Monday, March 28, 2011

The Many Faces of Orchids

"And who, are you?"

I don't pretend to know anything about orchids besides that fact that they are very beautiful flowers with about as many varieties as there are people! My family and I went to Longwood Gardens recently during their Orchid exhibit and I saw the most amazing orchids. I wanted to share some of these funny friends with you.

The dainty starfish

A smiling dog in a baby bonnet

The bee you'd never want to meet in your garden

The spotted wizards with curled goatees

And last, but not least, my favorite....

The praying mantis turned Spanish dancer

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Finish Quilt Top-Check!

I'm proud. I set a goal for myself and accomplished it. I came home Friday night ready to finish my quilt top, thread in hand, iron on, quilt strips ready to be joined together, and...I did!  I almost gave up at 10:30, fearing I would enter the tired danger-zone when miss-measuring, sewing wrong sides together, and cutting things that shouldn't be cut, run rampant. But I didn't. I pressed on (but just until I finished a bit after 11:00). I did miss measure once, but I think it was actually for the better (see below). I love that quilting tends to be somewhat forgiving.

Now I finally feel like I'm getting somewhere with my Modern Meadow quilt.

I love the way it's coming along. The fabrics are beautiful and I like the look of the descending blocks. So pretty, if I may say so myself.

Here's the tree panel that I made because the friend who is receiving this quilt loves trees, but I only bought a fat quarter of the tree print (they were out of by-the-yard stock). But this detail makes me happy. It's reminds me of something that should be hanging in a nature museum. I used a bit of the selvage to label the tree "Majestic Oak". The thin reddish-orange border was the happy mistake of my lacking math skills, or what I like to think of as tiredness. However, I think it adds character, but quietly and almost without notice. Love it!

Next task, quilt back. Details to come...

Thursday, March 24, 2011

On the Road Again

Not the actual road, the quilting road. For the last two weeks, I’ve been stuck on the side of the road, out of gas with four flat tires. A few tow trucks passed by which I thought would fix me up and get me running again, but they just ended up blowing dirt in my face.

This is the life of a quilter when they’re out of thread: the beauty of the destination staring them in the face, but no possible way of getting any further down the road. Totally stranded.

I did try to help myself, I promise! I made a run to Joann’s which is about 40 minutes away from my house, but thankfully close to an appointment I had to go to, so it was an easy jaunt. I picked up my white Gutermann 100% Cotton thread, a ½ yard cut of Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton in Chocolate, and some new rotary blades. I was feeling great about finding exactly what I needed, I had my 50% off coupon in hand, and I would finally be able to get quilting again. But then Joann’s let me down in a big way. When I got up to the register, the woman tried to scan my first item only to find that their database was down so they couldn’t check me out. I waited around, perhaps somewhat patient-looking on the outside, but fuming on the inside, for fifteen minutes only to be informed that it would be another twenty minutes until they could get it up and running. I couldn’t stand around that long, I had places to be. I was doubly annoyed when the only thing they offered was that they could hold my items and I could pick them up later.  No thanks! 

Still no thread.

The Elusive White Gutermann Thread Basking in the Sunshine

On to my local quilt store. I ran in while my husband waited in the car, then I returned only minutes later with a pitiful expression on my face. Still no thread. They were out of white thread and, anyways, have only been carrying Gutermann 100% Cotton in the annoyingly lean 110-yard spools. They also didn’t have the Kona Cotton in Chocolate, only Espresso, which was much too dark for my project. Rejected again.

On to the internet. I did some research and finally ordered 10 spools of the desired white thread, and 6 yards each of the Kona Cotton in Chocolate and White. They were having a sale, I couldn’t resist! (Honey, I promise, no more purchases for awhile.)

Finally, I have thread, all the fabric I need to finish my Modern Meadow quilt, and a longing to get stitching again. Now all I need is time and, unfortunately, I haven't found any online deals for more of that. Amazon, please take this into consideration.

Friends, if I don’t answer my phone Friday night, you know where I’ll be. But don’t come knocking, I’ve got a quilt top to finish!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Quilt-full Getaway

My husband took me on a little trip for my birthday this past week. We headed out to Amish country, Lancaster, PA. We love going out there for a little getaway every once in awhile. Though I was struck this time by how built up and modern parts of Lancaster are, it's still much more country than the cityscape I'm used to. I love driving through the farmlands and seeing open space, cows, sheep, Amish laundry on the line (I want a clothes line!), old barns, and signs for fresh goat's milk. It feels like home, even though I've never lived in the county (if you don't count my podunk college town) and probably never will.

It worked out perfectly that while we were there the American Quilter's Society was having a convention where we saw some of the most amazing quilts. Some were like paintings, so incredibly intricate that the stitches literally made up the picture. Many were hand-quilted, which really blew me away, since some of them looked like king-sized bed spreads. Who has the patience?! I got a few good ideas, some new rotary blades, and a little inspiration to keep growing my skills. Even though I'm still very new to quilting, I had a much fuller appreciation for what I saw than I would have had last year. Even my husband was appreciative of the workmanship because he's seen the work that I've put into my relatively simple quilts. He was so sweet and didn't complain at all even though he was probably the youngest guy there (I've never seen so many 50+ women all in one place.) As we walked out, there was an older gentleman dozing on one of the hotel couches. Mr. Side Stitches nodded at him and said, "That will probably be me in 40 years." Likely.

(Sorry I can't include any pictures, they have tight regulations on posting pictures from the show. But you can see some of the award winners here.)

The rest of our trip was relaxing. We ate ice cream at our favorite ice cream spot, Lapp's Valley Farm. Homemade ice cream from farm fresh milk in a homemade waffle cone on a perfect 80 degree day!

Learned a valuable lesson: only get one scoop unless you want to explode. Probably not a lesson that I'll learn very quickly judging from previous experience. After we ate our ice cream, we went to say a big thank you to the cows whose generous donation allowed us the above stated goodness, which was by now sitting heavy in my tummy.

These lovely cows were hungry for some ice cream, too!

Lesson learned: don't eat your ice cream while thanking the cows. I did actually learn this lesson and we did not repeat it this time. But we did do it last time and cow smell does not mix well with rich ice cream. That can really turn your stomach. Enjoy the ice cream on the nice fresh smelling porch, then visit the stinky cows and let them know how much you appreciate them and their milk-producing skills.

We also stopped by the People's Place Quilt Museum in Intercourse, PA. I was inspired to try a cathedral window quilt at some point after seeing a beautiful one here. I just put a book about it on hold at the library so I'll keep you updated on that if I ever get to making one.

Overall, it was a great trip. Now I'm back to my regular life again. I'm hoping to get back to my Modern Meadow quilt, but my thread and extra bit of fabric are still in transit. Hopefully they will arrive in the next day or two so I can actually get this thing cracking. I never thought it would take this long just to finish the top!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Slow Progress

I don't know what's happened to my life. I went from my usual homebody-life of work, home, make dinner, read or quilt to scheduling something every night of the week. Well at least that's what happened last week: dinner with friends, puppy sitting, yoga class, bible study, dinner with family. Phew! I'm worn out! I scheduled something every night for a week and a half, but tonight, I'm back to my quiet schedule. Go home, make dinner, and quilt.

There's just one catch, I just remembered that I'm all out of thread.

Okay, okay, so tonight I'll start my seeds for my vegetable garden and tomorrow I'll get back to my quilt after making a little trip to the store.

I did have a couple of hours this weekend to finish piecing all of the strips. And thanks to Care over at Obsessively Stitching who taught me the joys of "finger pinning", sewing strips together should be a cinch. A very good skill to know when you have lots of corners to match up. I love how it's coming together.

My friend also really loves trees and uses them in her decorating, so I'm planning on doing a little something special with this panel.

Hopefully I'll be able to make some progress later this week.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Modern Meadow Fabric Lasagna

Another package from Hawthorne Threads has arrived at my door and that means another quilt is under way. After spending many hours of pressing, cutting three-hundred-and-seventeen squares, and arranging said squares, I'm ready to get stitching again!

 Delicious Fabric Lasagna

These sixteen designs are from Joel Dewberry's (yes, I do love his prints) Modern Meadow line. I bought the fabrics in both the Berry and the Sunglow palettes because the designs and colors are just that lovely. Though, really, the Sunglow fabrics were selected by a friend for a custom-ordered quilt, and while I was purchasing the fabrics, I just couldn't pass up the Berry fabrics. Who could resist these brilliant fabrics?

I'm enjoying working with the Sunglow palette because they aren't colors that I would necessarily choose. I love turquoise, brown, and red, but I'm not really a yellow/orange girl. (If you caught me wearing either of these colors, I'm sure you'd see why.) Though when the full line of fabrics are together, they are as soothing and natural as an early spring day, when bright buds and peeks of blue sky remind you that color will soon overtake the gray monotony of winter.  They are going to make for a gorgeous quilt. I hope this experience will inform the way I think about color in the future -- moving away from simple gut reaction or personal preference. Also, the variety of colors in the Sunglow palette create a nice contrast and give the quilt an unexpected element. I can't wait to see this one come together.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Homemade Yogurt

When I first heard about making yogurt at home, it sounded frightening. All of the heating to a certain temperature, and then cooling, and the ovens (or oven lights) and thermometers -- no thanks! But I was eating a quart of Trader Joe's yogurt per week and it's my philosophy that if you eat something that much, you should learn to make it at home. So I set out on my quest to find a simple and easy yogurt recipe that I could make frequently enough to fulfill my yogurt obsession. Then I came across the blog, A Year of Slow Cooking, and, lo and behold, a recipe for crock pot yogurt.

I've been making yogurt in a crock pot probably every two or three weeks for over a year now. Well, I don't really remember when I started doing it, but it's been long enough to forget. I've tried several varieties of milk and have played with the amounts and I've finally landed on what I think is a pretty good yogurt. And it's so easy!

All you need are three simple ingredients to start:

A half-gallon of 2% or whole milk (I actually prefer whole)
1/4 cup non-fat dry milk
4 T. plain yogurt with active cultures

You don't have to use organic ingredients, but I try to when I can afford them. This weekend I stumbled upon this organic milk at 50% off since it was nearing its expiration date. After reading Jonathan Bloom's new book, American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (and What We Can Do About It), I was excited to see that my local store is making an attempt at reducing food waste. The store reduces waste; I get cheap grass-fed milk. Win, win!

Now on to the good stuff -- proving to you that making yogurt at home is much easier than it sounds.

Homemade Yogurt
Adapted from A Year of Slow Cooking

Set the crock pot to low. Pour the 1/2 gallon of milk into the crock pot. Whisk the dried milk into the milk. Make sure there aren't any clumps.

Cover and let the milk heat for 2 1/2 hours.

Unplug the crock pot or turn it off.  Let the milk cool for 3 hours.

After 3 hours, gently whisk in the yogurt. Replace the lid. Fully cover the crock pot with two layers of bath towels so it's nice and cozy.

Let it sit for 7-8 hours.

Take the pot part out and put it in the fridge. Let the yogurt cool for at least 8 hours.

Take 4 tablespoons of the new yogurt out and put them into individual 1 T. servings in an ice cube tray and freeze. This will be your yogurt starter for your next batch.

Now you're ready for a delicious snack!

I store the homemade yogurt in old yogurt containers from the good old days of buying yogurt. Now two quarts of yogurt just cost me whatever I spend on the milk (in this case $2.48, instead of the $6 I would have spent at Trader Joe's). You may notice that eventually your yogurt batches get runny and thin (maybe after 10 batches or so). When that happens, you just need to buy a plain yogurt to use as your fresh starter. It's probably about time I made that investment.

This yogurt is about as thick as store-bought non-fat yogurt, but if you want, you can always strain it a bit through a coffee filter. I like it just the way it is. Especially when topped with some granola cereal.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Deer Valley Quilt Finished

About this Quilt
Fabric: Joel Dewberry's Deer Valley and Patricia Bravo's Pure Elements in Linen White
Size: 36" x 36"
Pattern: Square in a Square