Saturday, December 26, 2015

Scrap basket comforter for my Mom.

First of all, thank you, everyone for your sweet and thoughtful comments on my last post! I'm sorry I haven't responded to everyone yet, but your words mean so much to me! I love my blog friends, y'all are the best! Truly. 

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas, if you celebrate, or a wonderful winter holiday otherwise. My house is knee-deep in kid detritus and my children are super spoiled! With everything so gloomy in our house, I might have gone a bit overboard with the Christmas cheer, ahem. I always say I am going to go more minimalist with Christmas - less crap, less toys - but then I totally fall apart once I start shopping, and I end up buying all. the. things. for my kids. Their excitement is so contagious! I know I'm not alone in this weakness! Then, after I went totally overboard, my brother went totally overboard too, and yeah ... serious American first-world gluttony over here. But it was fun!

With the stressful turn this holiday season took, my plans to make multiple handmade gifts had to be narrowed down. And narrowed down they were - I made exactly one handmade gift this year. A little comforter/quilt for my mom. My mom has had a tough few months - her lease was terminated when her landlord decided to remodel and list the house she had been living in for many years. Since she lives in a college town in the Pacific Northwest, the timing was as bad as it could be - it's really hard to find a nice rental in October and November in Bellingham, Washington. Luckily, she and her husband found a new place, sharing a house with a nice lady, "at least for the winter." You don't want to be looking for a new place in the dead of winter anywhere, but especially not in the darker Northern latitudes. I'm glad my mom has a warm place to spend the winter and hopefully beyond.

Anyway, because of the expense of moving, Mom wasn't able to come down and spend Christmas with the family as she usually/often does. That was a big added sadness for her (and for us as well!). So I wanted to do something really special and cozy for her, hence this little blanket. 

To piece the top for this quilt, I raided my scrap basket for yellows, browns, reds, and blues, and turned four inch squares into little four-square blocks, pairing deeper colors with low-volume prints. Then I arranged them on my floor and moved things around until I liked the general look of the arrangement. The four-square blocks are all arranged with (relatively) darker fabrics going from top-left to bottom-right, creating organic diagonal lines down and across the quilt. As usual with scrap quilts, half the fun was seeing how a random bunch of scraps look together in a quilt! This quilt was interesting in that it seemed to look better in photographs than in person - I think the photographs helped me see it "from a distance," when the colors blend in a lovely way. Up close, the individual prints take the stage.

I was going for something homely and homey and cheerful that reflects my love for folksy utilitarian items (Inder Loves Folk Art!), and I think I achieved it! The quilt is the perfect size to lay over my lap and tuck under my feet while I sew or craft. I think it's about 48" x 56".

I hope you are appreciating my little photo-bomber here!

Once I finished the quilt top, I sandwiched it with ditzy floral navy flannel for the back and wool batting. Wool batting is really soft and warm, and has a higher loft than cotton batting, making it really squishy and nice for a tied quilt. It can be washed cold and line dried or tumble-dried cool, so the care isn't that different than any quilt. I sent the quilt to my mom with a box of color-catchers because I am still worried about the dark blue flannel bleeding! I prewashed it several times, but it was still bleeding color ever so slightly - that's one down side about using flannel for a quilt backing rather than regular quilting cotton.

(As an aside, I don't quite know what to call this blanket. While it is pieced, I feel odd calling it a "quilt" because it's not actually quilted. "Comforter" is good too, but suggests a whole cloth top to me. Not sure. I'm just going to call it a quilt, but I mean no disrespect to "real" quilts!)

Wait a minute, who is that peeking above the quilt?

It's Joe, who gives this blanket his seal of approval! This boy loves his blankets. Our house is old and drafty, so you can often find Joe wrapped up in a blanket while he plays on his tablet or works on a lego project. He knows a good blanket, and the squishy loft and warm flannel back is just his style.

I tied the quilt at the corner of every square with dark blue embroidery thread. I did it as instructed in this tute, except that I did whole rows of stitching before cutting the thread and tying. I took an extra stitch in each tie to give it a little extra stability and went back at the end to trim all of the ties at a nice length. I will be honest - for a "quick and easy" method to finish a quilt, this turned out to be a lot of work! I spent several hours (easily) tying the quilt, and my neck, back, and shoulders were really hurting after just a few minutes of it! Overall, this project was a real labor of love. There is a reason I don't make quilts all the time - I feel that the potential for repetitive injury-type aches and pains is really high for quilting as opposed to sewing clothes, which tends to involve less repetitive work. It might be a few weeks before my neck feels normal again! But I do love the final product and it's like childbirth - after a few months, I've forgotten the pain and I'm ready to sew another quilt! (No, there are no more children in my immediate future!)

I finished the quilt with a little handmade label. My mom signs letters and emails MOM WOW - you know, it looks the same upside and backwards - that's my mom! So that seemed appropriate to embroider on some cream linen to make a label. I also used one of my large collection of embroidery transfers for the butterfly, and stitched the label down with embroidery thread.

I had hoped to have this blanket in my mom's hands by Christmas, but life being what it is, that didn't happen. This will go in the mail on Monday. Hopefully the special-ness and work involved helps to offset the lateness! Love you, mom!!! Merry Christmas, and God Bless Us, Everyone!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Keep your lamp trimmed and burning.

Dear friends! I hope you are having a lovely holiday season. As my friends and Instagram followers know, our family has had a sad loss - we said goodbye to Steve's dad, our beloved Grandpa Frank, last week. After a short illness, he passed away peacefully on Tuesday night with his children gathered around him. I want to thank all of you who have prayed for us and kept us in your thoughts these past weeks - I appreciate your kind words. We are doing okay. It's good to have kids at a time like this - they keep us grounded in the present, and their joy and excitement about Christmas is irresistible.

While Steve was in the hospital, the kids and I stayed home, waiting for news. Maggie caught a stomach flu last week and we didn't want to bring that to Steve's family - later Joe and I caught it as well, so this was a good decision! Those days of waiting were anxious and stressful, but I passed the time by working on several Christmas projects. I made stockings for Steve and my brother, to complete our set. I still have the stocking my grandmother made me as a child (below, far right) and I made stockings for the kids last Christmas (shown here). So this year, I made stockings for the grown up guys in the house.

I used simple stripes of Christmas fabrics for Harpal's stocking. I printed out his name in large, bolded Courier font and sewed felt letters onto the cuff by hand. When Harpal would ask me for a small favor or try to rib or tease me, it was fun to respond "oh don't mind me, I'm just painstakingly sewing your name on your Christmas stocking by hand, it's no big deal." How many sisters make handmade stockings for their brothers, I would like to know? I will milk this for all that it's worth, naturally!

Since my stocking doesn't have a name on it, I decided to leave Steve's blank as well, and go with a simple patchwork pattern. I like the simplicity, but compared to the others, it does seem like it's missing something. I may go back and add a cuff next year, we'll see. I am glad to see everyone accounted for his year! I trust Santa will not disappoint this year!

It was a dreary and sad day, with Daddy gone to be with his dad at the hospital, and the kids and I had been moping and/or acting out a bit. So we decided to go get a tree and get it all set up to cheer ourselves up and surprise Daddy when he got home. You may laugh, but it felt like a big deal to take the kids to get a tree and get it into and out of the car all by myself, and set it up in its stand! I have grown to depend on Steve to do all of the tree hauling and wrestling! Joe and I were quite proud of ourselves (and pretty dirty!) when we got it all set up. The kids also picked out some decorations while we were out, including that blingy gold and red ornament wreath (I tried to talk to them into a more natural green wreath, but they weren't having it!).

Joe, our budding engineer, took responsibility for testing all of the lights to see which strands still worked (why, oh why, do I pack the broken strands away with the good ones every single year? I have problems!), and both the kids helped me string them on the tree. 

The kids were so helpful and excited about Christmas and we all had a really nice time. Seeing their delight over all the ornaments and lights filled me with joy as well - it was truly magical. I will always treasure this somewhat sadsweet memory!

In days that followed, knowing that our dad and grandpa probably wasn't going to make it, talking about end-of-life decisions, and then finally hearing that it was all over, I stitched this little ornament from Alicia Paulson's Winter Cabin ornament kit (the kits are sold out but you can buy a PDF pattern and source the supplies yourself). I haven't found a good way to transfer markings onto felt, so I had to eyeball the embroidery design and it is quite a bit more homely than the original, but it was a soothing activity during a hard time.

While I was stitching and waiting, I kept thinking of the song, "Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning," (there are many versions, all based on the imagery of the Parable of the Virgins in Matthew 25, but this bluegrass version performed by Hot Rize is one of my favorites). "Trouble and trials are almost over ... see what my Lord has done. Keep your lamp trimmed and burning ... see what my Lord has done." I know this ornament shows a candlestick, not an oil lamp, but the symbolism is very similar.

Even on the darkest nights, there is always a little light. That's the whole point, isn't it?

Happy Solstice, my friends!