Thursday, June 21, 2018

Saying Goodbye

It's been exactly 1 week since we said goodbye to our little Winslow aka Winnie.  This photo was the last one I took of him just a few days before.  He was 16 1/2 but still looked like a pup.

He was my baby before I had actual babies.  I got him shortly after we got married as a brother to my other dog.  He was waiting at the door when I brought both of my girls home for the first time...sniffing and checking them out.  As they grew he was like a living stuffed toy and for the most part he was a really good sport.

Winnie was a pug/chihuahua mix. He was the most happy-go-lucky dog.  He wasn't really very intelligent and until the last couple years he was an attention hog so much so that when my other dog or cat came over for a pet he would bump them out of the way.

He was a special friend to both of my girls.

My first daughter learning to walk with Winnie.

He was there when they learned to crawl and walk.

He was also super mischievous.  He loved snacking in the kitty litter box.  When he was younger he could find his way into and onto anything.  I'd often find him on the kitchen table.  

A last photo both girls wanted before saying goodbye.

As he got older and mostly just within the last year or two of his life he lost his hearing and eyesight but somehow he still managed to find his way around and know when we were right there.  If he needed any attention and didn't want to go looking for it he'd bark so you would come to him.  He couldn't quite keep his tongue in his mouth after loosing some teeth but that only added to his goofiness.  

He was like a little vacuum.  I can still hear his little pig like snorts as he sniffed and searched for any crumb left on the floor.  Every time I was in the kitchen baking or cooking he could be found underfoot waiting, hoping for something to drop.  He was awesome when the girls were toddlers because we never had to clean up a food spills.  He would be there before it hit the floor.

One morning, a week prior to his leaving us, he just stood there in the middle of the kitchen and wouldn't move.  He seemed to be breathing hard.  He already suffered from congestive heart failure for many years and always had a cough.  It was amazing that he lived with it for as long as he did.  The next day I took him to the vet fully anticipating that it was time but they gave him some medicine that cleared up the fluid from his lungs and he seemed content to lay in his crate, be spoon fed homemade chicken and rice and be doted on for the next week.   We knew he was ready though and the vet told us he was ready but it's making that final decision that just had me.  We finally settled on the next day, Friday.  Early Friday morning around 3:30am after having not barked for a week Winnie started barking.  I went down and sat in front of his bed petting and comforting him.  He seemed to be comforted until about 6:30 when nothing I did would help.  We had deeply discussed this whole situation with our girls and they knew that it was time too.  As soon as the vet opened I called and made an appointment for 9:30am.  I brought the girls to school that morning offering that they could come with me but they chose to say their goodbye's and go to school.  Right before I was ready to take him at about 9:15 I could sense something was different.  You don't want any animal to suffer and of course that is all I could think of...mad at myself for not taking him in sooner.  But then I thought this is natural process.  It's hard for us to think about and see something we love have to die.  I had never been through anything like this.  So I gently picked him up and laid him in the car on his favorite blanket in the passenger side beside me.  I kept my hand on him the entire time and spoke to him as we drove to the vet.  It was less than a 10 min drive there.  I prayed that God would take him quickly and that he would not suffer.  As I drove into the driveway of the vets office and parked he took his last breath.  I couldn't not believe how it all played out.  I was so relieved and so sad at the same time.  

I lost another dog a couple years ago.  He had been sick with diabetes for 4 years and still having another dog to take care of at home not too much had changed around the house.  But now that Winnie is gone we are without a dog.  We decided awhile ago that we won't be getting another one.  We are looking forward to heading out for a weekend and not having to find someone to pet sit or have to run home to let a dog out during the day.  We still have 2 awesome cats which are cuddle bugs and keep us all happy with a lot less work.  

I still come around the corner or down the stairs thinking that I'm going to peek over and see Winnie snoring in his bed or I think I'm going to hear him bark any minute to be let out.  He always seemed to have a knack of doing that when I was in the middle of something.  It's going to take awhile for that all to go away but I will certainly never forget Winnie.  

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Weekend Quilting

We have a wedding in the family next month.  It's for my husbands aunt and I thought that she deserved a quilt.  I don't think one of my modern bright colored quilts would fit into her house so I dug through my stash and my small box of civil war prints.  I was able to pull out the 30 fat quarters worth to make a queen sized Yellow Brick Road.  I haven't made this quilt in years.  Actually this was the first quilt pattern that I ever made all the way back in 2006 and it kicked off my whole sewing obsession.

I love the Yellow Brick Road pattern.  It's fun to cut the strips, sew them together, cut again and before I knew it I had 100 blocks done!   I chose this pattern because I knew it was fast and I didn't have any big pieces of fabric so this was perfect.

This is the first time I have put up a piecing wall.  You really need to have something to lay this quilt out on because of the randomness of the blocks.   It's easy to put 2 fabrics together and then it would drive me crazy.  In my house there's not one wall that I can leave a piecing wall up.  As it is you can tell there's a door behind this and it's a little too close to my wood stove which is running constantly from about Oct to April.  I'm using batting for a king sized quilt.   This winter my cat found the bin I kept it in tucked away under a table and unbeknownst to me had made it her bed.  It got a little hairy and gross.  I was planning on salvaging it for a smaller quilt but I think I will keep it for a piecing wall.

For pinning all the rows together my ring pincushion came in really handy.  I made this one way back when I owned my fabric shop.  But here's a tutorial on how to make one.  Here's another tutorial too with a very cute idea instead of using rickrack.

I pinned all the rows together starting at the bottom and labeling each row.  I wrote with permanent pen on the flower head pins the row number so I would know which row I was working on.  I pulled each block off the wall and pinned it to the next.

I also wrote on the pattern which row was which number.  I forget really quickly so this will help me remember I started with #1 at the bottom of the quilt.  I've sewn 2 rows together and am hoping today I can get the rest completed.  I've got less than a month to wrap this up so I'm trying to work on it as much as possible and not stress myself out at the last minute.


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Sewing with Kids: Week 1 - Hand-Sewing

This is the second post in my Sewing with Kids Series.  You can find my first post here on what is needed to get started.

No matter what kind of sewing you do at some point you are going to need to thread a needle, hand- stitch and make sure the stitching doesn't come undone.  Whether you are sewing on a button or repairing a hole in clothing these are essential to any type of sewing project.  Even though the kids are itching to get right to the machine I make them learn to hand-sew first.  It may sound boring at first but to spice it up I like to have them rummage through all the bright colors of embroidery floss and create a simple embroidery project.  This time I chose to have them cross-stitch a letter (an initial) and then have them add to it whatever else they want in the time that the class allowed.  During our next class we are going to turn it into a pin cushion to add it to their sewing kits.
The photo below is the sample I created.

What is taught during this week:
How to cross-stitch and simple embroidery.

How To Sew a Simple Cross-Stitch Letter

Supplies Needed:
White square of fabric - I precut 1 for each child that would fit in their embroidery hoops.  (These will later be cut down into 3 1/2" squares to sew into the pincushion.)
Frixion Pen or other disappearing tracing pen.
Embroidery Floss
Embroidery needle
Letter pattern
Small Embroidery Hoop (Not absolutely necessary but it makes it a lot easier.)

1.  They will choose a letter and using their Frixion pens will place the letter pattern (you can find a pattern here) underneath the fabric and trace putting x's where the squares are.  I brought a light pad which made it super easy to see but you can also just hold it up to a window.

At this point they are just concentrating on their letter.  They can decide later, depending on how much time is available what else they would like to add.

2.  Next they will learn to thread a needle and make a knot in the end.  I have a printed full-color handout I give kids so when they get home and have forgotten they can refer to it.  I also have the same tutorial here.

3.  I use just basic embroidery floss and have them separate the strands so they are using only 2 strands.  It's a little easier to get through the needle for the first time. The length is about their arms length.

4.  Next they just start stitching each x starting at one end of their letter and working their way around.
     A few challenges they will find:
        - Little knots happen in the floss.  It's important not to pull on these (which makes them tighter) but to use their needle to pick them apart.
        - They may also loop the thread around the hoop (meaning they went into the fabric the same way twice).  They will need to unthread the needle and back the thread out.
        - The biggest challenge I find is keeping the needle on the embroidery floss.  There are ways to "tie" the thread on needle but most kids after it falls off 5 times will start to get the hang of it.

5.  I also teach them how to knot the thread on the backside when they are done.  Here is a tutorial for that too.

Sewing Basics: How To End Your Hand-Sewing and Make a Knot

When you have used up your thread, are done sewing or need to change colors, you must knot or tie off the thread in someway or all of your lovely stitches will come undone!  You could just tie a knot in the thread but unless you get it right next to the fabric it your stitches will loosen up and not look as pretty anymore.  

*Important!  When you have about 5-6” of thread left then you are ready to stop sewing and knot your thread. If you don’t leave enough thread then you won’t be able to make a knot.

Make sure the thread is coming out of the back.  Turn your project over and work from the backside. 

Where the thread is coming out of the fabric take a super tiny stitch.  

Pull the needle and thread as you normally would but not all the way!  Leave a small loop.  Then take your needle and go through the loop 2 times and pull it tight.

This should make a knot.  If it didn’t work the first time keep trying.  More than one knot is ok!

Monday, April 16, 2018

Sewing Basics: How to Thread a Needle and Knot It to Start Hand-Sewing

I very often hear from someone that they just want to know the basics of sewing.  How to sew the "right way".  Well, there are lots of ways to do it the right way or a way that works for you.  I love to see the ways that people have for different techniques, sewing or otherwise.  Isn't this an awesome time we live in that we can pop online and read a blog or watch a YouTube video!  It's so much easier to be "self-taught".

I thought I would run through a few very basic sewing techniques.  These will be helpful for anyone who has never sewn, forgot some things or just wants to see someone else's way of doing something. I will also be referring to these periodically in my other sewing posts such as my Teaching Kids to Sew series.

Here we go!

How to Thread a Needle and Knot Start Sewing

Thread your needle.  Leave one small tail and one long tail.  If you have trouble getting the thread through the eye you can lick the end of the thread, twist it in your fingers and/or cut it at a 45 degree angle.

Hold the needle with your thumb and pointer finger making sure the thread won't come out when you pull on it.

Take the long thread with your other thumb and pointer finger.  Bring the long end of the thread and the needle together to make a circle.  Slip the thread into the thumb and pointer finger that's holding the needle, keeping the circle.

With your free hand wrap the long thread around the needle 3-4 times.

Point the needle up and slip the wrapped long thread between your fingers on the needle. 

With your free hand, pull the pointed end of the needle up while still lightly holding onto the twist with your other hand. 

Keep pulling so the twist goes off the needle, along the thread and right down to the end of the thread.  

It will make a knot at the end.  If it didn’t work the first time keep trying.  You’ll get it!

Friday, March 23, 2018

Sewing with Kids Series: Getting Started with Supplies

My most rewarding classes are when I teach kids.  This is not something that I thought I would EVER be doing.  Quite honestly before I had nieces and nephews and my own kids all other kids just plain scared me.  I don't know why... maybe the tantrums and unpredictability.  Ha!  Now I love them and find them all fascinating...or most of them anyways.

I have now been teaching kids to sew for 6 years.  When I had my shop and first started offering kids classes it was a little tricky to find the right projects and decide which age groups I wanted to concentrate on.  My older daughter started sewing when she was just 4 1/2 and independently sewing at the age of 5-6.  At the time I didn't really think anything of it.  But then I tried offering classes to 5-6 year olds at my shop and it just didn't work well.  I felt like they were not ready even if parents thought they were.  The majority just didn't have the coordination or the patience to tackle sewing at that age.  Over time though I could easily see that 8 seemed to be the magic age.  My younger daughter at the age of 4 1/2 was not even close to getting near a sewing machine even through age 6.  As she got into year 7 it became easier for me to think that she may not sew over her finger. Now at age 8 she is whipping out pillows and most recently (to my delight!) half square triangles.  It's just something that seems to happen when they get to that age.  I'm sure there's some developmental explanation out there.  My other daughter (now 10) who was always happy to sew at such a young age is no longer interested in sewing and would rather be mixing glue, glitter and whatever she can find into slime.   I dream that far in the future when she's starting a family she'll return to it.

I've also taught children one on one out of my home sewing studio periodically and over the past year have taught an after school program in our elementary school.  With every session I love it more and more.  As this last group was coming to an end I was thinking I was really going to miss these girls!  Because of their enthusiasm it gave me the idea to share how I like to sew with kids and get them to love sewing!  This after school program is actually one of my favorites.  It's held once a week for 6 weeks in 1 hr 15min classes.    The first 15 mins is them having a snack and listening/watching me go through the project for that day.  Then they have an hour to work.

I've come up with some really simple projects.  Most can be done in just one class.  I will share what our 6 weeks looked like in several posts.  I want to note that teaching kids to sew so they continue to have fun and love it is important.  Especially now with such instant gratification everywhere it's hard to get a kid to want to slow down and sew something. And honestly 75% of the time they are cutting and prepping and only a small amount is actually spent on the machine.  I find that at this beginning stage I will do a little more prep for them and not get too crazy with "the right way" to do something.   As long as there is not a gaping hole or something completely sewn wrong it can pass.

For the first time in my most recent class I presented each student with a sewing kit.  I was so excited about this!  Very often the kids end my sewing class and go home to old sewing supplies mom or grandma has had for ages with rusty pins and needles and no scissors sharp enough to cut through fabric.  This kit was what they used for the entire class so when they went home they were familiar with everything in there.

Here's what I included in the SEWING KIT:

1.)  A pair of scissors.  You do not need an expensive pair of scissors to cut through fabric!  I bought these at Ocean State Job Lot for $2 each and they cut through fabric just as well as any of my expensive scissors.  As long as they don't start using them on paper all the time they will work well for a long time.  I also had a smaller size they could choose from since these were so big.  Half chose the bigger ones and the other half chose the smaller scissors.
2.)  Next is a measuring tape and smaller ruler (sewing gauge) with a point turner.  The measuring tape would have been enough but I really liked the idea of that point turner.  I use my sewing gauge all the time so why not!
3.)  The Frixion pen was the most expensive of everything but they work so well on fabric.  The way it disappears when you iron it is pretty magical for kids.  It's the little things that keep them motivated!  Plus our first project was going to be embroidery so this was super handy for that.
4.)  For marking I also threw in some clay chalk.  I wanted to give them something to mark on darker fabrics so this would do that.  This chalk is really nice and easy to leave a mark and then rub off.  They got all the colors just because they were in the box.
5.)  I gave them all a little embroidery hoop.  These were available at a nearby textile shop and cost less than $2.  We needed this for the first class when they were learning how to hand-sew and embroider.
6.)  I cut a small piece of felt and stuck in an embroidery needle and a Millners size 9 needle.
7.)  I got a big pack of yellow head pins and gave them about 50 pins each.  I found the containers with the clear lid at Dollar Tree, 2 for $1.
8.)  They also got a seam ripper but they are not shown above.
9.)  Lastly they needed something to keep it all in.  I wanted it to be big enough to put projects and fabric in so I found clear shoe type boxes at Home Depot for a $1 each.  They worked well to keep everything corralled and easy to access during class.

My next post will be about what they started creating for their first project.  It will be an intro to hand-sewing and a functional project they can keep in their sewing kits.  Click on the link below to be brought to the next lesson.

Week 1 - Teaching kids to hand sew.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Adventure of Making a Custom Quilt

This was my first custom made quilt.  I want to document this for myself and also if you've ever thought about making a quilt for someone it can show you what I went through.  I've made other custom items and done a good amount of alterations and repairs for people so I wasn't worried about working with someone.  I am confident in my quilting and sewing abilities and wasn't worried about taking on something like this.  I can say there were a few times in the past that I probably shouldn't have taken something on.  Those are better left in the past.

A neighbor came to me and asked if I was interested in making a quilt for a good friend of hers from Germany that was getting married.  I don't beat around the bush any more or agree to do something that I give away my time.  It's only taken me my lifetime to learn that.  Like I said I had never made a custom/comissioned quilt so I really didn't know what to charge.  But I figured I would set a reasonable hourly rate and charge how long it took me.

Her requests were that she wanted patchwork but something cohesive with a bit of a pattern and more traditional.  Oh, and it needed to be 108" x 108".  I'm chuckling because if you are a quilter you might realize just how big that is...a good king size quilt for sure!

In order to have an idea of how long it was going to take I accounted for my time and made a very simple patchwork quilt top that was probably a 10th of what she wanted and then multiplied it out.  I gave her a range of what it could be and added in a little extra for unexpected.  I kept my confidence even though it was the most I've ever charged on any one item.  Quilts are so worth it in my opinion because I know what goes into them.  However someone who has no clue is probably thinking I can get a quilt from Target for $49!  Why would I pay hundreds of dollars for one?  Anyways, she did not balk at the quote and agreed to it.

Now on to the design.  My problem I quickly realized, is deciding on a pattern and then figuring out just how much of each fabric I would need.  That in itself would take a significant amount of time.  I did a little pre-op at my local quilting shop looking for simple patterns and it was hopeless to find a pattern that I could just make or easily adapt to a 108" square size.  It was looking like I was going to be doing the designing.  I am typically not a pattern follower so this was ok with me but again with a quilt this big it was getting the calculations correct.  I didn't feel that I could just wing it and hope it made it to 108".  I needed for her to approve a design and something to work off of so that I could "get it done" and not take extra designing hours trying and figuring things out.

At our first meeting she brought along a photo of the wallpaper that was in the room of the recipient.  Not that she wanted to match that since it could change at any time but it gave us an idea of what colors the recipient liked and what would go with her current decor.  To this first meeting I also brought several patchwork like designs found from the internet and books I had that I thought she might like and also that wouldn't be too time consuming to make.  I explained that the less fabrics and simpler the pattern the less time and therefore the less costly.  Like I said above I did give her an idea of what it could cost and I knew that no matter what it took I would not charge her above the highest number I gave her, especially since this was my first full sized quilt that I custom made.  After this first meeting I felt better knowing a little more of what she was expecting and letting her know what to expect from me.  We left this meeting with me trying to nail down a pattern and made a plan to meet again to pick out fabrics.

I started doing more research online for patterns and designs.  I came across this site Pattern Jam.  What an amazing site!   You can design your quilt by telling it the size and how many rows you want.  It will give you the amounts of all fabric needed.  I feel like I just need to clarify that it tells you everything you will need to complete the one you designed.  I felt like I won the lottery!  This took out hours of figuring and frustration.  Think about it.  If you are planning a quilt you might have a pattern but how do you know how much of each fabric to buy?  Our agreement was that we would go shopping together and pick out fabrics and she would purchase it.  So I had to know how much to purchase.  Too little would mean I had to go back and find and buy more too much and she was overcharged and stuck with extra fabric she didn't need.  You can imagine my excitement when I realized this site did all that calculating for me.

At our second meeting we met at the fabric shop.  It all went surprisingly quickly.  We did venture out to one other shop just to make sure there wasn't something out there before we made up our minds.  The fabrics we chose were a deep purple batik in a sort of strippey pattern and an off-white on off-white print with a little shimmer.  A batik with a non-batik fabric can be a hard match but for some reason these 2 just went together!  For the backing she chose a deep black.

I designed 4 or 5 quilts on Pattern Jam and presented them to her.  She went with a simple Irish Chain.  Each block was made up of 4 1/2" squares.  I did most of the piecing by cutting the fabric into 4 1/2" strips then sewing those together cutting again in to 4 1/2" segments and then sewing into the 9 patches shown above.  The finished block was 12".  This planning was probably the most difficult part for me because I had to think about just how many strips were needed of each color to then sub-cut in to what is needed for each block.

I really had to push myself to keep it flowing and stay within the quoted hours.  I diligently kept my hours on the back of the pattern.  I worked on it as much as I could with the hopes of getting it finished in a couple weeks between working and kids.  Every time I had an interruption it was accounted for.  Sometimes I only got to work on it for 10 or even 5 minutes.  Each minute was written down.  In the end I tallied the numbers over and over on different days to make sure I wasn't forgetting anything.  From start to finish this quilt took me just over 20 hrs.  This was from the first cut to the last stitch.  I did not account for the meetings we had or the trip to the fabric store or some of the initial planning where I was finding patterns and designing on Pattern Jam.  I probably should have added in at least a little time but since this was my first custom quilt I felt like this was a learning experience and a customer should not be responsible for the time that it took me to question myself and what I was doing.  In the future I would probably add in a couple hours to account for that planning time if I was the one to get the fabric and design a pattern again.

To break the time down a little further.  The quilt top took me just over 7 hrs.  The actual quilting took me just a little more than 7 hrs as well.  The binding took me 5 1/4 hrs.  Even though I was trying to save time where ever possible I decided that I wanted to hand-stitch on this binding vs machine sewing it.  Because it was being given as a wedding gift and had a special sentimental value I thought this outweighed the time savings.  My goal was to make this quilt as soft and cuddly as possible and a machine sewn binding would not have fit into that idea.  I also added in 1 hr for labeling it and clean-up.  For the cleanup that mostly consisted of going through and snipping threads.  I will explain the labeling in more detail later.

Now I do want to mention that some major time savers on this quilt was # 1, the fact that there were only 2 fabrics involved.  Had there been 3 or 4 or more, figuring out yardage and cutting and block assembly could have easily taken much more time, like hours more.  The pattern was another factor.  I jammed through cutting 1/2 of the 12" blocks for this quilt because they were a solid fabric block.  For the other 9 patch block I simply cut strips and sewed the width of fabric strips together so what looks like it took a long time to sew each 4 1/4" square together was probably more than cut in half by the strip method. And the 3rd major time saver was using a wide back fabric for the backing which saved me lots of time piecing together something to fit the 108" x 108" size.

Working with this quilt was a little difficult when it started to become full sized.  This was the largest quilt I had ever worked on.  All of it, including the quilting stage was done on my Viking Mega Quilter.  I'm not sure I could have done it on a smaller machine at least not the quilting part.

 I don't have a space in my house that is nearly big enough to lay this thing out to prep it for the quilting stage.  I may have said in previous posts that my main job is being a property manager for apartments that we own.  At the time that I was making this we had a vacant apartment with a huge open living, dining area.  It was the perfect space to lay it all out.  I don't know what I would have done if I didn't have a vacancy.

I got my sweats on and spent a good long time pinning this thing all over.  I wish I counted the pins.  I even had to use the teeny tiny gold ones that I had lurking in the bottom of my pin box for ages.

Here it is shown when I was in the quilting stage.  You may be asking why go to all this trouble when I could have brought it into a quilting shop to have it quilted.  The main reason was expense.  To have someone else quilt it would have been way too expensive.  Plus I love the quilting part.  I could have rented a longarm machine at my local quilt shop but again even that was going to cost more.  Not only would it cost my time to the customer but I would also have to charge her for the time to rent it.

The pattern I decided on was a very simple leaf in leaf quilting pattern.  I am a big proponent for simple, big patterns. The simpler and bigger the softer and cuddlier!  I did a big diagonal (X) going through both ways of the 9 patch.  For the borders I did a loopy leaf.  I can't find a finished photo of the border but in the photos below of the back you can get a peek of it.

For the quilt label I was going to embroider a message from my client.  With all old quilts that have been handed down they often become worn to the point of not being read.  So I had the idea (and I'm sure I'm not the first) to make a small pocket and tuck the note inside.  This will also make it easier to take the note out while washing and preserve the note.  Embroidering it would take quite some time and with the pocket it allowed me to hand-write the message.

I added a snap just to help keep it in there during use.

It was barely visible and I'm sure that if you didn't know it was there you would probably never notice it.

This was a very satisfying project for me.  It felt good to push myself to complete this quickly.  I was happy with the quality and the finished look.  After this was delivered to my client it inspired me to finish a couple more quilts that I had in progress for a long time.  More on those to come!