July 24, 2012

Wee heavy

Finally, finally this ginormasaur came out to live with us. Nine and a half pounds. Nine days past my due date. Great nurser. Snuggly and loud and already giving me some three hour stretches of sleep at night, bless him. He even flashed me a waking smile today, the little charmer.

We are enjoying some new words: "our son", "our children". It's like when we were first married and giggling over the words "husband" and "wife".

I feel he is a wise creature. He knew when to stay inside and then he picked the perfect day to come out. A slower labor, and another peaceful home birth, with our beloved midwife.

That's the happy news. We've also had sadness. In timing nearly too cruel to comprehend, my mother died a few days before my due date. Loving family came to me, friends brought us food, and over the next two weeks I regained my center and remembered how much I wanted to meet the little one I was carrying inside.

I think about her a lot. Doing all the things for him that she did for me. Wishing I could send her the birth announcement. It has been a time of great sadness, great remorse, great anger, great doubt, great emptiness.

And it's also a time of great joy, great wonder, great tenderness, great love, great growth. Never has my heart been so stretched. Life has a way of surprising us.

I am well cared for, we are all thriving. We know we are so blessed. I feel us finding our new balance together. I'm grateful to have my fabulous husband, sweet children, the warmth of summer, the compassion of friends, and a few months of maternity leave ahead of me.

June 29, 2012

The bumpdate

So this is still happening.

I'm done with work now and pretty blissed out to be at home, in the summer, getting lots of time with my little girl and sewing machine before the babe arrives. I love how orderly the house feels. I love being in a little family cocoon and not needing to take care of quite so many others.

The best thing I've done is sew this skirt from some fabric I found at the thrift store. I'm wearing it about every other day. I'm not sure it goes with this shirt but at the end of pregnancy, anything that still covers your belly is fair game.

I got down with a vintage child's jumper pattern. The three year old refused to let me take a still shot (and that's a sticker from the doctor's office on the front). I could take a picture of it off her but now it's covered in park and ice cream and not so impressive. 

She chose this pattern from among what I found on Etsy. She picked this one because her favorite color is yellow and choosing for the style is simply not possible when you're SO INTO YELLOW.  I don't sew apparel much but it was kind of fun to do this one step by step, exactly as instructed. Being patient and methodical is nice at this moment.

In a related story, are you aware of how awesome these Wonder Clips are? I have 20 and use them all the time. There are so much easier than pins for thick, bulky or curvy things.

For the little bundle: a homemade "Baby K'tan" attempt that is hopefully lightweight enough for the summer. Sorry Baby K'tan, but a person who has three sewing machines and an Ikea cabinet full of fabric is not going to pay $40 for two loops of knit fabric. Crossing my fingers that I made it the right size.

And some homemade diapers. I have a drawer full of cloth diapers but I have some sort of crazy nesting urge that tells me everything will be ok if I just get a few more diapers. There is no logic behind this. At least I am sewing them myself from leftover fabric so it's not an expensive compulsion.

There is something so interesting about this stage in pregnancy. Maybe the baby will come tonight. Or maybe not for three weeks. The exquisite combination of patience and preparedness. I pick up the house in the evenings thinking, "maybe the midwives will be here tonight". Each little chore is like a prayer. Soon there will be four of us. If he comes soon, I'll be back with baby pics, and if not, then patchwork!

May 09, 2012

Hey cupcake!

Well. I have fallen off the face of the earth. How does one get back on? By telling a story?

My daughter's daycare asks the kids a question every day and records their answers for the parents. It's fun to get insight into their minds and helps us get to know her classmates. One day the question was "What was your favorite thing you did this weekend?" My daughter's answer was "Making cupcakes with Mama!" And the next day we found out about her gluten intolerance. Dangit.

I will start by saying that I know we are so lucky. It isn't diabetes, or cancer, or anything we can't fix. And it is a great chance to make healthy changes in the food we eat as a family. But I love being a mama who says "OK!" when my kid says "Let's make waffles!" or "Let's make cookies!" and I feel a little adrift, grasping at recipes online and boxed mixes where I used to feel so confident and capable. Having to decide whether I really want to use "potato starch" or "xanthan gum" in anything I cook.

I've gone from cooking 80% of our meals to cooking 95% of our meals. And I guess that 15% difference was the space that my blog lived in? Instead of writing posts during my online time, I've been looking up recipes or figuring out if I can grind my own brown rice flour in my blender. I recall a similar food-readiness obsession during my first pregnancy. That time it was freezer cooking. I was like a squirrel storing nuts for the winter. This time it's broader. Healthy homemade food that is quick and kid friendly and also gluten free. No biggie, right? 

I want to feel capable of feeding the family when #2 arrives in two months and rocks our world all over again. So instead of sewing I've been in the kitchen. These days I simply can't rest until I've made the carrot muffins with almond flour, or tried homemade yogurt in the new slow cooker. Hearing my intense state of mind you probably won't be surprised to learn I had a few days of contractions a couple of weeks ago, just to keep everyone on their toes. Happily the little guy is still inside, right where we want him, head wayyyyy down and leading me to waddle a lot earlier than I'd prefer.

And that's that. Everyone is adapting. A week into the gluten free diet my daughter proclaimed "My tummy and my booty feel better!" Which made me cry. And we just celebrated my birthday with... cupcakes. Gluten free, hedgehog cupcakes, that my daughter and I made together.

Things are getting back to normal, (or, the new normal), and I expect to back in the swing of things here soon. The days grow warmer and we have rediscovered our backyard and our neighbors. And I've even spent a bit of time here and there in the sewing room. Is there any better therapy?

I'm not sure what these will become, but that's just the kind of project I'd like right now. Hope you are all doing well out there, blog-folk, thanks for all the support and encouragement and checking on us! I wish I was better at responding to emails and blog comments right now but life is just happening so fast.... Until next time!

April 04, 2012

Branching design variations

Oh dear. It's a crazy week over here. Major deadline? Check. Discovering kid is gluten intolerant? Check. Bathroom remodel? Check. But look what I found in my drafts! A nearly finished post! Hoping to pay bills, check email and get back to reading/blogging soon....

My new favorite quilting pattern spawned some variations in my brain.

As a reminder, the original looked like this:

My research suggests you could use pointy leaves (I've stitched this and it looks great!)

Or graduated and stubby


Or add flowers on some/all of the stems (I tried this with bigger flowers and leaves and it worked well too)

You get the idea: stitch a stem, put stuff on it, impress yourself! It's just so versatile. Step by step instructions on how to stitch the basic branching pattern (still my favorite) are here.

March 28, 2012

Constructing a Sprocket

When you have six paddles, you can join them to a hexagon for one whole Sprocket. It's really exciting to have a Sprocket come together in your hands!

One by one, I sew a paddle to each hexagon side. I use the same ladder stitching described in the last post, but whipstitching will work just as well if that is your preference. Occasionally a paddle is just a bit longer than the hexagon side. I just center it and sew it on, it always seems to work out fine for me.

I leave the edges between the paddles free until I've sewn a paddle to each side of the hexagon.

Once all six paddles are attached, I remove the paper hexagon template. Then I am free to fold the Sprocket in half, which makes it possible to join paddles together. Where many points come together I will often take an extra stitch or two into neighboring diamonds, just to make sure there is no gaping at the intersections. Let your instinct guide you on this.

The fuzzy picture above is supposed to show just now nicely those seam allowance "flags" on the diamonds nestle together and just fan around at the back. Nice and flat, nothing to worry about.

And there you have it! A real live Sprocket. Now I'm just gonna do this, oh, 22 more times or so and I'll have enough for a quilt! I'll pop in every now and then to share my progress, and once I get to the point of dealing with the sides I'll show you how I do it. But for now, it's time to piece at our own pace....

For my friends embarking on Sprockets with me, I hope you enjoy the journey! The full list of posts for the quilt along is here.

March 25, 2012

Piecing together paddles

So, continuing on the EPP adventure, this is the next step after you've basted some paper pieces.  Each Sprocket:

is made from six paddles:

The paddle structure came from watching Jessica's EPP video in which she uses a similar structure to start her star units. A paddle has three background and three colored diamonds.

I start by laying out my pieces. I use a single piece of thread to work around the diamond and close up one side. Then a second piece of thread closes up the second side and attaches that extra diamond hanging off the right. 

I join my pieces with a ladder stitch. I think it's fast, I like that the thread isn't visible, and it's just what I'm good at. If you'd rather whipstitch pieces together, (and I think most English paper piecers do it that way) no problem! You'll still join your pieces in the same order.

I start my ladder stitching by putting two pieces wrong sides together. I use a paper clip to hold the pieces together while I get started, and I make sure any seam allowance flags are tucked down behind the pieces.They will just nestle against each other back there and not cause any trouble once the piece is opened flat.

I put a knot in a piece of thread, and bring it up through a seam allowance to emerge from the point (the orange diamond in the picture above). Then I alternate taking a stitch into one shape and then the other. Where the thread emerges from one fabric, it dives immediately into the other. The stitches are taken just to the inside of the edge of the shape.

You can do this stitch by stitch if you want, but what makes it fast is being able to take several stitches in a single pull of the needle. In the picture below I have four stitches on the needle. Note: I have a full description of ladder stitching paper pieces, but at the time I posted it I hadn't yet had the epiphany about putting the pieces wrong sides together to allow for stacking stitches on the needle this way. It's worth a read if you need a better description of what the thread is doing though.

Whenever I get to the end of the side I'm stitching, I flip the shapes out flat and make sure the thread is snug. Sometimes I will take an extra stitch to make sure the pieces are joined well at the point. Then I tie a knot into the back side of one of the pieces and without cutting the thread, I bring it back out through a point to start the next side.

When all four sides are sewn around the center diamond I don't cut the thread, because I can use it to sew one more side. I remove the paper shape from the center diamond. Now I can fold the paddle in half horizontally to sew the first flappy side seam with the thread I am still working.

Finally, I start a new piece of thread and I sew the other flappy side seam, and then add the final diamond.

And that's a paddle! Get six of these and you're ready to make a Sprocket: the full list of Sprocket Quilt Along posts is here. Next I'll cover how to make a Sprocket and then I swear this won't be the EPP channel anymore!

March 21, 2012

Basting your paper pieces

Oh thank goodness we're at the part where we get to play with the fabric. I'm going to show you how I baste my shapes for the Sprocket quilt.

To baste the diamonds I start with paper clips on two sides (these really make EPP so much easier, thanks for the hot tip about paper clips, Jessica!). I thread a needle, without knotting the thread. I take a backstitch through both layers of fabric at the point, leaving a long tail. I don't pierce the paper.

I turn the diamond and fold down the next side. The seam allowance should "flag" out to the side. On the way to the next point I take a little running stitch into the seam allowance, to make sure the thread behaves and to keep the shape taut. Another backstitch at the point, again, through both layers of fabric but not the paper. Turn and repeat around the diamond. I make sure the thread is snug as I go.

When I get back to the starting point I take a final backstitch and leave a tail of thread. Again, I don't tie a knot. The paper template stays inside the shape until it's been joined to other pieces on each side.Then I'll remove the paper and reuse it.

If you prefer to stab through the paper (just a preference thing) you only need a few stitches. Don't overdo it.

When I baste diamonds through the paper, I go down through the point and up in the middle on each side. I typically knot my thread tails together at the end but I'm not sure that's necessary. Basting through the paper means you'll need to remove your basting stitches to take the paper template out (if you only baste through the fabric, like in the first example, you'll be able to leave the basting stitches in).

To baste the hexagons, I use paper clips on all sides, then take just a few stitches per side.  I do stitch through the paper with these, because they are so big.  I knot my thread tails together at the end too. These giant hexagons go quick.

Basting a little bit here and there adds up! Pretty soon you'll have enough to make a Sprocket. The list of all the Sprocket quilt along posts is here.

March 20, 2012

How to love English Paper Piecing - a guest post from Jessica at Life Under Quilts

Today I'm quite happy to feature a guest post from Jessica at Life Under Quilts. I have learned a lot from her and enjoy reading her blog so much. It was the photos of her working on English paper piecing everywhere that got me thinking that I too could construct a quilt this way. Thank you for sharing your wisdom, inspiration, and lovely photos Jessica!

Hello all~

Christina knows I’m an EPP addict so she asked me to share my secrets on how I fit this type of hand piecing into my busy life. Let me start by saying that anyone can do English paper piecing! If you’ve never tried it, I highly encourage you to start. It’s a great gateway into playing with shapes and color in ways you may not have tried before. Plus, sewing up tons of small patches equals a great way to display your stash and use up some scraps.

So here are my tips for how to love EPP:

Step 1: Be organized. Have a sewing kit ready with your templates, thread, and cut fabric. Add in anything else you need to sew comfortably (Chapstick? Beeswax? Paper clips?) When you’re prepared you won’t find yourself wasting precious sewing time searching for your thimble. Christina gave a great tutorial for constructing a sewing kit in this post.

I use a plastic box that I can toss in my purse or leave in the car, just in case. I also like to save a picture of my plan/pattern on my phone so I can reference it on the go!

Step 2: Break up the steps. Don’t baste (or even cut) all your fabric at the beginning. Find a balance with the different steps (cutting, basting, piecing, joining sections) so you don’t lose motivation. You never know, as your project grows, you may want to add in or substitute out a fabric that you hadn’t originally planned on.

Step 3: Don’t leave home without it! You can piece anywhere! All that time you currently spend playing on your phone while you’re waiting at soccer practice, swimming lessons, or the doctor’s office could be spent making beautiful quilts. And quilting in public gives you a chance to meet people and strike up conversations you may never have had. Most of my latest EPP quilt was pieced while my son was napping.

If you haven’t already, I suggest choosing your fabrics for Christina’s Sprocket QAL. I’m going to head up to the sewing room and see what fabrics want to be in mine.

Thank you again Jessica, you are a true inspiration! And let me refer anyone getting interested in English Paper Piecing to Jessica's own EPP quilt along. I'll be back tomorrow with a post on basting paper pieces.

March 15, 2012

Cutting fabric for Sprockets

Here's good news: with english paper piecing, it's the paper that needs to be cut precisely, not the fabic. Yay! So don't stress this part. Cut some fabric so you can get on to the sewing.

Diamonds are pretty easy, and you get to practice using that 60 degree line on your ruler. Start by cutting your fabric into strips 2 1/2'' by the width of the fabric (though if you don't have the whole width, shorter strips can be cut in the same way).

Lay one strip on your cutting board along a horizontal line, with the folded edge to the right. Put the folded edge halfway between two inch marks. Lay the next strip just above this one, but place its folded end 1 1/2'' farther than the first strip. Repeat with consecutive strips. I was able to cut six strips at once.

Line up the 60 degree line with the bottom of your first fabric strip, so that the ruler hits the bottom edge of the fabric strip on the inch mark, and just cuts off the folded edge at the top. It should align to cut off the folded edge all the way up your stack of strips.

Then move your ruler 3 inches to the left. Make sure that 60 degree line is even with the bottom. You can double check to make sure the ruler is hitting the top strip about three inches from where your last cut landed, for reassurrance that you are holding the correct angle. Make this cut all the way up the stack of strips. Keep going down the strip, making angled cuts every three inches.

I got 12 diamonds from each strip of standard width fabric. Cutting six strips together, that's 72 diamonds at a time. This part was fast and fun for me. I probably cut half of what I need before I just had to start basting them!

Now for cutting hexagons, first you make a cutting template. I just used some scrap paper. Tape one of your paper hexagon templates to the scratch paper and then use your see through ruler to mark a line 3/8'' away from each edge. Now you have a new, larger hexagon for cutting your fabric. You can use this same approach to cutting a single diamond template which is perfect for scraps or fussy cutting.

I laid the cutting template on my fabric and cut out one hexagon with the flat edge just above the selvage edge of the fabric. Then I moved the cutting template up and to the right so it was flush with the hexagon I just cut, like in the picture below. Then back down to cut another along the selvage edge, all the way across the 1 1/4 yard piece of fabric. . I went in horizontal rows back and forth until I had cut out 25 whole hexagons.

I saved all the odd shaped bits in case I can use them for finishing at the end. I also cut five half hexagons, by folding the template in half point to point. Make sure to add a seam allowance along the long edge.

Of course, you can also cut your hexagons one at a time, as you need them.

Feel free to ask questions if these instructions aren't clear! It's my first time doing a big EPP project and so I won't be surprised if I leave something out. (P.S. the main quilt along post is here, with links to all the posts so far)