Sunday, January 31, 2010

Happy Birthday to ME!!

Today, January 31st, is my birthday . . . this year, I am the same age as the year I was born, '55.

Years ago, someone told me about one's "Golden Birthday," the year they're the same age as the date they were born (in my case, thirty-one). What is my current birthday called?? Platinum?? Diamond??

So, in honor of my birthday, I'm gonna have a giveaway: I'm gonna give you my address.
Raymond K. Houston
2017-A Ann Ave.
St. Louis, MO 63104

Now, send me something . . . I've already given you two suggestions.

(Gotcha!! LOL!!)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Laissez les bon temps roullez!!*

In several weeks, Ed and I will board the City of New Orleans and ride the rails on our way to Mardi Gras . . . Ed and I have attended Mardi Gras every year but one since Hurricane Katrina. It's been interesting and encouraging to see how much of the city has come back each year we go. And, riding the train has been a relaxing way to travel. This year, we got a roomette, with two facing seats next to a window, and berths (with pillows and blankets) at night. There's nothing like being rocked to sleep by the motion of the train . . .

Last year, I made our host, Johnny, a small wall hanging. It was the first "Mardi Gras Men" quilt . . . I liked it so much that I made another (larger) one when we got back home. I had a bit of fabric left over, so I cut it up and made kits which I gave to my dad to practice on . . . the idea was to improve his efficiency. Well, he did nothing with it, and I took the kits back over the holidays.

Originally, I was gonna make a series of small wall hangings for a possible quilt show. Then, I was gonna make a table runner for Johnny in New Orleans. First, I had to sew the squares . . . that took about a week to make 120 squares (60 each, right- and left-handed squares). This past week, I've made a series of 12" x 48" table runners (and one 18" x 48" table runner).

What do you think of 'em??

I broke two of my own rules in making these: do not work without a plan; and, do not color your tiles beforehand.

The design tiles are very versatile: no matter which way you put 'em together, you'll always get a pattern. This is why I call 'em "shape-driven patterns." This is why I recommend not coloring the tiles until you've arranged 'em. Otherwise, you're left with "color-driven patterns" and you miss out on the full effect of the arrangement of tiles.

Since all my squares were gonna be colored the same, I gave up trying to plan beforehand . . . all I did was try out different arrangements, knowing the colors wouldn't necessarily define any shapes. The exceptions were when I used mirror-image squares as well as regular ones.

(*Let the good times roll!!)

As always, thank you for reading my blog . . . please feel free to leave a comment and follow this blog!!

Monday, January 18, 2010

A day of joy and sadness . . .

I'll leave it to you to determine which is which . . .

Today, we celebrated Martin Luther King's birthday . . . since I work for the City, I had the day off; my partner, Ed, did not.

I got an email from a local quilt guild wanting me to speak at their meeting . . . tenatively, I'll speak to them in April.

I realized I missed the deadline (Saturday) to enter my "Mardi Gras Men" quilt in the 3rd annual "Naughti Gras," an erotic art show

In a way, "Mardi Gras Men" is a homo-erotic quilt: each man has his head between another man's legs; he's leaning on the calf of the man in front of him; and, his other arm is reaching back as though to tell the guy, "don't go anywhere 'cause you're next!!" Of course, each man also has someone else's head between his legs, he's being leaned on by a second man, and a third is telling him, "don't go anywhere 'cause you're next!!" An orgy in fabric (and me on the outside looking in, sigh).

Despite the housework I shoulda done on my day off, I sat at my sewing machine, sewing squares for my next project: a series of table runners in Mardi Gras colors (more about that in the days to come).

Christ Church Cathedral (Anglican/Episcopal), where Ed and I attend, celebrated the day with readings of Martin Luther King's letter, sermons, etc. from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. . . . I volunteered to read from 4:00 to 4:30. I read one short piece and one lengthy sermon about "Love Your Enemies" (it was quite moving) . . . I actually read from about 4:15 to 5:00!!

Then, it was time to pick Ed up from work, swing by to get his new glasses, then home to fix fettucine alfredo with asparagus and shrimp for dinner.

Ed went off to his writing class, and I went back to my studio . . . I got several emails from my friends Greg and Ebony with "wonderfully wacky" ideas. They inspired me!!

(p.s. . . . I found out my checking account is overdrawn, and payday isn't until Thursday.)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

"Winter Blues" part 4.999 . . .

Yes, at long last, the quilt top is complete!! . . . I've stapled the quilt to the wall in my office, so I can look at it every day. One of my New Year's resolutions is to learn free-motion quilting . . . this quilt will be one of the first ones (after I've had plenty of practice, that is)!!

Here's a detail picture of a single pinwheel . . .

I used two different blacks in this quilt: one with gold stars and spots for the background, and one with dark gray spots for the border . . . this pic shows how the border extends into the body of the quilt, mimicking the arms of the pinwheels, which extend into the border of the quilt. I'd like to think of this as an "integrated border," the border is an integral component of the design, and not just four strips of fabric slapped on . . .

I still have plenty of leftover blue fabrics already cut out . . . except for the dark and light blue fabrics I bought to supplement the supply, there aren't enough pieces in any given color to make complete pinwheels. I'm thinking of "mixing it up" with the fabrics, maintaining the light/dark contrast between the pinwheels, but giving the pinwheels more of a "scrappy" look. I'm thinking of changing the background/border to yellow/orange/red instead of black (which I'll use to make a couple of dark pinwheels in the body of the quilt. What do you think of that??

As always, thank you for reading my blog . . . please leave a comment, and follow this blog!!

Friday, January 8, 2010

"Leaders" need "followers," don't they??

My friend, Greg, over at Flat Out Quilting has started chronicling his first quilt using my design tiles, templates, and muslin foundations.

He praised me so much that I blushed (and, do YOU know how hard it is to get red out of a black man??), LOL!!

Go check him out!! And, if you use my design tiles in a project, please let me know . . . I'd love to send people to see YOUR work, too!!

Thank you for reading and/or following this blog . . .

"Winter Blues" part 4.66

I took a vacation day yesterday to take our car to the shop . . . we'd gotten snow overnight, and the highways taking Ed to work weren't in the best condition. The worst weather day of the year, and I'm out in it to get our car repaired!! (The weather was bad enough that the courts closed for the day, which meant I took a vacation day for nothing!!)
I spent the day, sewing . . . this is as deep as the quilt will get. From here on out, it'll only get wider (three more columns of pinwheels, plus border.
Hopefully, I can finish it over the weekend . . . start on a new project next week!!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

"Winter Blues," part 4.45

Yesterday, I called in sick (actually, I told the office manager Monday afternoon that I wouldn't be in) . . . I had an entire day of Nyquil, megadoses of vitamin C, echinacea, liquids, and a little quilting. I added another column on the right and another row on the bottom. I have 3.5 columns and 1.5 rows to go!!

Monday, January 4, 2010

"Winter Blues," part 4.26

After I finished sewing the squares for the "Winter Blues" quilt, I was eager to start assembling the blocks . . .

This is as far as I got, this weekend . . .

This represents 26% of the entire quilt . . . there's more to come.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

A tutorial on foundation piecing . . .

Today's post was written by a guest blogger . . . ME!!

Years ago, on another blog (long-abandoned), I wrote a lengthy post outlining the steps I took prepping, and sewing a foundation-pieced square. Rather than "reinvent the wheel," I decided to link to that post from that one.

Foundation piecing, part one . . .

Foundation piecing, part two . . .

I hope these are of help to you . . .

Thank you for reading my blog . . . please leave a comment, and "follow this blog!!"

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Stencils, pencils, muslin, and stamps . . .

Years ago, when I first started experimenting with foundation piecing on muslin, I was faced with the problem of how to transfer the design onto the muslin square. I chose to make a stencil of the design.

First, I printed the design on card stock.

Then, I used spray adhesive to glue the card stock to the back (smooth side) of a sheet of medium-grit sandpaper. I chose sandpaper because it would grab the muslin and not slide around.

Next, I cut openings in the design using a rotary cutter and acrylic ruler as shown below. Note that I cut the openings shy of the places where two or more lines connected. This space was 1/4" to 1/2". These "uncut" places are called bridges and hold the stencil together. Otherwise, the entire stencil would just fall apart. The opening were wide enough to accommodate a pencil lead. I used a mechanical pencil, so the thickness of the lead would be consistent.

I made two of these stencils: one was a mirror-image of the other.

Now for the muslin . . .

I wanted the muslin to be stable, so I starched it. I used liquid starch, available at the grocery store alongside the laundy soap (it comes scented and unscented). I experimented with different strengths. Full strength was too strong: the muslin was more like cardboard, and sent up little puffs of powdered starch while sewing. I settled for a solution of liquid starch and water somewhere between "light" and "medium."

I could stencil a muslin square in a couple of minutes . . . it was the sort of activity I could do in front of the TV (back when I watched TV, that is). There were only two drawbacks: stencilling several hundred muslin squares added up, timewise; and, I realized that the longer I used the stencil the less accurate it became. The pencil lead was slowly wearing away the sides of the stencil openings, making them larger . . . uh oh.

Now what??

I decided to go with a rubber stamp. A local company would make one for me from artwork I provided. They assured me that the stamp would be a photographic reproduction of my artwork, but the resulting stamp was larger than I expected. Since I didn't remember measuring my artwork, I couldn't say for sure that the fault was theirs.

I used a small, shallow cookie sheet with a sheet of felt as a stamp pad. I bought some indelible fabric ink and tried the stamp. The ink was thin (like water). Good thing the muslin squares were starched; the ink bled through the fabric, making the muslin squares reversible. But, the ink had a tendency to wick outwards, making thick lines . . . not good, but acceptable. The ink gave off noxious fumes, too. I could stamp muslin squares in a fraction of the time, but I wasn't pleased with the overall outcome.

I abandoned the rubber stamp and its smelly ink.

Recently, I decided to give it another try. This time, I DID measure my artwork . . . the resulting stamps came out smaller than my artwork.

I decided to use them anyway . . . as long as I was using them solely, and not trying to use other sized blocks, what did it matter?? I also found a supply of foam rubber to use as stamp pad and a better, slightly thicker ink. The ink still bled through the starched muslin, but it wicked outward much less (and didn't smell as bad, either). These stamps should last indefinitely (which makes it worth the investment).

I'm still getting the hang of stamping . . . sometimes, the lines don't show up as well as I'd like. I got a fabric pen to perform a little "quality control" on the possible rejects.

Thank you for reading my blog . . . please leave a comment, and "follow this blog"!!

"Winter Blues" part 3.5

When I last posted about this project, I left you with a pic of the piles of cut fabric on my worktable . . .

There are two reasons why this turned out to be a good thing: the final quilt will have alternating pinwheels in light and dark blue. Arranging the piles like this let me see what's next to what.

The second reason I liked this arrangement of piles is that each pinwheel block has elements of the surrounding pinwheels within it. Having alternating piles of pieces on the table helped when it came to piecing the squares. I could easily see what fabrics appear above, below, and to the sides of any given pinwheel.

Of course, that was the middle of November . . . then, "life got in the way" and I did nothing with the pieces.

On Christmas Day, I started piecing the squares. I needed 140 of 'em for the body of the quilt. With only a week left in the old year, I pieced up a storm . . . I managed to sew 60 squares over that weekend.

During the week, I continued to sew squares. I pushed to finish sewing the squares before year's end, if possible. About two-thirds of the way, I discovered a piecing mistake I'd consistently made. Now, there was no way I was gonna rip out all that stitching, so I changed the design "on the fly" as it were (twice, even). I'm eager (and curious) to see what the changes will bring. I'm not even gonna tell ya what they are . . . when I'm finished with the quilt, we'll see 'em together. The changes may be too subtle to be noticed, but we'll see.

Now, after a week of hard sewing, I'm pleased to say that I finished sewing all the squares for the body of the quilt . . . 140 squares, in all. I'll need another 52 squares for the pieced border, but for the moment, I'm not gonna worry about the border (though there are gonna be changes there, as well).

When I cut the fabric, I cut ALL the fabric, knowing that I'd have some leftovers . . . not enough to make full pinwheels, though. These are the leftover pieces. The dark and light blue fabrics in the upper row were the fabrics I bought to supplement the fabrics in the swap; there's more than enough of those pieces to make complete one-color pinwheels. The dark and light blue fabrics in the lower row are "fabric swap" leftovers. There are not enough pieces to make complete pinwheels. What I have in mind is to arrange them by value and use them to make "scrappy" pinwheels, alternating with solid pinwheels (as well as alternating light/dark). But, I have other plans in mind for THAT quilt (like a yellow/orange/red background).

Thank you for reading this blog . . . leave a comment, and "follow this blog"!!

"Pulling a Madonna . . ."


I thank all of you for reading my blog this year past. I wish you and yours a happy, healthy, and creative year to come.

As for the title of this post, no, I'm not spending millions to adopt children in a faraway land . . . this is the year I "reinvent" myself. I have a list of resolutions a mile long (and the resolve to implement them). Quilting, Writing, Health, Finances, Household, and Fun Stuff are the major categories (with more to add as I see fit). This time next year should see me leaner (physically), and meaner (not really, but it rhymes). I dunno if I"ll blog about it here, or start a new one to track my progress . . . I DO intend to start a new blog this year cataloging the NGQ tile patterns.

As for THIS blog, there are some neat things coming up (and, I'm not talking about losing my lunch): I've finished the squares for my "Winter Blues" quilt, and will be posting pics of my progress; I'll be posting tutorials on making sandpaper stencils, how to foundation piece, and my views on color theory; I'll be writing the definitive reasons (with examples) of why you shouldn't color your design tiles before arranging them (and just this evening, I got an idea of a card game using the tiles). Once I figure it out, I'll be adding widgets to the blog to make it easier to follow/subscribe to this blog (one of my resolutions is to be more diligent about posting).

I hope you're ready . . . I am!!

Again, thank you for taking the time to read my blog. If YOU figure it out, follow this blog!!