Friday, December 31, 2010

Small Quilting

I love to hand quilt but I still need some practice. I've been hand quilting my small quilts for years but I don't feel like I have it mastered yet. My stitches are too big and sometimes quirky. This doesn't stop me, however. Luckily, the hand-quilting police haven't pulled me over yet, although I've had some close calls.  I hand quilted all of the quilts in my first 2 books, the little ones in my 3rd, and some in the new book - not because I am such a purist, but because it's just easier for me to get that simple quilted look that you see in some antique quilts. If I could figure out a way to use the machine to get the look I like, trust me, I would, although I admit I love the calm, relaxing thing about hand quilting when I'm not in a hurry.

The problem is that most of the quilts are for books and I get rushed making them on a deadline and so simple hand stitching always seems the easiest way to get them done so that they have that old-fashioned look. But I never seem to have time to do all the quilting I'd like to on my quilts and most of what I do is straight lines to get them done fast. Now that the book is done, I just may try to branch out and do a little more.

I also haven't mastered machine quilting my small quilts at all and when I do try it I sometimes don't like the way they look when I'm finished. I need to practice that too when I have time. I love the look of a little antique doll quilt quilted very simply and you really can't get that soft, puckered look from a machine.

I do want to get better at hand quilting, however, and lately I've found quite a few stencils here that are easy to use with a water soluble marking pen. They also have quilting stencils for small quilt borders so check out the border page. This little one is one of my favorites.

I found this old book that has quite a few quilting designs (300!) especially for small quilts and I'd really like to try a few of them but I'm not sure how I'll go about marking the designs on my little quilts. Any suggestions? It seems like way too much work to trace them onto template plastic to make a stencil and then cut out the pattern.

One thing I've heard is to use the tear-away method. Have any of you tried this? I think you trace the pattern and mark it onto special quilting tissue-like paper. Then you stitch onto the paper, following the design, and tear the paper away. I wonder if this will work? I already bought the paper but haven't tried it yet. I'm sure this will work with machine quilting but I can't imagine hand quilting through the paper. There has to be a better way. Help! I really want to use some of these designs.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Post-Holiday Recovery

Christmas is over and I ate too much. It's a perfect time to start thinking about exercising and getting back on track. But maybe I'll wait until all the goodies are gone and the New Year is here, LOL. . . Puppy and I did take a walk on Christmas night - does that count for anything?

A good thing about living in an urban area -  they plow the streets quickly.

We got a lot more snow the next day.

Puppy wasn't sure what to make of these guys . . .

Stress is usually high around the holidays and afterwards I have to make time to relax and regroup - think about new quilt projects and organize some old ones. Clean up my scraps and cut the usable ones into 2-inch squares or strips. Organize them by color.


We'll be having a UFO challenge soon on my yahoo group (SmallQuiltTalk)  and I'm looking forward to getting a few things finished that I forgot I even started.

Of course, making more doll quilts is always at the top of my list - how about you? It's a perfect way to use up your scraps. And have a little fun getting back into making things.

This week I am finishing up the last pattern for the American Schoolgirl Club I began last year and will send it out to current members in January. I hope some of you are making the quilts along with me. It was a great success and I decided to run the same club again next year. So, if you didn't join in on the fun last June - hurray! - you will have a second chance to become a member this time around and receive a cute pattern for a doll quilt in the mail every month. Honestly, what could be more fun?? If you join now, I will begin sending out the patterns again, one at a time, the first week of the month for six months. You can still join at any time. See my website for details.

In answer to the question some of you have asked: I am still thinking about whether or not I will do a sequel to the first Club with all new patterns. It's hard to plan ahead right now. I will be busy with a few lectures and workshops next year and also have to schedule another surgery in the Spring to reverse one of the procedures I had in September. That means yet another long recovery period, yuck! At least this time I won't be so sick going into it and my goal is to get as healthy as possible before then to help myself recover faster. Needless to say, it's not something I am looking forward to but I feel lucky it can be reversed at all and then maybe I'll have a chance to finally return to normal. If I do decide to start another Club, it will not be until late summer or next fall.

The new book with more little quilts will be out soon to keep you busy and inspired. In the meantime, have you seen this free pattern for a simple little doll quilt on my website? Great for all of those scraps you've been collecting lately and a sure fire way to get motivated to play with your fabric. It stitches up quickly. I made one using mostly dark triangles and colorful scraps but I can't seem to find it to show you . . .

Hope you all have a happy time recovering from Christmas!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Greetings

It's true - we can never get everyone together to take a good Christmas photo. Someone always blinks. Christmas collage to the rescue!

Christmas morning guests. Yay! We also got some snow!

We entertained our families yesterday, on Christmas Eve. This is the first time in years we will be having no guests (other than the birds!) on Christmas Day. I'm going to enjoy relaxing, eating leftovers (no cooking!) and watching the kids "play" with their gifts. Maybe do some hand sewing . . . .

Playing with new toys is sure exhausting.

If the Bulls win today, that will be another gift for my son!

Merry Christmas to you all and best wishes for a wonderful New Year!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Last Chance for Christmas Spirit

Still not entirely in the Christmas spirit?? Hurry, there's not much time left! This one always does it for me:

Christmas wouldn't be Christmas to me without taking time to watch some sappy Christmas movies. Most Christmas movies are sappy, aren't they? But they warm our hearts. I do love the traditional holiday movies like "It's a Wonderful Life"  and "Miracle on 34th Street" but this one is at the top of my list of all-time seasonal favorites  - "Prancer!"  Never heard of it? I'm not surprised - it never makes anyone's list. Don't know why; it's so cute.

I love this movie and I watch it every single year. And every year it brings tears to my eyes. My kids laugh at me. Okay, okay, maybe it's not a GREAT movie, but you gotta love that little girl who tries to save the injured reindeer as well as her broken family. If you especially love rural snow scenes, you should definitely rent it. The winter scenery alone is worth it. It just may get you into the Christmas spirit.

And, if I need a little more help, I always get into the spirit by watching the Charlie Brown Christmas special and reflect on exactly why we celebrate Christmas - in case it gets lost in the crass commercialism of the season:

In 1965, when The Charlie Brown Christmas special was set to air, network executives at CBS were horrified  - positive it would be a ratings flop. They wanted to cut the scene with Linus reading from the Bible, saying it wasn't relevant to a children's show. Charles Schulz insisted they keep it and is quoted as saying, “If we don’t tell the true meaning of Christmas, then who will?? The show went on to win an Emmy and a Peabody and is now considered one of the most popular holiday classics of all time. Brings back a lot of '60s memories for me.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Snow Is Snowing

It snowed again last night. Always a big, joyful event the next morning at our house. But you already knew that. Only a few inches now and they say we might have a little more here in Chicago on Christmas Eve and Christmas day.

The snow is snowing, the wind is blowing
But I can weather the storm!
What do I care how much it may storm?
I've got my [dogs] to keep me warm.
I can't remember a worse December
Just watch those icicles form!
What do I care if icicles form?
I've got my [dogs] to keep me warm.

(Sorry, my apologies to Frank Sinatra and Irving Berlin - this song just happened to be playing on the radio as I was writing this . . . I couldn't resist.)

I also couldn't resist going outside and taking this picture for you. (Can you spot the little Christmas village below?)

I found quite a few little hourglass blocks that I made years ago and tucked into into a zip-lock bag. (If it sounds like I'm cleaning and organizing because I keep finding stuff, don't worry, I'm not there yet. I'm just puttering and bumping into things I forgot I had . . . ) We had a little Christmas Challenge on my Yahoo quilt group recently and so I decided to whip  up something and see if I could just machine quilt it quickly myself. It turned out kind of cute, considering I never originally intended the blocks to be used in a Christmas quilt. Who uses blue in a Christmas quilt?? You know I will if I can get away with it!

I had a few more hourglasses left over and put those together to make this small Christmas table runner too. I only got as far as the top - it still needs to be quilted and so it will have to wait until next year to be displayed, unless I suddenly get the urge to not get any sleep between now and Friday, when our company comes over . . . .

I love the colors and will probably display it all year round. Think I'll use a red binding to offset the green border.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas Cross Stitch

I recently found this Prairie Schooler cross stitch of cardinals I made years ago, tucked inside a book, of all places. What a nice surprise! I had forgotten all about it since I became addicted to quilting. This is something I might actually be able to finish rather quickly someday soon. Wouldn't it look lovely made into something with this berry fabric? A small pillow perhaps? A quilted wall hanging? The red fabric below has feathers in it and there's that poinsettia print again. Hmmm. . . .

I used to love to cross stitch and probably have most of  the early Prairie Schooler patterns that were published in the late '80s and '90s. Now they're out of print and hard to find. I especially love the ones with birds and Santas. I've started quite a few, but don't ask how many I've competed . . .

I never cared for the way I framed this Santa -"Up on the Housetop" - cross stitch. I'm wondering if I should take it apart and do something else with it, like maybe use it in the center of a quilted wall hanging? Would that work or ruin it? Maybe I should just get a better mat and a different frame.

While I was decorating the house, I remembered how much I love my cross stitch pieces and so I took out all of my old Prairie Schooler patterns, looked through them and decided to try to get some cross stitch projects going again next year.

Waaay too many patterns . . .

Remember what I said about quilters having their fingers in a few too many pots?? Who knows if I'll ever get around to making any of them but it's fun to dream isn't it? I may even have to buy a few new ones here. Check out their free pattern for a Snowman cross stitch.

Don't you  just love cross stitch too? This one has the place of honor in my bathroom!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Let's See Your Quilts

I know it's a busy time of year, but today I started a Flickr group to allow some of you to show your photos of quilts you've made from my books. While I design the quilts and write the books, I often wonder if anyone really makes the quilts. Don't feel bad if you haven't - I myself have so many quilting books by so many talented quilt designers but have not made the quilts in them, although they are bookmarked for "someday."

You can access the Flickr group here - I'm calling it "Quilts Designed by Kathleen Tracy."

I added a few photos of my own quilts to get things rolling:

This little Signature or Friendship quilt is one of my favorite quilts from my book Prairie Children & Their Quilts. It's a perfect quilt to make for a friend or to celebrate an occasion. You can put names of friends or your own quote in the blocks or use the one I wrote that's on the quilt. Signature quilts were often given to friends who were leaving their lives and family behind as they traveled west during the 1800s.

It's sad to have to say it, but this book is now going out of print. : ( 

Prairie Children was published in 2006, sold very well at the time but, according to my publisher, the cost of reprinting more copies is too prohibitive, sigh. Another one bites the dust! Unfortunately, in the publishing world, it's rare for quilting books to stay in print for a very long time because most quilters don't want to buy "old" books or books that are more than several years old and so they stop reprinting them when demand is low. There are too many new, fresh books out there every month to compete with the older ones. So, if you see a copy, grab it because, like American Doll Quilts, my first book, soon it will no longer be available in hard copy. I bought some from my publisher before they ran out and so I still have plenty of copies available on my website.

Another little quilt from Prairie Children

Friendship Star quilt

But back to Flickr. For those of you who are not familiar with Flickr, it's a photo sharing application by Yahoo. Here's some general info about Flickr. Get your questions answered  here. You need a Yahoo account to join Flickr but it's very simple to sign up and if you're in one of  Yahoo's many groups (like mine), you already have a Yahoo ID. Anyone can go to the site and see photos. You do have to join the "Kathleen Tracy" group and become a member to add photos of your quilts, however.

I think this will be very inspiring - and a great way for all of  you to show off your quilts. Won't you join us?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Naughty or Nice?

I know, I know - innocent until proven guilty. But this looks bad, real bad. Especially right before Christmas. . .

Wait a minute, am I mistaken or did I see a flash of black fur? Could it have been a set up??

The evidence mounts.

Looks like whoever did this made a quick getaway but left a few tracks.  Thank goodness for snow . . . . I'm on it.

Aha! There's the culprit!

Whew, the accused is reprieved! This time . . .

Santa's coming - better watch out, guys . . .

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Christmas Stress Got You Down??

I love Christmas. Why is it that so many people are so cranky at this time of the year and dread the holidays? I read that more than 20% of Americans find the holidays more stressful than enjoyable. According to surveys, Christmas is right up there at the top of the list, after financial worries, of things that cause us stress. It's not difficult to understand stress that's caused by the loss of a job or a loved one, divorce or health issues. But stress just because it's Christmas?

The Christmas season is my favorite time of the year but over the years I've learned I need to set priorities in order to enjoy it more. Sometimes you have to or you'll go nuts. I wish I'd been able to do this years ago when my kids were young. Those were stressful Christmas years, trying to get everything in and create the perfect holiday for my kids. I've since learned that no, I sure can't get everything done. I can't always have everyone over, the cookies may be eaten before Christmas gets here, the gifts may not be perfect, the store may be out of that special item because I put my shopping off too long, the cards may be late and all of the decorations may not get up.

I'm no authority, but here's what I do to try to control it a little: I pick just a couple of things to do that make the season special. Not too many or you'll surely feel stressed. We used to get dressed up and go to see the Nutcracker every year (until the "boys" in my family started bowing out, pretending to be sick . . . ). Or we'd take the train downtown and stand in line forever to have lunch in front of the tree in the Walnut Room at the old Marshall Fields downtown. Nice, but crazy. Worth the stress?

Now that the kids are grown, I still try to find a Christmas concert or other event to go to to get into the spirit - just one at least and it doesn't have to be fancy. We went to a service at our church a few nights ago and sang carols for half an hour. It wasn't exactly the Nutcracker, but it felt really good. We also get together with friends at a restaurant around the holidays if neither feels like entertaining. I always get together with good friends to exchange gifts and if it happens after Christmas, so be it. We never miss, though.

Decorating can sometimes cause stress. Wouldn't it be nice to have the perfect Christmas house, decorated by Martha? No time, money or room for a tree? No excuse, get some poinsettias and place them around the house. Or put a wreath on the door - so you can see it every time you walk in. No energy to get out ALL the Christmas decorations? Pick just a few things and be done.

I still have 2 boxes of decorations I haven't touched, but I did put out a few of my favorite ornaments and Santas. No one helped me this year, everyone else in the family was too busy or stressed (or lazy perhaps??). I could have just let it go, too much work. But it REALLY makes me feel good to have the house decorated even just a little and I know my family appreciates it. So, last week, I put on some Christmas music and went at it. Even at 17 and 22, my kids got into the spirit really fast after that and I could see their faces light up the way they did when they were young. A little decorating helps a lot to bring some Christmas spirit into your home.

Christmas is supposed to be when you make time for others but try to make time for yourself as well. I like to go for a walk in the snow if the temperature permits. I get some exercise and the cold air clears my brain. When I do go out shopping I always get something for myself too, LOL. Nothing expensive, just a little something. Sometimes I stop everything and take a little tea or coffee/cookie break.

If you need to worry about finances (don't we all these days), stick to a budget - don't let the media make you feel like you're disappointing people if you don't get them the things that are on Oprah's Favorite Things list. Gifts don't always have to be perfect or expensive to bring a smile to someone's face. Or, give special, homemade gifts. The year I made Ingrid the pom-pom to replace the one that the dog chewed off her hat still makes us laugh.

I can hear my family and friends now - Oh no, more homemade gifts - Kathy's making us earrings again?? Why can't we just get a quilt?? Hint: it won't fit in the cute little box.

If you hate shopping, avoid the crowds if you can. I rarely shop on weekends - it gives me a headache. On weekdays, if I'm busy during the day or working, I make a quick supper (can you say frozen pizza or soup??) and then head out for a few hours in the evening before the stores close. No crowds and I can take more time to browse. Or, shop online - I did some of that this year. Many stores offer free shipping during the holidays.

Christmas dishes always perk me up.

I bring out our everyday holiday dishes and use them for a few weeks during the season. Every year I want to buy new ones but I'm still not tired of these Debbie Mumm plates I bought at Target years ago. They make me smile. Even if I'm just serving grilled cheese sandwiches . . . .

What else helps to get into the Christmas spirit and ease the stress? I was reminded of this one at church: Is there a relationship in your life that needs mending? Making the effort to resolve that with forgiveness and loving thoughts can sometimes go a long way toward easing the stress you feel inside.

Finally, I can usually get into the spirit by making time for music, reading an inspirational book, and watching my favorite Christmas movies. So slow down and don't let stress and irritability get the better of you - let's bring back Christmas as that "most wonderful time of the year."

                                                 Merry Christmas!