Monday, December 21, 2009

Happy Holidays!

Just a quick note to say I hope you all have a great holiday season. I can hardly wait for things to kick into gear. Most of my sewing projects are wrapping up (although I'm guessing there will be some alterations to come). My big worry is the weather: ice and snow is predicted for Christmas Eve, when the relatives are flying in. Keep your fingers crossed for clear skies, or we'll be eating an awful lot of cookies on our own.

May you enjoy the company of friends and loved ones, warmth, peace, and time for sewing.

And if you are looking for some great holiday tunes, check out this NPR link: Jingle Jams.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A red hot(pad) reveal

Finally I'm able to share one of my projects: pot holders for my bookgroup. We have an annual holiday party (last year I knit clunky hats) and cookie exchange: one moved-away member even drives five hours to join us. These women are some of my dearest friends—we met when some of us still had babies and now those babies are seniors in high school and freshmen in college and one of our members is a grandmother.

The nice thing about our gift exchange is it's a totally no-pressure event. Some years people hand-make gifts: Julie knit us each a scarf one year and Maureen appliqued and quilted holiday table runners. Emily makes fabulous truffles and Anne, a former caterer, whips up chocolate-covered toffee that my children anticipate annually. But if it's a year when you've been busy with work or if you're not the handy type, you can give whatever you can even give nothing. (We might excommunicate you however, if you didn't bring cookies.)

These potholders had their genesis in a purchase of wonderful Japanese charm squares I snagged at Quilt Market. I got them from Bunny Designs (whose web site has been under construction for some time). I gave one set to my friend Anne and kept a set for myself. The little tea pots and wonderful polka dots seemed perfect for pot holders.

I learned a bit along the way to completing a baker's dozen. I tried piecing a front and back for the first one, then quilted and bound as I would a quilt (albeit I tried machine binding). It was problematic: the mitered corners wouldn't miter and the binding didn't cover the machine stitching as well as I'd liked. So instead I pieced a front and back and then sewed them right sides together, left an opening so that I could turn inside out, stuffed each with a piece of cotton batting and a piece of Inuslbright, and top-stitched around the edge, securing the opening. I then did a bit of simple quilting, more or less following the shape of the square.

I learned that less stitching works better than too much (the Insulbright would invariably bunch up if I stitched too close to the top-stitching) and that a walking foot made all the difference in keeping the batting smooth. I also made a little tube of fabric and stitched that into the seam when I sewed the front and back together to create a loop for hanging.

Each pot holder is slightly different than the rest, largely as a result of learning as I went along and ultimately running out of fabric. They took a bit longer to make than I anticipated (doesn't everything?), but the finished stack is highly satisfying...

Must run...time to eat cookies and give gifts!

Friday, December 4, 2009

On the neglect

Between pre-holiday travels and the holidays themselves, Pearl the Squirrel has been sorely neglected. I've been doing a bit of holiday sewing as well, but revelation of those projects will have to wait until the gifts are given. I've also managed to miss my one-year blog-iversary, which happened last month. Perhaps after the holidays I'll have a giveaway to celebrate.

But here are a few shots of my travels...well, actually there are just shots of my travels to one quilt shop in particular. I was in Sonoma, California (where, for some reason, I took NO photos). After visiting a friend and his two llamas, two sheep, three dogs, and multiple cats (I know, NO pictures), I just took off driving. The weather was cool, but sunny and crisp and the grapes were turning golden (you'll just have too imagine this...NO pictures) and I headed out from Sonoma toward Petaluma, a town I'd especially loved when I lived in Berkeley. It's definitely not the sleepy little place it was 18 years ago, but it did hold a treasure: The Quilted Angel.

The owner, Barbara, was sitting in a wing chair by the door, finishing up a project and chatting with customers. The classroom was abuzz with quilters working on charity projects.

The shop had tons of fabric, lots of brights and new lines and more traditional stuff, as well.

White-painted branches decorated with lights hung from the ceiling and the shop just seemed to go on and on. Old-fashioned pot holders hung over the entry. (The cloth elves below were sewn by Northern Californian Jan Cochrane.) There was an entire back room with wools and lots of notions that I couldn't even tell was there until I wended my way to the back of the shop.

Barbara said she'd worked at the shop and when the original owner decided to sell, her husband surprised her and bought it for her! Wow! There's a man who knows how to give gifts.

At any rate, I visited a few other shops, but this one is definitely worth a stop if you're in Northern Calif., a place I hope to be more often.

Between visiting our favorite haunts (including The Cheese Board for pizza and our old neighborhood Peet's for coffee in Berkeley) and seeing some of our favorite friends, Paul and I were both reminded how much we enjoyed our years in California.

And I was reminded that despite my many years in the Midwest, California really does feel like home—there's something about the landscape of one's youth that, all these years later, still evokes a visceral response.