Tidbits: Pumpkin Pincushion

Happy fall, y’all!

Okay, so it’s not fall yet, but it’s almost September (close enough, right?).    As a former educator, back to school time conjures up plenty of sights, sounds, and smells (fresh crayons and stacks of Post-its, anyone?).  I am a sucker for school/office supplies.  Remember that line from You’ve Got Mail, when Tom Hanks’ character types, “I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils” to Meg Ryan’s character?  Love. it.  Especially a bouquet of yellow Ticonderoga pencils!

Confession: I actually hate writing with #2 wooden pencils.  I just love looking at them.  Have you ever noticed that brand new sharpened pencils are like daisies?  They arrange themselves in their container (if you have enough to look like an actual flower arrangement). But I digress….

Anyway, once school is back in session, fall seems to be just around the corner.  I am totally one of those people who breaks out the fall decor on the inside of my house on Labor Day weekend.  The outside decor goes up on the first official day of autumn so at least the neighbors don’t think I’m too crazy.

For some reason (despite the ridiculously hot weather we are having), it feels like it should be fall (maybe because I am wishing for cooler weather).  Don’t get me wrong.  I love summer.  But there is something wonderful about autumn.  And pumpkins.  And crisp leaves.  And cool evenings.  And hot cider.  And baked apples.  And pumpkins.  And hooded sweatshirts.  And football games.  And sweaters.  And pumpkins.  Did I mention pumpkins?

Speaking of pumpkins, to satisfy my ridiculously early craving for fall this year, I made this pincushion:

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I followed the Fiskars tutorial (from http://www2.fiskars.com/Sewing-Quilting/Projects/For-the-Home/Organization/Sewn-Pumpkin-Pincushion#.UhjPE2RBKHc).  I first saw this project when I purchased some sewing supplies from Jo-Ann’s and immediately googled it when I got home to investigate further.

Okay, I mostly followed the tutorial, but made a key modification: Instead of sewing the leaf inside out, reversing it, and stitching closed, I actually sewed it by hand right-side out.  Yes, this meant that the rough edges are exposed, but this makes the leaf look a bit more realistic.  If you look closely at pumpkin leaves, they aren’t “perfect” along the edge either (no, my leaf is not shaped like an authentic pumpkin leaf–my fabric cutting skills aren’t that impeccable just yet).  Plus, it also allowed me to pull the thread taut in such a manner that it made my leaf curl, giving it more dimensionality and character, I think.  Like a leaf that is starting to shrivel up just a wee bit.

Check out the tutorial if you are an “autumnut” like I am–very cute, very fun, fairly simple.  My pumpkin is not quite as segmented as the tutorial’s, though, which was a bit disappointing.  The directions said to make sure you stuffed your pincushion with enough filler to make it plump, but I think I must have overstuffed (overachiever that I am)  because each time I pulled the embroidery thread around the sections tighter to make the sections plump out, my thread would break (and I wasn’t using cheap thread!).  I suppose I could undo my stitching and take some stuffing out to see if it improves things, but I’m reluctant to destroy it.  At any rate, it’s good enough for the first pincushion I’ve ever made and is cute enough to be a fall decoration.  Apparently, it is also tempting as a cat toy, as I saw one of our sneaky littles pawing at it a couple of days ago. That gives me an idea for another tidbit, though: cat toys…maybe filled with catnip instead of loose threads? Meow.

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Quilting Part 2: Cut and Dry

At last!  All the fabric for the front of my king size quilt has been washed, dried, pressed, and cut.IMG_2154

Here’s the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly aspects of this part of quilting:

The Good: Prewashing all my fabric to avoid uneven shrinkage in my quilt (patting myself on the back for avoiding one rookie mistake).

The Bad: Prewashing all my fabric meant that I lost quite a bit of fabric to shrinkage and unraveling of the edges.

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The unraveled threads I put to use for stuffing a pumpkin pin cushion I am making using the Fiskars tutorial here: (http://www2.fiskars.com/Sewing-Quilting/Projects/For-the-Home/Organization/Sewn-Pumpkin-Pincushion#.Uhi6tWRBKHc), so no major loss there.

IMG_2117However, the shrinkage was saddening because I didn’t get quite as many fabric squares as I needed from some of my fabrics that shrunk more than others (see Quilting Part 1 for more info about that: https://kazoopartyoftwo.wordpress.com/2013/08/05/blocks-strips-and-squares-oh-my/).

The Ugly: Pressing and cutting.  I hate to iron (seriously–there are items of clothing that hang on the “to be ironed”rack for months until those clothes go out of season…or until Chris decides to do it, whichever comes first). “Pressing” (not ironing, as I have learned!) all of the fabric was rather tedious, as was cutting all of my squares…ALL 1296 OF THEM. That’s right–you heard me. ONE THOUSAND TWO HUNDRED NINETY SIX SQUARES.  For just the front of the quilt. (CAN YOU HEAR ME SCREAMING INSIDE?!?!?!)

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Here’s how things happened in a nutshell:

Materials Needed:

  • Fabric (obviously)
  • Cutting Mat (at least 18 x 24 is my recommendation)
  • Rotary Cutter (with back-up replacement blades if you are making a ginormous quilt like I am…mine started to dull near the end of all my cutting)
  • Sewing/quilting rulers (6 1/2″ x 6 1/2″ at least; also preferably a 6 1/2″ x 24″ (6″ x 24″ will work, too)
  • Cutting guide (if you don’t have the steadiest of hands…which you won’t after hours and days of cutting)

Step 1: Making the Left Edge Even.  After pressing my fabric and cutting off the unraveled parts, I folded the fabric to make the selvages meet (top and bottom), doubled it (not an expert quilter thing to do, but I didn’t have the 6 x 24 ruler you are supposed to have to do this step…so I improvised) and cut the left edge to be nice and even using my rotary cutter.  It was a rather painful discovery that this meant additional loss of fabric.   Although this may not be an expert quilter thing to do, I allowed the residual fabric to cascade down the side of my smallish desk to allow gravity and the edge of the desk to help keep my folded material in place.

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It was at this point when I realized that the cutting directions I was following were for right-handed people.  Everything I was doing felt very backwards to me, being a southpaw.  Nevertheless, I powered through and managed to survive…at least long enough to write this blog post ( If you don’t see posts for awhile from me, assume I have carpal tunnel at best and have crawled into my craft closet to die at worst).  Fortunately, the rotary cutter I purchased could be used by either left- or right-handed people, so I made the best of an awkward situation.

Step 2: Cutting Strips. Lots of Strips.  After evening up the left edge, I could cut strips and strips and more strips of fabric.  The beginning quilter book I was following advised against using the gridlines on my cutting mat as a guide for straight edges, but I checked mine against my rulers and confirmed that they were spaced at appropriate intervals and were indeed perpendicular and parallel.

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I used this nifty tool (shown below) to help me cut straight lines at the right intervals (3 1/2″ apart in my case) …if you are left-handed, you will understand my concern with needing help to cut straight lines, even with a rotary cutter instead of cheap elementary-school kiddie scissors.  As you can see, though, the tool is only 12 x 12, so you have to be careful to fold your fabric to fit the form.  Make sure you don’t fold your fabric too many times, though, or you will find that you actually don’t have some straight strips.  I simply folded my fabric once, then once more, so I was only cutting through four layers at a time.

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Step 3: Cutting Squares.  From there, I used my square ruler (shown in the pic) to cut my strips into squares.  IMG_2120

This took FOREVER…(not the five squares, but the 1296 it took to make the entire quilt front).IMG_2115

Step 4: Cutting the Binding.  While I was already in cutting mode, I decided to cut the strips for my quilt binding.  I realize that this is a later step for most quilters, but I am not most quilters.  Obviously.  IMG_2130

Since I’m making a 108″ x 108″ quilt, I needed 108″ x 4 sides = 432″ of fabric in length.  I also added 15″ extra inches in length to allow for error and working with the corners for a grand total of 447″ length. I decided to make my binding 2.5″ wide, so I cut my strips using the same strategy as before, except 2.5″ wide instead of 3.5″ wide.

IMG_2129I had great help in measuring my binding strips to ensure I had enough material cut (and yes, that is my yoga mat: short on space = craftercise room).   IMG_2124

Lessons learned:

(1) The pattern I created for the front alternates (hence why some of the stacks of fabric squares are turned on the diagonal in the picture above), which meant I could not leave my fabric in strips that I could sew together to save time and then cut apart into squares later. I could have left some in strips since the pattern does repeat, but I was also concerned about my novice-cutting not being so great, so I cut everything into squares.  In the future, I will probably try to create patterns that allow me to take such shortcuts.  If you need to learn patience, cutting 1296 precise fabric squares is a great way to do it.  Believe me, I know.

(2) Forget #1.  I see why many people can’t go the distance with quilting, especially quilting a king size quilt.  For the back of this quilt, I plan to use fabric strips to simplify matters and go faster.  Plus, I like the idea of chunky stripes almost as much as I do a nifty pattern of squares…and maybe better.

(3) Forget #2.  After looking at some inspiring quilts online (http://www.stitchedincolor.com/) , I still plan to do the strips for the back of the king quilt, but perhaps for another quilt, I will make a more intricate pattern to amp up my piecing skills and allow my creativity a bit more room for expression.

(4) Read beginning quilting books and checkout online tutorials, but don’t feel like you have to play by their rules.  For example, my beginning quilter book actually recommended that novices avoid use of geometrics in their first quilting enterprise.  I ignored their advice simply because I adore geometric prints and because geometry is kind of my life’s work (I conduct research investigating children’s thinking about geometry and space).  I. love. geometry.  (You have to love geometry to love quilting, I think…even if only on a subconscious level).  A word of caution, though, when working with geometric prints involving straight lines: As you can see from this picture, this fabric is going to look wonky if you don’t actually even the left edge and cut your strips to align with the vertical lines in the pattern.

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(5)  If you have any problems with your hands/wrists/forearms (tendonitis, carpal tunnel, arthritis, trigger finger, etc.) your hands will get tired and cramped from this much cutting.  Space out your cutting over several days or even weeks, if you can wait that long.  I suffer from trigger finger, exacerbated by an excessive number of hobbies involving my hands plus a job that requires lots of writing, and my left hand knotted up from so much cutting, even spread across multiple days.  Don’t wear your hands out just to get your cutting done in record time.

Now onward to the back side.  Yes, I could begin blocking the front, but I want to have all the wash, dry, press, and cut out of the way before the beautiful assemblage begins.  Call me crazy.  I’ve got some beautiful fabrics for the back, too; who knows, it might end up as the “front” of the quilt?  The best part of doing a two-sided quilt is that I can reverse it at will…and believe me, I will. 🙂

Until next time!

Enveloped in Envelope Pillow Covers

Confession: I love pillows.IMG_2150

Well, I used to love pillows. Then I learned from the Vanderbilt ASAP clinic that I have a dust mite allergy…a really, really severe dust mite allergy–one of the worst they’ve ever seen.  Guess where dust mites live? Pillows. Mattresses. Upholstered furniture. Carpet.  Those yellowish stains on your nice, soft feather pillows? Not sweat. Dust mite detritus.

In other words, dust mites love soft things, just like we do.  To make matters worse, dust mites love soft, breathable, organic fibers like cotton; unfortunately, so do I, since I am allergic to the chemicals used in the manufacture of synthetic fabrics, too.

The docs recommended I eliminate all fabric from my home except for my mattress and bed pillow, which should be covered in synthetic, plastic, zip-closure things that essentially suffocate the dust mites and provide a protective barrier between mighty-mites and me (sounds comfortable, right?).  Sputtering, I responded, “What am I supposed to have left in my house?”  They recommended hardwood or tile floors (Yay!) and (drumroll, please) metal or plastic furniture.  WHAT??!?!?!

Although I did buy the mattress and pillow enclosures (and have been pleasantly pleased, especially now that they have extra soft ones at Bed, Bath, & Beyond!), I thought they were asking a bit much.  After all, I currently live in a 90% carpeted condo, so I can’t exactly rip up the homeowners’ carpet and say, “My allergies/doctors/voices in my head made me do it.”  Plus, who doesn’t want a comfy couch? With comfy pillows? And comfy ottomans?  I used to work at Pier 1 Imports.  Not once did someone enter the store and say, “Where are your plastic throw cushions?”  or “I’m looking for a nice, metal couch.”  Not many people are screaming for a metal or plastic couch…at least, I don’t hear any.

That was in November 2011.  Since then, I see dust mites everywhere (no, you can’t actually see them without magnification), but I have visions of them propagating and march-running over the swells of the sofa like orcs in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  I’ve started labeling anything potentially dust mite-laden or a dust-collector as a “dusty.”  With so many dusties around the house contributing to my ill-being, I willingly sacrificed two trash bags of throw/accent pillows dusties to Goodwill.

This was before I read online that you could slow dust mite reproductive cycles (and facilitate die-off) by freezing your pillows (and anything you can’t machine wash and dry on hot) in sealed, plastic bags like those giant Ziplocs for over 24 hours.  I knew that keeping your home colder (below 68 degrees) limits their reproductivity, but this was news to me.  Wait, I didn’t have to give those pillows away?!?!?! Eh, whittling down my supply of pillows was probably wise; after all, I still have 11 dusties toss pillows remaining in various locations around our home.  Plus, some of those pillows would have been hard to cover (dark colors, bold florals, textural).  What pillows I have remaining are definitely my favorites, but they could still benefit from updating.

Enter the envelope pillow.  IMG_2198

Since my decorating style is rather eclectic, and I get bored with the same old, same old rather quickly, I decided to make some envelope enclosures for my existing pillows.  This way, I can easily remove the covers, wash them (those of you with kids are nodding, right?), and change out according to season, design whim, etc.

There are several websites and blog posts about making envelope pillow covers that necessitate varying degrees of expertise and patience needed to decipher, read between the lines, and follow the directions.   I’ve listed some options below, but there are plenty of other good tutorials out there!

For people who know sewing terms:

http://www.marthastewart.com/270503/three-ways-to-make-a-pillow-cover

For novices (like me):

Tatertots & Jello: Love the orange polkadot fabric and sizing calculation info but would have benefited from pictures and directions together in stepwise format

http://tatertotsandjello.com/2012/10/make-a-pillow-cover-in-4-easy-steps.html

Centsational Girl: Love the diagrams and step-by-step directions (this really helped me visualize the project more clearly) but would have benefited from sizing info

http://www.centsationalgirl.com/2012/07/easy-outdoor-pillow-covers/

I Heart Stitching: Love the listing of fabric dimensions for different pillow sizes.  Directive rambling? Not so much for me, but this could be useful for a lot of people (lots of calming reassurance).  Best part, IMO? The most disturbingly stained ironing board I’ve ever seen.  I love it when we see the human side of amazing DIY people!

I followed a hybrid of these four tutorials, summarizing my process below:

Step 1: MEASURE AND CUT FABRIC.

Measure and cut your front panel.  For an 18 in x 18 in pillow, I cut a 19 in x 19 in front panel, allowing the extra 1 inch requisite that these tutorials recommended.  Then measure and cut your back panels (shown in pic), which for me were 19 inches long (to be as long as my pillow front) x 12.5 inches wide each (I followed the Tatertots & Jello calculation here).

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Step 2: SEW BACK PANEL OPENING EDGES.

Fold the opening edge of one of your back panels under once (1/2 inch) and once more (another 1/2 inch).  The opening edge is the side of the panel that will be open in the middle of the  back so you can stuff your pillow inside the cover.

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Pin and sew those edges, backstitching at the beginning and end for strength. Rinse and repeat for the other back panel.

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Step 3: SEW FRONT AND BACK PANELS TOGETHER.

This is where you can totally ruin your project if you aren’t careful. Lay front panel sunny side up (pretty side facing up).

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Lay the two back panels sunny side down on top of the front panel, making sure your outside edges match up so that you have the right amount of overlap in the middle of the back.  Pin and sew around the entire perimeter (outer edge) of the pillow cover, leaving about a half inch allowance (margin).

Backstitching at the beginning and end of your sewing is a must, and some people recommend backstitching over the corners and the area where the opening will be to reinforce the pillow (rule follower that I am, I did!).

Step 4: INVERT, STUFF, AND PLUMP. 

Now turn your pillow cover right side out through the opening, and stuff with pillow form or old pillow. Voila!

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Once I did one pillow cover, I couldn’t stop.

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Seriously.

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The yellow pillow with the white chunky chains is from Target; the other three are pillows wearing my envelope pillow covers. Yay!

Lessons learned:

If you cut your fabric an extra inch in dimensions, as recommended by these tutorials, you may have a pillow cover that is a bit loose if your pillow form or existing pillow doesn’t fill it out completely.  Even when a pillow’s label says “18 x 18” you may have extra room in your 19 x 19 cover.  In fact, I made a 19 x 19 pillow cover for an 18 x 18 pillow and managed to get a 19.5 x 19.5 pillow (the gray floral) inside it to get the form to be snug and crisp-looking. I wouldn’t recommend this necessarily, though, because you don’t want the back opening to pucker, or worse, rip your brand-new pillow cover.  The back of mine doesn’t pucker but is close.  I tried a half-inch allowance for another square pillow, and that turned out to be just perfect, possibly because my pillows aren’t as plump as other people’s pillows (insert adolescent male joke here).   For a rectangular shape, I recommend the full inch allowance, as stuffing the pillow through a smaller opening is a tougher job, and you may need extra room inside for properly positioning the pillow (try to say that five times!).

Also, on the rectangular form, you don’t need as much overlap in the back panels. In fact, that much overlap makes it REALLY difficult to get the pillow inside.

In sum, I’ve saved a good bit of money by reusing the pillows I already have and covering them with fabric leftover from a different project that was relatively quick and easy to do–perfect for a sewing novice like me.  Plus, the dust mites have a prettier home in which to reside. I’m sure they’re thanking me for giving their home a facelift, perhaps dedicating their next-born to me.  I’ll soon send them all on an all-expenses paid trip to the Arctic (aka the freezer) in return.  Aren’t I generous? 🙂

The Curse of the Many-Legged Giants

Chris and I are currently losing a battle with many-legged giants in our house.  No, I don’t mean mutant wolf spiders or centipedes.  We’re talking furniture, folks.  I am constantly frustrated by the lack of flexibility we have with our furniture arrangement in our current living situation (rental condo), and we are both dreading the forthcoming day when we become a two-person moving crew and have to haul all of our giant pieces of furniture down narrow halls and stairs, around insanely tight corners with low overheads, and into a moving truck.  But wait, how did the giants get here in the first place?

A long time ago, back when we were engaged, Chris and I selected this bed to be our future bed:   PB farmhouse

Picture courtesy of Pottery Barn:

http://www.potterybarn.com/products/farmhouse-bed/?pkey=cfarmhouse-bedroom-collection&

Two and a half years after we were married (and extremely tired of using my old twin beds pushed together and covered with a king-sized foam mattress thing), we finally bit the bullet and bought the king-size version on sale.  Enter Giant #1.  Our bed is a gentle giant, though.  We absolutely love our bed and wouldn’t trade, sell, or give it away to anyone EVER.  Of course, our love affair is made more complete by the mattress set we bought for it.  Seriously, every time we lie down it is like going to a luxury spa retreat.  It is, by far, the best investment we have made furniture-wise, so we are perfectly content with our gentle giant.

Not so with the large (pun intended) majority of the rest of our furniture, which includes the following:

Gifts/Freebies from Amy’s parents:

  • 5′ baby grand piano
  • chair-and-a-half known as “the comfy chair”
  • oversized loveseat
  • dining table with two leaves
  • china cabinet
  • antique buffet
  • chest of drawers
  • two nightstands
  • double bed with full sized dresser, mirror, chest, and nightstand
  • computer desk
  • glass table
  • microwave cart
  • (2) different cube bookshelves (2 x 4)
  • 3-panel room divider
  • cat condo

Purchases:

  • Kenmore Washer and Dryer (on sale from Sears)
  • TV stand from Bombay (on clearance)
  • Extra long Pottery Barn Seabury suede sofa (floor sample purchased for 70% off)
  • Pottery Barn project table (on sale)
  • Pottery Barn Farmhouse Tallboy dresser (on sale)
  • elliptical workout machine (on sale)
  • Pottery Barn teen media stand (on sale)
  • Pier 1 wicker chaise (on sale)
  • (2) Pier 1 bar stools (on sale)
  • (3) Pier 1 counter stools (Craigslist)
  • Pier 1 mail center (on sale)
  • (2) different cube bookshelves (1 x 3; 3 x 3) (Target or Linens ‘N’ Things)
  • 2 bookshelves (Target on sale)
  • 1 media armoire (Target on sale)
  • 2 side tables (Target on clearance)
  • metal pantry storage rack (don’t remember, but it was cheap)
  • 4 Gorilla racks for garage (Sam’s Club)
  • storage bench (Target on sale)
  • craft storage organizer (craft store on sale)
  • cat condo (Pet Smart on sale)
  • grill (Wal-Mart on sale)
  • bistro sized patio set (Target on sale)

Notice some trends?  We do.

Trend #1: Our home = Goodwill Donation Center.

I’m an only child, so when my parents downsized after I flew the coop, they gave us a lot of their (bigger) furniture.  This list doesn’t even include the Pier 1 wicker loveseat and chair and a jungle green leather sofa they gave us that we’ve already passed to others!  Chris and I love a clean, spacious home, but our sentimental hearts beat wildly at times, resulting in conversations like the following:

Mom: I’m giving the comfy chair away to Goodwill.

Me: What?!

Mom: It just doesn’t go with my new style, and I don’t really have room for it anyway.

Me: But it is such a great chair with so many memories!

Mom: I know, but I’m giving it away unless you want it.

(Chris in the background): Tell her we’ll take it.

Me: We’ll take it.

This is also how we amass random home decor from Chris’s grandmother and my parents.  In fact, every time we visit Chris’s grandmother, we bring home a carload full, and I frequently receive boxes of my mom’s old teaching stuff, family photos, home decorating accessories, knickknacks, linens, etc. that I tend to sort through before sending to Goodwill or selling.  I also inherited 14 place settings of china from a relative, in addition to 2 we received as a gift from Chris’s grandmother and the 10 we received as part of our wedding registry.  I’m the only child of a mother whose only sibling has already passed, so I will also inherit her china…and her mother’s china…(you can see where this is going, can’t you?).  With that much china, I should be able to open a restaurant soon, which is good since I’ll need the restaurant space to store it all!

Lorie Marrero, creator of the Clutter Diet (check it out here: http://www.clutterdiet.com/) recommends stopping clutter before it enters your home.  Great advice!  When you are trying to be frugal and not spend money on things, though, it is hard to pass on “perfectly good” items, especially items you don’t have as a young-ish couple..and if some of these items tend to be made better than they are now.  For example, we have gone through two butter dishes since being married 7 years ago, including a Le Creuset one!  Our Corningware dishes have hairline fissures…not so with my grandmother and mother’s dishes (the ones with the blue emblem on them) that will probably outlast us all.  Maybe they will make cool homes for the cockroaches at the end of the world.

Trend #2: Modern farmhouse style = no room in the inn, or at least, in the condo.

Chris and I have very eclectic taste but trend towards a cross between European farmhouse and mid-century modern.  When we were homeowners, this was not a problem.  Our first home had a spacious, open concept that was perfect for our tendency to prefer big furniture designed for large spaces.  Unfortunately, I decided to go back to school in an urban area where housing is $$$.  In fact, our city is one of the few places where the housing market has continued to swell despite the general economic/housing market situation.  Our rent even went up this year (le sigh).   Suffice it to say, we live in a “spacious” 3 BR/2BA condo that feels like the size of a mouse hole with our furniture in it.  We even had to buy in the “suburbs” and spend more on our rent than our original home mortgage to have room enough for all our stuff.  Problem? Definitely.  But what could we have parted with?

Trend #3: Furniture sales = furniture clutter.

After making some disappointing investments in some cheaper engineered wood products, we decided to go solid wood with the rest of our purchases in hopes of lasting quality.  In trying to buy quality for lower prices, we tend to shop sales.  The only problem here is that shopping leads to purchases, which leads to space problems…which leads to the need to reclaim some of it by parting with some pieces (and probably replacing some with smaller pieces, eventually).  The creeping giant of Guilt seems pleased to hang out in our space…guilt over things purchased that are functioning yet take up too much space…guilt over things purchased that were not good investments (all in the name of saving money)…guilt over giving away free, “perfectly good” furniture  and having to replace these items with smaller ones (read: purchase things to replace free things).  The handmadehome has a great article on guilt, by the way.  It’s an older blog post, but copy/paste the link and it should work: http://www.thehandmadehome.net/2013/01/lazy-gals-survival-guide-guilt-vs-conviction/

Trend #4: Parting is such sweet sorrow.

We have been clearing out clutter for about a year and a half, and we have done some serious purging…of everything except the furniture.  My clothes used to take up two closets, a dresser, and a chest (that’s what happens when you don’t grow and can still wear your clothes from high school).  Now I use a chest and share the master closet with my husband.  Craft supplies have been used or donated to teachers.  I’ve even parted with some books, which is incredibly difficult since I’m a bibliophile.  The final frontier is the furniture, but the giants have to go.  Trouble is, we are struggling with what to give away, sell, and repurpose, especially since almost all of these pieces see frequent use or will, once we have kids and need additional bedroom furniture, seating, and such (read: near future).

Anyone else have some giants that need to find a new cave home?  Any ideas on how to conquer our giants?

Quilting Part 1: Blocks, Strips, and Squares, Oh My!

After my latest sewing successes, I have begun my king size quilt.  Should I probably make a smaller quilt first to get conditioned for the quilting version of the Boston marathon (or maybe the Iron Man competition!)?  Yup.  But a king quilt could easily be divided into smaller quilts that can then be sewn together, so really, a king size quilt is simply quilter delayed gratification.  I’ve named our quilt “Twelve Bar Blues” because I’m using a repeating pattern of 12 quilt squares that are mostly in the blue family (and because I happen to be a music nerd-History of Jazz, anyone?).  Here’s a sneak peak!IMG_2132

Since I didn’t buy enough material on shopping trip #1 and the store didn’t have any of my original choices left For visual interest, some of the main squares in the pattern will be substituted with these other fabric squares, some at repeating intervals and others at random (okay, I wanted some “planned randomness” anyway but ended up with more randomness than what I initially had in mind).IMG_2133

Rather than save up this REALLLLLLLLLLLLLY LOOOOOONG project to post all at once, I’m going to post in several installments, beginning with today’s post on calculations and shopping.

Planning TIP #1: If you have never quilted before, proceed with caution when looking at quilter forums and expert quilter blogs for how to calculate material.  Supply list? Yes.  Advice on material purchases? Maybe, depending on your taste and style.  Calculations? Nope.

Here’s why:

Some of the quilting pages provide Calculator applets to help you calculate material you need by the size of quilt you intend to make and the size of squares you wish to use (if using quilt squares at all).  Trouble is, some of these don’t actually function correctly, and some of them calculate the number of blocks you need, not the number of squares.  This results in newbies, like me, returning home with one-fourth of the fabric I needed to make my quilt, feeling like there was something VERY wrong but trusting the experts that I could, in fact, defy the laws of nature.  I should have trusted my own mathematical prowess instead.

This brings us to Planning Tip #2: Do your own math.

Some of these “helpful” online tools don’t factor in the seam allowance you want to have for each square (i.e., if you want 3″ squares, you actually need to plan to buy material for 3.5″ squares to allow for a quarter-inch of fabric on each side to be stitched together to form quilt blocks).I wanted to make a king size quilt, and most king size bedding is typically 107″ x 108″.  I decided to make a nice square to make calculations easier, so I am making a 108″ x 108″ plus the binding, since I want it a little bigger to snuggle in.  After a sobfest over trusting the “experts”, having to confess to my husband that the $$ I spent on quilt fabric was only a fourth of what I actually had to spend, and listening to him respond, “If it’s that expensive, then why aren’t we getting that Pottery Barn thing then?”), I did my own calculations, first finding the area of the quilt and then dividing that by the area of my finished quilt squares (3″) to get the number of squares I would need. Then I created a pattern on graph paper to serve as a scale model of my quilt and added up how many of each kind of quilt square I would need for my pattern for the entire quilt.  From there, I calculated the area in a yard of fabric (typically 42″ x 36″) and subtracted that by the area of the size of INITIAL quilt squares (3.5″ x 3.5″) I would need to get a better estimate of how many quilt squares per yard I could likely get.  Then I used that to determine how many yards of each fabric I would need, in relation to the numbers needed for my pattern.  For example, the blue leaf quilt square is used once in the 12-bar pattern, so I needed 108 squares.  If I can get 110 squares from one yard (which was often the case with my fabric), I only need 1 yard of blue leaf fabric. The yellow dragonfly is used twice in the pattern, so I needed 216 squares, or 2 yards of fabric.

This brings us to Planning Tip #3: Shrinkage estimates are unreliable, so buy half a yard more of fabric than you think that you need.

Some of the quilting websites and books apparently don’t factor in fabric shrinking resulting from prewashing your fabric (which you should always do!), and let me just tell you, the 3% shrinkage estimates reported are not reliable (some report 3-5%, but some of my fabric definitely exceeded this estimate, too!).  These webpages will tell you how many of X size quilt squares you can get out of a fat quarter, half yard, or full yard.  Do not believe them. Think Pirates of the Caribbean when Elizabeth invokes the right to parley (pronounced par-lay) and finds out that the pirates’ code is more guidelines than actual rules.

Not only did ZERO of my fat quarters, half yards, and full yards provide the “right” number of squares they indicated (e.g., 30 3.5″ squares from a fat quarter), all of my fabrics yielded FEWER squares  than these “experts” indicated and never the exact same number per amount of fabric.  My personal estimates were usually more reliable than those of the “experts,” but some of the fabrics didn’t even meet my own, more conservative estimates.  This is yet another reason why you should (1) buy extra fabric the first time around, (2) prewash, and (3) buy fabrics of the same quality weight, as not all fabrics (even all 100% cotton quilting fabrics) shrink equally.

You expert quilters may be thinking, Well, she obviously doesn’t know how to cut her strips correctly.  Possible? Yes, but I followed “quilting expert” directions on how to do it, so these people may have a problem communicating what they ACTUALLY do (wave a magic quilter’s wand?).

Maybe some of the fabric cutting peeps I had at the craft store were woefully inadequate cutters of fabric.  Possible? Yes, given that most of them look to be 16, bored, and easily distracted by conversation (“You’re making a quilt? I could never quilt. Cutting all those squares would take, like, FOREVER, and I would TOTALLY give up.”), your chosen fabric (“OMG! Chevron is SO hot right now!”), etc.  I even found some little irregularities in the fabric (at home…after it was cut…and after it was washed when I was ironing and could no longer return it, le sigh) that they had overlooked when cutting my fabric. UGH!  A young man and an older lady who cut my fabric at different times at the craft store did a beautiful job of inspecting and cutting the fabric, so this is not the store’s problem but rather a problem with the typical teenage workforce in general.  In addition to the cutting challenges (straight line, anyone?), some of my fabrics were not actually the full 42″ in the first place, so some of them were a full strip short.  My new estimate for the number of 3.5″ squares in a yard is 110.

A final thought on shrinkage:  I had one fat quarter that was the equivalent of the proverbial wool sweater that shrinks so much in the wash that it now resembles doll clothing or a lovely pet sweater–no joke!  It looked like maybe 1/16 of a yard. Maybe.

This brings us to Planning Tip #4: Do NOT buy fat quarters for quilting. Especially for big quilts.

The beginner’s quilting book that I purchased suggested the use of fat quarters as a way to “get in to quilting by starting small.”  As a beginner with a modicum of experience now, I would reject this advice wholeheartedly.  Fat quarters may seem fun if you want to play with different fabrics and can’t seem to choose between so many different choices, but that’s where the fun stops.  Fat quarters, at least in my experience, may not be cut uniformly, or remotely on a straight edge, leaving you with little fabric to use.  In fact, every last one of my fabrics had to be squared using folding techniques. Fat quarters may seem like a good bargain, but given the amount of shrinkage and lack of uniform sizing, they just aren’t worth it for large projects.  My final thought on fat quarters? Fat on “savings.”  Skinny on value. (Fat chance?)

A concluding thought from phase 1: After reading some online reviews of fabric from the same, popular craft/fabric store I used, apparently other (and more experienced!) quilters have had similar problems with excessive shrinkage of various quilting fabrics from this store.  Consequently, it is likely that I will not be purchasing fabric for quilting from this store again until there is evidence of quality improvement from others’ reviews.

So now that I have learned these valuable lessons about calculating and shopping for fabric and have, most importantly, shared them with YOU, I will proceed to writing about phase #2: washing and cutting.  Stay tuned!