Friday, September 30, 2011

Warm hands from a warm heart.

I know I have slightly misquoted the old cliche, but in this case it is accurate. I want to share this great, easy idea for bringing a little warmth to those you love and appreciate. I am sure that for some of you this is not new, so bear with me, there might be a twist or two you haven't thought of before. My sister introduced me to this a few years ago when she made a heart shaped fabric pouch full of rice for my kids. When popped in the microwave for 1-2 minutes it gets nice and warm and stays that way for a long time. Once cool it can be warmed again and again. Since that first bag I have made big ones with channels that I use to warm up the foot-end of my bed in the winter, small ones that you can slip in the pocket of your coat to warm your hands and all sizes in between. They are spectacular for sore muscles as it is a moist heat and they have a nice weight and formability that makes them tend to stay where you put them. I even made one for a little boy who had recently lost his beloved feline sleeping partner. He was missing the weight and warmth of the cat when he went to sleep. I got a photo of him and his cat in younger days, iron transferred it onto some fabric and made him an approximately cat-sized bag to warm and sleep with each night. I heard from his mom that it helped him through the hardest part of grieving. There are as many ways to make these as there are people to make them, but there are a few details I have experimented with over the years and I would like to share them.

You can buy bags that have buckwheat hulls in them at the kiosks at the mall, and I understand bags like this that contain cherry pits can also be found (and apparently smell wonderful when hot) and I am sure there are many other iterations I have never heard of. However, rice works very well, is readily available and inexpensive. A simple bag can be made in an hour or less with a minimum of fabric and a couple of cups of rice. You can make a cute pieced version with small scraps or a simpler iteration using a single fabric. I will cover how to make a little scrappy heart and a couple small hand warmers out of a single fabric.

You will need for the heart:
two 2x3" pieces of fabric to make your heart
about a 5x7" piece of background plus a few scraps to finish it out to the final size
a 5x5" piece for the back
two 5x5 pieces of ALL COTTON batting (synthetic will melt)

You will need for the solid fabric hand warmers:
Two 4x8" pieces of  fabric (cute novelty prints and seasonal prints are fun)
Two 4x8" pieces of ALL COTTON batting

Note that you can make these without the batting, as I did for years.  However the batting helps to insulate the heat from the rice, making it more difficult to burn yourself with an accidentally overheated bag and it also causes the bag to hold the heat a bit longer.

The heart in this project will be, as we say, "wonky" and unplanned. First take the two 2x3" pieces and lop off both top corners of each as well as a long slanted cut off the bottom left corner on one and the bottom right corner on the other. If they seem to need further amendment to sort of look like a heart take off a vertical sliver on the outside of the offending piece on the same side that the long slanted cut came from. Then take the background fabric and begin cutting generous triangles off to fill in the spaces around the heart shape. 

Begin sewing the triangles to the heart fabric in this order; inside upper heart corners, outside upper heart corners, vertical cuts, long slanting cuts. Now, don't do this half heartedly.... hahahaha! I kill myself!  Really, you should end up with two half hearts. Trim the inner edges straight and lay them rights sides together and sew the middle seam. I often press this one open to avoid bulk. What a nice crumby heart you have! Now trim the outside edges straight and take your scraps and begin adding them in order to make a piece about 6" square.
Once you have a large enough piece you can trim the best 5" out of the middle. This allows you to do a final placement of the heart for the best possible effect.

ready for trimming

Now the rest of the instructions apply to any fabric you want to use. Layer each fabric piece with the corresponding batting piece. At this point you may decide to add some detail with quilting. Pieces this size don't need to be quilted, but I find that these little projects give me a chance to practice rusty free motion skills so I quilt mine. So, quilt as desired, or not.

layered and quilted
note the unsewn sections on the bottom edges

Place the 5x5" front piece and back piece together, sew a 1/4 - 5/8" seam all the way around EXCEPT for about 2" in the middle of one side. Be sure to back-stitch at the free ends. This opening will allow you to turn it right side out. Use the eraser end of a pencil to poke out the corners.

Now comes the rice. A bag this size will take a little more than a half a cup of rice. Experiment a little for yourself... You want it pleasantly full, but not so full that it is hard to hand stitch closed. Pin the opening closed (so you don't spill rice all over the floor) and slip or whip stitch the opening closed.

whip stitch the opening

Leave a long tail after you knot off the end and take a long stitch through the body of the bag. Cut the thread off at the surface. The long tails, just like in quilting, prevent the knot from working its way loose. now you have a cute little "warm heart" to give to a teacher or friend to keep her hands toasty on cold days working the carpool line or walking to the bus.

bury your end after the knot, just like with quilting
The instructions are very similar in the case of the 4x8" piece. Whether you decide to quilt it or not, fold each piece in half, right sides together and stitch around the three open sides except for about 2". In this case I did not stitch to the corner and it made me remember why it is a good idea... It is much harder hand turn that corner section when hand stitching it closed than it is to turn a section left open that does not include a corner. Regardless, turn right side out and fill with rice. This size takes a little less than a half a cup of rice. Hand stitch it closed. Repeat with the second piece and voila, you have pocket hand warmers.

A word about warming these in the microwave. Please use caution and common sense. It is possible to heat them to the point that they will burn you (they also tend to take on a scorched smell if over heated). For bags containing more rice, more time is necessary to achieve the desired temperature. Hand warmer sized bags take no more than about 1 minute if you do them together. Larger bags with 3-4 cups can take 2 to 2:30 minutes. If I am giving them as a gift I always include a set of written instructions. I experiment with the finished bag to find the time that works best for my comfort and always give a shorter amount of time in the instructions.

That being said, they make great gifts for teachers and bus drivers, they are a great comfort to sick children with the chills or a tummy ache, they are awesome on sore muscles and stiff necks. My large channeled version (seen below on the left) is used in the winter nightly to warm up my otherwise frozen feet.  The train bag and the skull bag belong to my boys and the patchwork bag was made by one of them and was the first one we tried batting in. I have also used the hand warmer size bags (minus the cotton batting) as mini cold packs by storing them in the freezer. They do not hold cold as long as they hold heat, but they are a small comfort to minor bumps on a head or shins when frozen peas are a little overkill. My sister heats up half a dozen medium sized bags and puts them in a cooler to take to late fall soccer games to keep the 'benchwarmers' and fans warm on the sometimes frigid fall mornings. After a while of hard use they get sort of grungy looking and the rice begins to smell, well, used. At that point, if you like the bag enough you can open it up at the hand sewn seam, dump the rice, wash the shell and fill it with new rice.

my family's stash of rice bags, minus the ones kept in the freezer

I hope you enjoy this project. Forgive me if it was not clear (and make a comment and I will try to make it understandable) as it is my first written tutorial attempt.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Other things "In Progress"...

Progress is such a relative term... in my case when it comes to quilting I like to think that sometimes "progress" means that I even remember I HAVE a particular set of blocks that still needs to be assembled sitting in a drawer somewhere. If the first step to recovery is to admit you have a problem then surely the first step to quilting progress is to first recall that the quilt flimsy, block set or idea exists in the first place. Going on this premise, I am going to join the WIP Wednesday crowd over at Freshly Pieced in an attempt to keep those, ahem 'older projects' at the fore front of my mind and maybe actually finish a thing or two now and then. I have two years before the next quilt show... with luck I'll have something worth entering by then!

I can in no way make a totally comprehensive list of things that are WIPs around here... I am not sure I can remember everything and I certainly don't have time to go looking! So, I will list the things I am actively working on, the long term projects I have on hold (but they are near the top of the pile!) and a short list of projects that are "on deck" that I hope to work on in the near future including some 'low hanging fruit' that just need a little work to be declared finished. I will also own up to the fact that I have at LEAST a bakers dozen flimsies on a shelf, some with backings folded up right along with them that need only to be quilted - clearly a weakness on my part. (and that does not include the tops my charity group put together that haven't been quilted yet either)

Ongoing projects:

  • My Tweets BOM by Erin Russek - I am pluggin' away but am currently two months behind
  • Crumb Along project with Jo at Jo's Country Junction (see many of my posts over the last two weeks for progress on this one)
  • bonus triangle quilt that I SHOULD and WILL be using as a leader/ender
  • Modern Workshop Jelly Roll quilt applique borders - I designed these to go with this pattern last spring and have been working right along on it. Two borders are finished and all the flowers are pressed and starched for the other two as of last night! WooHoo! Now I just have a bazillion leaves left to starch, sigh. 
pressed and starched and ready to go

On deck projects:
  • Debbie Mumm wall hanging set completed but for hanging sleeves something like two years ago (insert eye roll here) I WILL get this done. 
  • design pieced parts of Spring Basket wall hanging I posted about here
  • Garden BOM quilt from many years ago that is almost all the way put together - I have one tricky border that I need to get the math right on so everything fits and late at night is never a good time to do tricky math. I will do that measuring and math during the day when I am, at least theoretically, rested so that top will be #14 to be quilted. 

Recent Finishes: 
  • Operation Uniform block finished, will be sent in the mail this week.

I won't depress myself by listing all the half-finished and half-started projects lurking in my closet. Suffice it to say the goal here is to get the On Deck projects on the active list and things on the Ongoing Projects further down the road to being in the Finished category. And of course to accomplish this I need to get off the computer! Happy Wednesday everyone!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Things I've learned ...

The sort of directed sewing  I am doing for the Crumb Along using my scrap heap with no fixed result in mind has taught me some interesting things and reminded me of others that I had forgotten. I talk about some of the design considerations and things I am contemplating with this quilt in the design wall post yesterday, but here is a list of things I have learned, in no particular order...

A sampling of blocks on the design wall. 
1. I have a LOT of blue and green in the scrap pile and very little of the red in the pile is true red; there is rust,
    maroon, burgundy, wine, claret (I am sensing a theme here in the names of the not-quite-reds!)... You get 
    the picture.

2. There are lots of leaf prints in my scrap pile too, and they are not all greens.

3. Whereas I seldom actually follow patterns, I usually have an end in mind when I begin and am a fairly 
    traditional piecer - this project is pushing those habits into a newer, open ended, free-form space unfamiliar
    to me but not altogether uncomfortable.

4. I tend to tilt things to the left more than the right. This is a problem when you are trying to get things to look 
    random... everything tilts to the left! I am making a conscious effort to correct that now.

These are my tiny gems, just 4" big, they are so CUTE!
5. I can completely ignore the passage of time, thirst, aches and pains (the house burning down around me 
    most likely) when involved in sewing/creating. I knew this of course, but I don't often get to experience it 
    anymore. The first time I remember it being quite clear was in college. I was going to stop by the sculpture 
    studio for an hour or so on my way home following an science lab. The next time I looked up the guard 
    was there telling me to leave so he could lock the building. It was 1 am. Most often now I go upstairs to 
    sew after the kids are asleep for 'just 30 minutes' and it rapidly becomes 2 am. My husband knows about 
    this time warp problem I have and doesn't expect to see me again until morning (and then I'm asleep!). Of 
    course, now that the sewing room is also my 11 year old son's room I can't really do that anymore except 
    when he is gone camping, like this weekend. Of course when the kids are awake there is no chance of 
    sewing uninterrupted for long periods. They are persistent little beggars those children.

I like this star built around a bird school house.
6. I have a linear editor in my head that can be muted, but not turned off completely. My stars can have uneven points, some sharp, some not, the centers don't have to be square and the 'valley's' don't have the touch the center square... But the corners of the center square MUST line up with the edges of the adjoining star points, or come very close to it, or the whole thing looks wrong to me. What's up with that? Similarly the hearts can be uneven, skewed, funky shapes... but the valley between the heart lobes must make a nice point and there is a certain shape to be achieved with the outer slant or the whole thing lacks pizazz. I suppose it is the same part of my brain that used to cause me to straighten the pictures on other people's walls when they weren't looking and can tell if they are off 1/8th of an inch from across the room. It's pathological. Oh, and to add an interesting twist, all this only applies to MY work. I can admire and appreciate all sorts of wonkiness in other people's work, I just can't do it myself with satisfaction. How's that for a double standard? This is also a realization that is not new to me.

7. I really need to move the ironing board closer to the sewing machine... I am wearing a track in the carpet.

8. Crumbs produce a massive amount of strings and little bits of thread - I have taken to keeping a lint brush 
    on the ironing board to capture them before they breed.

9. I may have enough blocks for two quilts and I definitely have a second color family happening (clear, 
    brightish pastels) in a few blocks that might have to become a small quilt of their own.

sample layout of both large and small blocks together
10.Last but not least, I still have lots of sewing to do and it will be a massive task to get them all up on the board and move them around to get just the right arrangement of blocks. I have some new ideas, maybe an on point setting? Maybe staggering large blocks with sets of two smaller blocks... LOTS of possibilities.

I have been adding four patches to my blocks for a few weeks, so I am ahead of this week's lesson over at the Crumb Along. I will use this week to make more of the blocks I need more of to balance my layout. I also found another use for cute little crumby hearts that don't fit with my color scheme which I will post more about later in the week, so come back and check it out! Happy sewing!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Stunning fabric, and you could win some too!

Chris over at Dye Candy is hosting a giveaway of her fabulous YUMMY hand dyed fabric. Check out her blog for giveaway details and her store to see more of the eye candy at Dye Candy.

What is up THIS week?

Happy Monday (OK, I admit, I a trying to convince myself)! I have a few things up on the proverbial wall this week (sometimes it is the actual wall; sometimes it is my head and for photo purposes it is often the floor in front of the front door. First, I am compiling quite the stack of crumb blocks participating in the Crumb Along over at Jo's Country Junction. They are teaching me a few things about my sewing and myself, but that is another post for which you can check back later in the week! I decided to throw them up on the wall to see what is working and what is not and what I need more of, or less of. After all, that is what design walls are for, no?

I like the individual blocks for the most part. I think they are pretty dark all up there together (and the navy flannel wall doesn't help). I am looking for some design elements that tie the whole mess, I mean quilt together. I have 8.5" and 4" blocks to work with. I like the hearts, I like the stars, I like some of the blocks that have a 4 patch some where in the center. If I make some of the 4" blocks into the centers of wonky stars with light neutral surroundings that would lighten things up, but would it be too blocky/blotchy? Right now with  just the two it interrupts the flow of things. I wonder if it would be better with more or worse? They would stand out in a big way and look like stepping stones and that would make their placement critical. It would mirror the wonky stars in the 8.5" blocks and hence be a unifying element. I could also take sets of 4 of those 4" blocks and set them with sashing to look like a 4 patch/window pane. I like the variation in size of the crumb unit and the orderly setting and it might pickup a connection to the blocks with 4 patches in them. I might need to make a few more big blocks with 4 patch centers and make them a little more obvious. The sashing of those sets of four is a subject for debate also. Probably something on the lighter side, but not too light or that is all that you would see (here it is the wood floor which is clearly not enough contrast!).

Clearly lots of decisions and block still to be made. I wonder how big this thing will end up being and how on earth an I going to quilt it? Nothin' like an open ended project to keep you on your toes.

I also need to decide on flower centers for the Tweets block I am working on. I am steadily sewing on it while waiting on children at lessons and I am about to the point where I need to decide. This is the first time I haven't decided ahead of time on the colors to use on ALL the parts. I have done variations on purple and gold for lots of flowers in this series so I was trying to stay away from that. Dark purple is an option, gold of course and maybe a soft pink or a darker pink? What do you think?

Oh, and for those that commented last week about the camo Birds in the Air block, I went with the red despite the lack of contrast issue. The red just looked snappier. The gold had better contrast, but there are enough earth tones in the camo that it just did nothing to set the block off colorwise. Thank you so much for the input.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A heart of gold!

Oh My Goodness, I am having SO much fun with hearts in my crumb blocks. I fell head over heels for the first little one I made and I have been wanting to make more and more. I really like the red ones that others in the Crumb Along are making, and the pieced ones too. See the link above for Jo's great directions and a bunch of links to what other crumbers are up to.  However,  since my accent color is yellow/gold my hearts are gold. THAT will be the name of my quilt I think, when I'm finished.... Hearts of Gold. That means I will have to make a bunch! Woo Hoo! I hope to make much progress in the wee hours this weekend since the 11 year old that lives in my 'sewing room' will be off camping with the scouts.

And Oh My Goodness am I horrible at stars... star points specifically. Ack! I think it has to do with the angles and the non-mirror-image nature of any angle that is not 45 degrees, BAH! I have definite preferences about my points that let my passion for symmetry and regularity show through (I have tried to let loose, really, I just end up not liking the result!) and I am SO bad at meeting those parameters while still trying hard to make it suitably unkempt. This is very bad news since I have a bunch of 4" blocks that I am thinking of making into stars themselves. That is 40 blocks that will require 4 goose blocks each... 160 goose blocks with those infernal star points! Yikes, my quilt plan may have just taken a turn away from its original path. Oh darn, I'll just have to keep practicing!

This is the idea I have for a the final product... many stars that are crumb blocks in the middle and have various colored points with a neutral background (left) interspersed with large crumb blocks containing star blocks  with gold star points (right) as well as heart blocks, blocks with 4 patches, and groups of 4 of the smaller blocks. I am trying to get an idea of what it will look like... I think I need to actually make more blocks. Sigh. I WILL figure out a faster way to make those goose blocks and get them to come out the right size, I WILL even if it kills me, which it might.

 Happy stitching to all and to all a productive afternoon!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Decisions about camo and 'made fabric'...

This week I decided to work on my block for Operation Uniform over at 15 Minutes Play. Victoria sent along some scraps and bits from some army uniforms she was given and challenged me (and a few others) to make a 12" finished block with that camo fabric and some of what she calls 'made fabric'. Made fabric is sort of like the crumb blocks I have been doing; bits and snatches sewn together to make a usable sized piece of fabric... You know, like our fore bearers had to do sometimes when they were using old clothing and flour sacks for quilt making.

I sat down last night and looked at the camo, browsed some block patterns and tried to come up with what might do them justice and use the fabric most efficiently. Nothing with pieces too small because you lose the camo-ness and the multiple fabric nature of the made fabric. Nothing too pointy because of the bulk and the many seams. I always start looking at blocks with a meaningful name, even though no non-Quilter will probably ever know what the block is called. I came up with Birds in the Air. OK, forget that these are Army uniforms for a moment and try to follow my line of reasoning... this block brings to mind the awesome might the U.S. commands in the air, primarily Air Force and Navy. I live near an Air Force base and there is NOTHING like the roar of fighter jet overhead to make me feel somehow protected (maybe corny, but true for me). My son even used to call them "protect jets". So, for good or bad, this block makes me think of all U.S. Armed forces and the role they play in protecting the U.S. and those that need it all over the world.

So much for the block. Now I have some fabric choices to make. The red and blue were my original choices, but I think that there may not be enough contrast between the dark camo and the about the neutral (top right) or the gold (bottom left) ? I could do a red star to raw edge appliqué in the middle of the four camo triangles. What do you think? I think I know which way I am leaning, I'll see what other opinions I get.

To see what others are up to this Monday head over to Patchwork Times.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

So when I get really old can I just have people call me "Vintage"...

because "Vintage" sounds so much more elegant and valuable than "old"! I have been mucking about in my storage areas in the sewing room and have unearthed the vintage quilts I have from my grandmothers. It turns out that my dad's mom and older sister quilted quite a bit and I have a complete quilt, a quilt top and some salvaged blocks from a quilt that was mostly in tatters that were all made by them. My mother had possession of these prior to my own interest in quilting and not being a quilter herself, she gave them over to me for care and conservation. According to my dad they all date from the late 20's to the mid to late 30's. I was afraid to use my usual clamping method of hanging quilts for photos due to their age. I chose instead to drape them over the shrubs behind the railing on the front porch steps. Forgive the odd lumpiness and shape.

I carefully washed and started hand quilting the one that was just a top in order to be able to display it.  I began some time ago (10 years or more) and really need to get back to it. It had been tied with a wool batting at some point. The tie sites are pretty pulled and a few have tears so re-tieing was not really an option. If I had it to do over I would have used cotton batting, or even better, wool like the original.
one of the squares with my quilting.
aren't these fabrics great!
The complete quilt is a red work quilt depicting nursery rhymes and stories. It is in fair condition except for a few things. There is one section that is obviously sun damaged and the fabric had faded and even disintegrated in one place. The red work floss is broken and has come un-stitched in a few places as well. It is clear that there were two quilt makers, my grandmother and my aunt, because they used different weight floss/yarn. My father remembers this quilt vaguely because they pulled it out to look at the nursery rhymes represented in the red work in order to get ideas for names for the new baby, my dad's younger brother. My youngest uncle was born in the early 30's so it must predate his birth if my father's memory is accurate. Below we have Polly putting on the kettle, Mary, the contrary gardener and Jack and Jill on their famous errand. 

The salvaged blocks I want to carefully wash and mount in shadowbox frames. The quilt was a Dresden Plate pattern, hand quilted in a wineglass pattern. Dad said that he remembers grandpa making the template for marking the quilting pattern out of heavy cardboard. This was made after the previous two quilts because scraps from both can be found in the 'plates'. It was used much harder however, as the fabrics are very faded and worn.

backing of Dresden Plate
 This is the only one with a printed backing... and what a backing it is!

The last quilt top I have actually came from my maternal grandmother. She was not a quilter herself, but at some point along the line purchased this quilt at an estate sale. I am not sure if it was a full quilt at that point, or just the top, but the design is spectacular. I would love to know the era of this one and may take it to the quilt appraiser at the local quilt show in a few weeks. If I could brighten it up a bit with careful treatment without compromising the fabric integrity I might quilt this one also so it can be displayed. I know it would do nothing for its vintage value, but I imagine that the original quilter would want it enjoyed, rather than hidden away.

My last vintage treasure is a set of four pieces of fabric measuring 32"by 36", hemmed on three sides with the fourth being a selvage edge. I have no idea how old it is but it is in good shape except for one piece that was torn and mended in the middle at some point. It would be great to be able to put this up for sale to someone who would use it in a vintage project or repair, but I have no real idea of how to do that, especially when I know so little about the fabric. Any ideas anyone?

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Well, it has happened again. The crumbs have taken over. I am both liberated by this crumb piecing business and constrained at the same time. I tend to work on more than one block at a time so I can have a continuous line going. I also probably spend too much time thinking about just the right color and pleasing shapes and proportions in the attempt to make every block balanced and beautiful. As a result of these two habits the entire cutting table near the machine is covered in scraps and partial crumb blocks. I can't get anything else done (hemming pants, the Greek chitons I am supposed to be making for scouts...). Each time I go in there I end up piecing blocks in an attempt to finish some of them up and get them off the table. By the time those are finished there are three more started... and on and on!

Anyway, I started out with a big stack of 4" crumb blocks already from last spring which you can see some of in this post. I don't think I want to do a lap sized quilt of blocks that small so I am going to try to come up with an alternate plan. I may make some or all of them into wonky star blocks. I could alternate wonky star blocks and 'solid' crumb blocks of the same size. I may toss the star idea entirely and just do a layout using two different sizes with sashing between. All have pros and cons which I will examine at a later date when I have more blocks to play with on the wall. All this to say that I am doing some 4" and some 8.5" blocks. I liked the way Jo's blocks have a little structure amid the chaos with the stars or flying geese etc. I started to incorporate four patch sections to the larger blocks before the Tuesday lesson and really like the window-y look and I think the 4 patch satisfies my eyes' craving for symmetry somewhere.

I am totally in love with the little geese I have been working on since Tuesday's lesson over at the Crumb Along as well. I love their crookedness as I am not normally a crookedy quilter. Yes, I will admit that I DID use a ruler to trim them, but only so the sides would be straight, not square (this is a big thing for me, making things that aren't square! LOOK, I even cut off points on purpose this time!) I am using a "planning to be random" approach... geez, I'm such a dork! Obviously a couple of these still need some work, but they are almost there.

I am also cutting a few 4" blocks along the way when I get a piece that works just right for that size. The good news is I am churning through the scraps, the bad news is I still have a ton and found a whole big lot  in another place yesterday when I was searching for just the right scrap to finish off a goose block (insert eye roll here... apparently I am not acquainted with the concept of RANDOM). So what do YOU think?