: if I don't have time yet to put together the quilt I'm imagining, at least I have the fabric for it!

Here's one of my tempting piles:

I'm not sure every one of these fabrics will make it into the same quilt, but I've been collecting turquoise blues, bright yellowish greens, and greenish yellows for an improvisational quilt that will invoke the colors of summer. There are hand dyed cottons, batiks, stripes, and other fabrics, and this pile is just about ready for cutting and sewing, once I'm in the right frame of mind for it.

I don't have all of the fabrics yet, but I'm also planning a baby quilt:

The quilt will be for my recently born granddaughter in Russia. (Technically, she's my husband's granddaughter, and I do feel a little on the young side to be a granny, but I'm ready to take up the role.) Hopefully I will manage to make her quilt before she's walking on two feet.

I'm thinking about mixing in some grays for her quilt:

Gray might seem unorthodox for a baby quilt, but this way the quilt won't scream "red" in a really loud and monotonous way, but it will still be plenty bright and cheerful.

That doesn't even begin to describe all of the quilts I'm itching to work on. What about all of the Japanese kasuri and katazome quilts I have in mind? The series of lattice quilts? The raw-edge pieced quilts with hand-printed linens and linen-cotton mixed fabrics? The batik bed quilt for our bedroom? The quilt with the great batiks from Zimbabwe? The fun blue-and-white cat fabric that I want to build a quilt around? The other cat fabrics I collected about 7-8 years ago? The elephant batik that goes with the Cherrywood hand-dyes from around 6 years ago? The music fabrics for the second jazzy quilt that I hoped to make, in series with "Starry Night Jazz," which I made in 1991? The quilt of shibori-dyed cottons, most of which I haven't even purchased yet? Not to mention the UFOs still hanging around the house.

Stay tuned!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Something's ripening...

We planted a Shiro plum tree our first spring in Vancouver, and now every summer I look forward to the harvest. This year is shaping up to a bumper crop. The tree bloomed at the right time in April (as opposed to February the past two years), the bees came, and the branches are now loaded with ripening fruit. Here's how things looked a few days ago:

Caution: Plums were greener than they looked in the photo. But I checked this morning, and the first one or two are nearly ripe. I'm hoping tomorrow will be the big day. Let the eating begin!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Current project: Striped quilt

Many years ago, I read an article by Mary Mashuta about using striped fabrics to make clothing (Threads magazine, April 1991, pp. 60-64, republished in Quilts and Quilting (1991)). One of the photos featured a gorgeous pieced jumper in which matched stripes created a striking pattern, and ever since then, I've thought about quilting with striped fabrics.

This past winter, while I was working for a few months in Massachusetts, a local fabric store had a fire sale on Kaffe Fassett's ikat woven striped cottons, and I bought a big bundle of them. Not big enough, though--I also had to supplement them with some more Fassett stripes purchased on-line. Here's the quilt in progress, basted and ready for quilting:

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Return of the prodigal blogger

I stopped posting three years ago, when I had to choose between time for writing entries and time for sewing. It doesn't help that as a kid, I was a lousy diarist. The blog started as a companion to the bag- and scarf-making in my Etsy shop, but since I joined the Vancouver Modern Quilt Guild two years ago, I've returned to concentrating on my first love: quilting. Lately, the ever-growing backlog of plans for new quilts has me feeling the need to record thoughts, ideas, and crafting experiences, as well as wanting to share my work. Hence the return of the prodigal blogger!

Rather than start entirely from scratch, I kept a few of my old posts--just the ones that dealt with techniques, works in progress, the trials and tribulations of the sewing room, and last but not least, ice cream! But the blog also now sports a completely new look, and it's so much better than before. I think I'll be more inspired to write entries simply because I'm no longer ashamed of the blog's shabby appearance. Look for news about my current quilting project soon!