Wednesday, January 21, 2015

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie . . . .

Seriously.  Clutter is stress-inducing  ~  & not just in a house ...  in life too.

Yep, William Morris got it right and I am taking his words much more seriously this year. A new year, a new creative spirit. As a quilter, I'm visually oriented, and I like to surround myself with pretty things. It's good for my spirit.

From organizing my pins into cute containers came another good idea: Let's go to Ikea!

Don't go there if you have silly notions rattling around in your head about buying a couple of containers to organize your sewing things. By the time I was through it took 2 trips and quite a few hours and ended in an overhaul of my sewing space. 

Honest, I just bought a few things  : )  And I'm working hard to get it all together. I felt I needed to carry over the "beautiful things" from the other rooms in my house into my sewing space a little more. Wish I could afford Pottery Barn. No reason inexpensive and functional can't also be inspirational and pleasing to your creative spirit (and budget) though. 

At first, I just wanted a new sewing table that was longer and deeper. My old one was too short and small and I always felt cramped on either side. And I wanted it near a window for the natural light. Last year I had a plan and we started clearing out my son's old room (He's got an apartment now so he'll never come back, right? Hah!). But the window needed new curtains . . . . Then I also had to buy a few more pretty organizers for my things. And some shelves. A new cutting table too, perhaps? You get the picture. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie kind of thing. (If you give a quilter a pretty table she'll create something to go with it.) 

                                 If you Give a Mouse a Cookie.jpg 

(The book both my kids loved when they were toddlers -  A boy gives a cookie to a mouse. The mouse asks for a glass of milk. He then requests a straw (to drink the milk), a mirror (to avoid a milk mustache), nail scissors (to trim his hair in the mirror), and a broom (to sweep up his hair trimmings). Next he wants to take a nap, to have a story read to him, to draw a picture, and to hang the drawing on the refrigerator. Looking at the refrigerator makes him thirsty, so the mouse asks for a glass of milk. The circle is complete when he wants a cookie to go with it.)

I'm not nearly finished yet but now everything is prettier (and lighter) than it used to be and I really am feeling more creative. That can't be bad. I'm taking my time - I'll get some quilts up on the walls and organize my fabric a little better. Find some pretty, cheap bins at Target. And because I just can't create in a messy space, I'll keep it nice and clean. (Please don't think that when my space gets too messy, I just create another new one, somewhere else, LOL.) 

No reason you can't have a pretty container for your snipped threads. This pink basket makes me smile  : )

When I'm finished with my needles, pins, scissors they'll go back into the organizer tray. So I can find things again.

*  *  *  *

You gotta love Ikea -  where else can you find a robin's egg blue dresser?

Wonder if I can talk my husband into painting the furniture in our bedroom robin's egg blue?? Better yet, maybe I'll do it myself someday and see if he even notices anything's changed . . . . .

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Pins and Needles

Well, friends,  it had to happen - my nine-day  Dear Jane sewing streak ended over the weekend. It felt so good to finish a nice stack of blocks. But these streaks never last for me and I knew I needed to move on to something else. Something that involved being able to find things I kept losing. Yes, I needed to do some - here's that dreaded word - ORGANIZING.

“The way to find a needle in a haystack is to sit down.” 
  ― Beryl Markham

We took the tree down and put all the Christmas decorations away and rearranged boxes. While I was at it I decided to get rid of some old things in the basement. After doing that, the organizing bug bit me and I moved into my sewing space. I started small and the first thing I did was organize my pins. This may not sound like much organizing to you but I swear I've always got pins and needles all over the house and it drives me nuts because I can never find the ones I need. They're in this room, that room, in assorted pincushions, boxes, drawers, under the desk, behind and under the sewing machine, etc., etc, etc. Ugh. Not one bit organized. And yes, it affects how I work on a project if I need to use different pins. I have a hard time sewing if everything is too unorganized and when I cannot find anything I get cranky and then give up and don't want to do anything. 

For months, I hadn't been putting things back where they belonged. I was going to do it in the fall but fall got away from me and before I knew it it was Christmas and I still was not organized one tiny bit. I really felt I needed to clean up before I could go on to make more projects. 

What was driving me crazy was the fact that no matter where I looked, I could NOT find my special pretty Clover clear as the sea, blue glass-head pins I love to use when I piece. Yes, the kind that's so fine you can actually sew over them (Shhh).  They're especially wonderful for making small blocks with tiny pieces  like my Dear Janes. I was desperate and ready to go out and buy more. They're not cheap though, and I know I used to have about a hundred of them. But instead of going out I decided to take the time yesterday and just go "shopping" in the house. Ever do that? Once I got started I did good and went through more drawers, pincushions and things and sorted all my scattered needles as well. That's as far as I got though. 

I organized some of my pins in this Fons & Porter pin box with 4 compartments I've had for years and the needles went into a little blue candy tin for now. Someday soon I'll organize those too. You have to start somewhere. 

Ladies, I'm a pinner and I can't tell you how much I love these superfine pins (made by Clover). Along with using a 70/10 needle in my machine and 50 wt Aurifil cotton thread, they make piecing small blocks that much easier. 

For fun - here's a tutorial I found for a cute needle case pattern. It's perfect for sorting some of the needles I use most often. Maybe if I make one like this I'll actually keep track of them a little better. "Put it back where it belongs" should be my motto for 2015.
                                    Diary of a Crafty Lady: Fold-up Fabric Needle Holder

Thursday, January 8, 2015

I'm 7 for 7

Jane is still on my brain. I've made seven blocks in seven days. Seven. Can you believe it? I find this amusing and so unlike me. I had no intention of making more than one block, maybe 2 ,  in January. I guess when you have some free time and the mood strikes you you have to go with it. And perhaps by the end of today (Jan 8)  I'll be 8 for 8. Who can say when my winning streak will end? I'd like to think I can go until January 12. Then I'll have achieved my goal of completing 12 blocks for this year and won't feel bad if I miss a few weeks or months here and there when I get busy. Wouldn't that be something? Anything else will be gravy. 

See those tiny appliqued triangles? Arrrgh!  Not fun. I thought of omitting them - just for a moment.  Who would know? But a small voice in my head said - "Go on. Pfffft - you can do this. Jane did it." 

Today I laid out all of the blue blocks I've made. Didn't realize there were so many. I'm going to set some of these in a secondary blue Trip Around the World arrangement. After the pink row and the yellow row. Everything else is more or less random and I hope to God it actually looks okay when the blocks are all put together. I think I probably have to start filling in with some more browns to tone down the pinks, blues, reds and greens. But I have so many beautiful, favorite fabrics I'm longing to sew into this quilt! 

Speaking of blue - Good news! Blue Blog has been resurrected for the time being. (Who knows how long that will last?) Some of you have been wondering why I stopped. No reason, just that blogging takes time and I ran out of inspiration. But I think I've gotten my blue "mojo" back now, at least for a little while.  And speaking of mojo - such a silly word but I kind of love it. Makes me want to dance. Have you lost yours? Winter, post-holiday letdown feelings and cabin fever will do that to you. The reason I've finished so many blocks is that, because it's been so cold here (-5 this morning, not including wind chill), I've stayed home and haven't gone out in a few days. Read this or this to try and get your mojo back. Then go off and make something pretty. Always works for me. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

New Year Challenges, Goals

Happy New Year, late. I hope you all had some wonderful holidays and now are sufficiently rested up and ready to take on 2015 and all the goals and challenges we often feel compelled to tackle when a new year rolls around. A clean slate sure feels good. I hardly ever make resolutions anymore (too much pressure) but every year I still "set goals" for myself. Honestly, I know it's the same thing but just the different wording makes me feel better and if I don't complete all of them within a certain time frame I don't feel like I'm breaking a promise, just pushing the deadline a bit. The other day I set a few personal, business and quilting goals for myself for this year. I wrote them down in a notebook and every now and then in the coming months will check the list and ask myself - "How're you doing on those?" 

In 2015, I plan to repeat one of my quilting goals - which is to make at least one Dear Jane block a month. Since I have many other goals to keep me busy, yes, it's a very small goal but one that still manages to motivate me. I often end up making make more than one block each month.

So far, in January, I've made 4 blocks in 4 days. Not a huge accomplishment, I'll admit, but this makes me feel great. One block I actually had to make twice, so really I completed 5. I say "had to" because to tell the truth the first one turned out pretty awful and I knew it would always bother me if I left it. As much as I try, my blocks are not expertly pieced and when I say one turns out awful, trust me.  I had the time to redo it and the second one came out much better after I found a different way to make it. 

I'm not especially good at curved piecing and the first version of the green block above turned out more sloppy than I expected (you're never going to see it, LOL). In doing the second one, probably because I had been thinking about disappearing four-patch blocks lately, I appliqued a large green circle on the background square, added corner triangles and then sliced the whole thing into quarters, rotated the pieces and Viola! Much easier for me than piecing those curves. Sometimes you just need to find a path you can follow.

Anyway, I know I will not be able to keep up the daily pace for very long but even if I become motivated to make more than one block every month I'll still be ahead. 

A little over a year ago, I started an online DJ group so that some of us could help each other remain motivated to press on, move forward and work on finishing our DJ quilts. (See sidebar for info on joining us.) 

Can't believe how much fun this is for me. To see the blocks grow month by month, year by year and know I have not given up is very gratifying.

One of the highlights of last year for me - visiting the Queen of Quilts on her throne.

I began my DJ quilt journey in January 2010. Stop me if you've heard this one before, LOL- it's a favorite topic of mine and one I never get tired of writing about here.  In 2013, after a few years of not accomplishing very much on it, I figured I needed to determine how important this goal still was to me. I looked at all the work I had already put into making some of the blocks and decided that Yes, it was still an important goal and then committed to making an attempt to complete a certain number of blocks by the end of that year. Despite a difficult (if not downright hellish at times) 3-4 year stretch in my life, it felt pretty good to be able to complete that goal of 50 blocks. I probably would not have been able to get even that far if I did not have the support of many of you who always say such nice things when I post photos of my progress. Along with some of my online DJ quilting friends who are also plugging away on it. Misery sure loves company and a kind word often goes a long way. 

In 2014, not wanting to stress too much about it, my only goal for working on my Jane quilt was to just. keep. going. With all of the other things I always need or want to find time for it's often difficult to keep this long-term project from slipping off the list, you know? I decided I would try to make at least one block per month, not a difficult goal, and, instead of becoming disappointed with myself for not working harder on it, I'd just try to feel pleased with myself for getting at least 12 blocks completed every year. Better than putting it away in a drawer, am I right? Still moving forward instead of just standing still. 

Some months I became busy and did not get very much done but other months were more productive and all in all I was able to complete an additional 35 blocks in 2014. Wow. Gosh, excuse me - but I'm VERY pleased with myself for this because there were times I'd see others' finished DJ quilts and think "I'll never in a million years be able to do that." I've made 88 blocks in all and hope to finish 90 by tomorrow. Who knew I'd actually get this far without giving up? I realized that this is what happens when I set reasonable goals and write them down. 

Have some goals of your own for the new year? Try putting them into a notebook and then make a plan to revisit them every month. Ask yourself which goals are the most important and doable. Don't give up - just break them down into smaller goals. See if you can keep your hands and feet moving (hands for sewing and feet for moving if you have goals to exercise more, like I always do) and ignore those thoughts in your head when your brain says you can't. 

Friday, January 2, 2015

Disappearing Four-patch Block Tutorial

For the past few years (three, to be exact) my online Small Quilt Group has been taking the challenge of making one small quilt per month from patterns in my books. Some of the members have actually done this every month and they should be proud. This year we are doing some different things and this month, to kick off the new year, we're making little quilts using the Disappearing Four-patch Block. Here are the instructions for making the finished 4"  x  4" block. I know you'll have fun with this one.

For each block, cut: 
2  squares,  3"  x  3"  from a medium print
2  squares,  3"  x  3"  from a light print   
(Or, make it scrappy and choose 4 different prints for your block.)
  1.    Combine 2 squares to make a unit, then sew 2 units together to make a four-patch block. Press.

  2.     Place your block on a smaller cutting mat if you have one so that it's easy to rotate. Then, place your ruler so that the right edge is lined up 3/4" away from the center seam. Make a cut through the block. Carefully turn the cutting mat so that you can make another cut 3/4" away from the center on the opposite side. Repeat on all four sides, turning the mat as you go, again being careful to keep the pieces in place and from shifting around too much. 

   3.    When you are finished cutting, you will have 9 pieces. (Oops! I forgot and took the following photos after I had rotated my block so excuse the fact that the light square is now in the upper left corner instead of the upper right. Sigh. I'm sure you get the point. I don't feel like doing it all over. If you're following along with me, just turn your cutting mat.)

 Then, keeping the outer squares exactly where they are and the small center 4-patch in place, flip the rectangular pieces so that you get this design. 

Sew the pieces together. 

If you press your seams in opposite directions by row, they will nestle together nicely and your block will lie flat. 

 Don't you just love it to pieces?? 

 You can  also use different light prints for some of the four-patch blocks and switch the parts among the blocks. 

This really is a fun block to play around with and one you don’t see as often as the Disappearing Nine-patch Block. Play with colors and choose different sizes if you like. Most of the instructions I found for making this block were for using larger squares (5" charms, for instance) for the four patch and cuts that were 1" away from the center seam. This works great if you wish to make a larger quilt. However, I wanted to make a smaller block that measured 4"  x  4" when finished and so I used 3" squares instead with a 3/4" cut but you can make your cuts less than that or even try making a smaller four patch to begin with if you want to go teeny tiny.

Use different colors.

Go Bold and make your four patch from 4 different prints.  


For those of you participating in this challenge along with our group, you can make all of your blocks the same or make each block different and switch the parts around to make a scrappy quilt.  Make 2 squares in the four patch the same light print and cut the other 2 squares from different prints. Or, see what happens if you make each square in your four patch with a different fabric. Make four patches that are similar colors (but from different prints) and switch the parts among the blocks after you cut them apart. 

I hope you all have fun with this and I look forward to seeing photos of what some of you come up with in our Small Quilt Talk group this month. (Click on the photo of the small quilt on the right sidebar for more info on joining our online group. We've got some fun coming up throughout this year you won't want to miss.)

(Copyright 2015, Kathleen Tracy.  For personal use only.  Please be kind and do not reproduce or distribute my patterns or tutorials without my permission or without giving me credit for creating them.)                                                         

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Blessings

Merry Christmas to all of you! 

I never get tired of watching and listening to this -


Looks like we may or may not be getting snow in my area  this year. Anybody's guess. Snow is always at the top of my Christmas list. If it turns out there's only rain I guess I will just have to rely on my snowy Christmas memories from years past . . . . 

Have yourselves a Merry little Christmas! May hope and peace be with you all for the New Year.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Holiday Food and Joy

Today's the day I start shopping and planning for the meals we're having for Christmas this year. We have our traditions and I wanted to share some of them with you. Nothing fancy, it's not a cooking blog. 

My Christmas Lasagna is one of our favorite traditions and it always seems to go well with whatever else we're having, believe it or not. Probably ham this year.

This lasagna tradition began one year when I decided to include on the holiday menu a few international dishes like Swedish Meatballs, Pierogis, Sweet and Sour Cabbage, Baklava (bakery bought). I can't remember the Asian dish I included but I think it may have been eggrolls as an appetizer. It was a lot of fun to do this and the one tradition that really stuck was the lasagna. It now makes an appearance every Christmas. When my daughter was a vegetarian I began making it with spinach instead of meat and now that has become our Christmas lasagna  (red and green). The family probably wouldn't miss ham or turkey but they'd cry if I didn't make lasagna every year. 

Easy recipe - Sauce, cooked lasagna noodles, a bag of frozen spinach sauteed with garlic, shredded mozzarella cheese, ricotta cheese mixed with a beaten egg and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Place a bit of sauce in bottom of lasagna pan. Then layer one at a time - noodles, spinach, ricotta cheese, mozzarella, sauce. Layer each twice, except for noodles - end with a layer of noodles on top. Then top with mozzarella cheese and more sauce. Yes, I find that Prego is just as good as the sauce I used to make from scratch for years. I often spice it up if I feel like it. With everything else I have to do or worry about, the last thing I need to do is make my own sauce. Bake 350 degrees for 1 hour. 

Appetizers are also HUGE at my house around the holidays. Every year I  like to add a new one to the mix. I've already shared these with some of you.

For Thanksgiving this year I made Bacon-wrapped Apples Slices, Zucchini Pizza Rounds and also a Spinach Artichoke Dip. Thumbs up to all three. 

I found the Bacon-wrapped Apples appetizer online that was scrumptious.
  • Peel and cut apple slices. Wrap in 1/2 piece of bacon. Place on oven tray (or cookie sheet with sides)
  • Dust with cinnamon & sugar and bake at 400 for 10 min or so.
The recipe said to turn and bake another 10 min. My bacon did not cook very fast so I turned the oven to broil and that worked better for me. You might want to try it first to see how long it takes for your bacon to cook. I used the toaster oven because the regular oven was full so maybe that's why. Also, don't cut the apple slices too thin.


The other appetizer that went over well was Zucchini pizzas.

  • Slice zucchini into thin rounds. Place on oiled cookie sheet
  • Top with pizza sauce (or tomato sauce mixed with garlic powder and oregano) and shredded cheese and bake at 350 until cheese is bubbly.  

                                   Hot Spinach and Artichoke Dip

A few years ago I made these Black Forest Ham Rollups. Also good.


Some years I make a broccoli-red pepper dip, one of my favorite quick standbys.

Mix a container of Greek yogurt (or sour cream if you prefer) with finely chopped broccoli and half a red pepper. Add garlic powder and salt (or a bit of Ranch dressing mix) and you're done. Do not blend the yogurt in blender; it gets runny. Ask me how I know . . . . Fold the vegetables into the yogurt or sour cream.  The sad thing is I cannot find these crackers anywhere anymore. The perfect crispness. This year I will probably serve it with Pretzel Thins.

Speaking of Pretzel Thins - Since I can no longer find these peppermint candy-coated chips at Trader Joes I decided to make my own with melted white chocolate chips mixed with crushed peppermint candies. Dip the pretzel thins into the warmed chocolate mixture and cool on wax paper.

This year I'm trying this Cranberry-Brie appetizer.

                                                  Cranberry Brie Bites

Sounds like all I do is eat around the holidays but I really love to cook and, anyway, shopping in the cold weather really works up an appetite, you know  : )

Have a fun time as you celebrate and remember what I wrote in my last post. I know a lot of us (yes, myself included) can get dragged down around the holidays for various reasons. If you start to feel gloomy around this time of year, make a conscious decision to be as joyful as you can, choose to do some things that focus on the goodness and beauty of the season (or focus on others), visit with family or friends and see if you can't turn that attitude around. Put some Christmas music on and make cookies. It's difficult to stay depressed for very long if you're making cookies. Everything is a choice - I really believe we're only as happy as we choose to be. Whether your holiday is happy ultimately depends upon you and how you treat and relate to others. Hope it's a good one! 

"When you CHOOSE JOY you feel good & when you feel good, you do good & when you do good it reminds others of what joy feels like & it just might inspire them to do the same."   |  Homegrown Hospitality


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