Saturday, February 27, 2010

Introducing Oliver

Where have I been for two weeks?  What have I been doing?  If you guessed "new kitten" you would be correct!  This post is about my cat, so bail out now if you are looking for quilting information, just sayin'.

With absolutely no plans whatsoever to even think about a new cat until perhaps in the spring when my first teaching trip is completed, when the cold and snow will be gone, and kittens are being born and needing homes---- what do we do but succomb to the charms of this little guy.

He is from the Wisconsin Humane Society where my husband had a bit of time before a meeting there and strolled through the cat condos and made eye contact with this charmer, named Oliver.  After a phone call with all the details, I said let's think about bringing Oliver home, they sent me photos and the rest is the gentle but compelling slide into new cat mom-hood. 

We brought him home after I spent a day vainly trying to cat proof the house, and he was a burst of pure joy in our lives.  He radiated energy and happiness. His purring is so loud you can hear it across a room.  He has springs in his legs.  He is a cat pretzel.  Anything and everything is entertainment. 

He is 6 months old, was surrendered because his first owner had health problems and could not care for him, and now he is our sweet and mischievous little cat, playing hard, sleeping it off, eating and playing once again, spending lots of time on my lap.

We have had geriatric cats for the last 6 years or so and before that mature cats, so all the ways of a young one are coming back to me!  How can they be so inventive, get into so much trouble, be so darn cute???

Yesterday, after a week here, I opened the sewing room door, the room to the forbidden city.  I had thought it was clean for him, but of course he could jump on the cutting table, pull the pins off the samples and notes on the wall and then kill with great delight anything he managed to knock down. 

I thought I had swept up all the loose threads.  How can he fit behind things in the narrowest places and come out with threads hanging? 

He loves to lie on the foot control of my sewing machine.  I see trouble brewing in that department.

All my pins, pincushions, threads, bobbins, are now in drawers.  He did knock over my little bottle of oil and kitty hockey it all over the room before I rescued it, lid still intact.  Whew.

His favorite is a label that was wrapped around a bundle of Cherrywood fabrics, see photo below.  It skitters nicely around the hard surface floors in our house.  He carries it around in his mouth, then drops it and proceeds to kill it, on the bed, under a chair, in the shower.  He takes it upstairs to play with, then downstairs.  Thanks Cherrywood for the great label, you could market it as an expensive cat toy!

He is beautiful.  His fur is short and like velvet.  He is a combination of our Hillary and Arnie in looks and temperament, naughty, but mellow and sweet and spunky.  He is smart as a whip.  He knows everything already, our routines, the name of the UPS guy, when the mail comes, what dogs go by on their walks. 

His litter is in the laundry room, his room now.  He was raised well, and yes he now jumps up on the kitchen island, but he is aware he is being naughty.  A raised eyebrow and he is down from there fast.

We are smiling, we love him, today I am going to try and quilt.  I think I might wait for his afternoon nap.

My trip is coming up fast to Asilomar in CA, for Empty Spools Seminars.  I have things organized, know what I'll teach, have samples, so if you are in my class there, do not worry, I will still remember how to quilt.  I'm so looking forward to my time there as usual, and know we are going to have a wonderful class.

If you have questions, please ask, and if I have any more info for you in the next two weeks I will post it here on my blog.

Meanwhile, keep on quilting, your work gets better every day!

Thursday, February 11, 2010


I've been using starch for my piecing and quilting for years, and I make my own. The only drawback is the lack of preservatives, so it's necessary to build a new batch every week or 10 days if you refrigerate it, and dump out what remains.

Why do I like starch? What is the recipe I use?

When I started piecing quilts ages ago I realized that fabric has a life of its own. It stretches, it frays, it distorts during any piecing or quilting process.

Because I wash or rinse thoroughly every quilted piece when it is finished I knew it was ok to add starch for the process, as it would be removed when the quilt was completed. If you don't wash the quilt when done, you probably don't want to add starch or wash-out markers or anything that should not be left in the quilt for long periods.

However, my biggest issues were getting long border strips to stay the same measurement before cutting, after piecing, after pressing, and starch was the key.

I wash, dry and press all fabrics with a light misting of my starch mixture before measuring and cutting for the project, not long-term storage.

Sometimes I add a mist of starch for piecing as I progress, but most times a gentle mist of water is enough to re-activate any starch in the fabrics.

For a block like log cabin I really add quite a bit of starch so those logs don't stretch and distort as I piece them around the center square. I don't do foundation piecing, so control of the fabric is key.

I also like to wash and dry the backing fabric for a quilt, and then press it with a misting of starch to stabilize it, to help prevent it from puckering and pleating, and to help it slide easily on the machine bed. Starch makes a huge difference for successful machine quilting in a home machine.

For small triangles, e.g. in a feathered star block, starch really helps in keeping them stable and even. I do starch before cutting them, and always be careful pressing damp fabrics as they can distort in a blink of an eye.

Even if you starch pieced parts of the quilt heaviliy or repeatedly, as you quilt the fabric softens and is easy to deal with in the sewing machine.

What is my recipe? Remember, you can adjust the amount of starch added to water to get exactly the consistency you need for any given job.

I like to begin with a thicker concentration, then dilute it as I go along in the piecing. Or start with what I recommend and check out how it works for you, then make a thicker batch or dilute this one until it is "just right," like Goldilocks.

If you have made sauces or gravies, Jello,  the technique is the same.

I begin with a scant teaspoon of Argo cornstarch (or whatever brand you have, but the kind of cornstarch for cooking, not laundry), dissolved well in a few tablespoons of cold water, in a heat proof 2-cup measuring pitcher.

Add boiling water to the 1-cup line, stir mixture until it turns transluscent.
Then add cold water to the 2-cup line.

Pour into a fine-mist pump sprayer. I get mine from the beauty section at the drugstore and the mist is very fine, not drippy or gloppy.

Label it so you don't think it is water.
Shake it every time you spray.

If you spritz the fabric and press carefully parallel to the selvages of the fabric it will give it a wonderful body. Don't push and pull on the fabric with the iron; be gentle, let the weight and heat of the iron do the work for you.

If white flakes develop as you press, you have too much starch or the mix is too concentrated. Either use less, or dilute the mixture.

Lasts a week or so as there are no preservatives, no chemicals, no nothing that harms us or the environment, and it’s practically free, except for the spray bottle! Don't starch fabrics for storage as I have heard it will attract critters such as centipedes, and mice. Use sparingly at first. You want the quilt to feel soft and be able to gather it up in your hands for quilting.

Hope you enjoy the starch, and if you come from the "no ironing" generation it will be a delightful surprise.

There are new commercial formulations of starch on the market, so give those a try too until you find what works best for you.

Keep quilting! Your work gets better every day.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Snow Day

It's a snow day here in Wisconsin....and just about everywhere else this winter. We don't have the right to whine about it, as other areas have had it worse, but we stay in today and catch up on that list of things to do. I have a long list.

Getting ready for my class in March at Empty Spools at Asilomar, CA, is on top of my list. Handouts, new samples, ideas to teach that are different from past years. A teacher has to do this or classes become rote and boring, and if they are boring to the teacher, oh my I hate to think how they would be for students. To read about the classes there, go to

I don't have props or performing tricks like tap dancing, but I will try and have some exciting machine quilting things for class. Others who are not involved in machine quilting might think that it is about as exciting as watching snow fall, or paint dry, or dust accumulate, but we can get rosy cheeked from finding a new way to create a design that will work in our quilts. Or a new thread to try, or a way to do something that has been too difficult in the past.

I also like to take some time on a day like this and look at other blogs, see what everyone is up to. Ivory Spring did some knockout beautiful Apple Core quilting in the Marabella Sneak peak post at Love it! I'm going to quilt another sample today, only use it around a central motif as background and figure out how to resolve the dead ends and travel well to the next line. We shall see, but it's a good snow day job.

There are dishes in the sink, but they are at the bottom of my list. Just noticed some great dust globs hanging from the ceiling fan in here too. They look dangerous.

I also have been resting and being careful using my right thumb, as quilting the Alzheimer's quilt just about killed my hands. I'm so used to using pre-washed fabrics that start out soft and lustrous, and soft wool batt, but working on poly batt and stiff coarse donated fabrics was like quilting in cement.

The thudding sound of my poor needle as it went through that sandwich was not music to my ears. The quilt was stiff and difficult to grasp, had a life of its own, and only got worse as I quilted more and more.

Curves that were smooth and lovely were very difficult to achieve with these materials. It seemed the fabric and batt had a life of its own, and definitely made freehand quilting quite difficult. Tension was almost impossible to get right, and isn't right in much of the quilt, but I had to accept getting it as OK as possible, even trying various machines for the best stitch.

The point is sometimes your materials hamper and hinder your skills. If you find your hands get sore and really suffer from grasping and moving the quilt then perhaps it's time to explore some different materials, especially batting.

Backing on this project was a batik and difficult to work with. It barely would slide on the machine using The Slider, and without that aide it was moving in jerks all the time and I was sore all over. I really audition any fabrics for my own quilts not only for the top but especially for the back, before layering the quilt with something that proves to be difficult under the needle.

I pre-wash all my fabrics, and press them with a little of my starch mixture before I cut and piece them. Backing is also prepared this way, and although there is great drama in a very dark backing color, it is really hard to work with dark bobbin thread or contrast color bobbin thread and have it all look wonderful in the end.

A medium shade for the backing is usually my choice, and all my early quilts had high quality muslin on the back and it worked perfectly, no pleats or puckers, and the back looked wholecloth at the end, beautiful.

Many of you think quilting with your group on charity projects with mystery fabrics and batt will improve your machine quilting, but it usually is a test of your skill to do a good job with this situation. Please practice on good stuff to improve your skills. It makes all the difference.

But oh I am so pleased with the quilt, that I persevered and made it through to the end with a few empty spools, and a great sense of accomplishment.

Enjoy your snow day, do a little quilting, or take some time off to rest your muscles.


Monday, February 8, 2010

Alzheimer's Illustrated: From Heartbreak to Hope

Last week I cleared away the dregs of projects and layered my next one for quilting. I volunteered to quilt one of the many quilts made up of strips of purple fabrics with names of those with Alzheimer's disease.

These quilts will all hang as part of the next traveling exhibit entitled "Alzheimer's Illustrated: From Heartbreak to Hope." You can read about this at and see the style of these quilts. Perhaps you signed a strip of fabric on the reverse, faded side, in honor or memory of someone, and perhaps it is in the quilt I received.

As I unfolded the quilt top, long and narrow, about as long as I am tall, the impact of the long string of names, all in different handwriting, struck me so hard. Lovely names, strong names, whimsical fun names, but all with the common thread of Alzheimer's. Behind each name I knew the terrible story, the suffering from this disease each person had.

Somewhere in one of these quilts out there to be quilted is my mother's name, Erma Hinterberg, that my sister signed when she attended the MN quilt show in Duluth last year. When the exhibit is finished and on tour I will look for it.

Some of the names were bold and strong, some one name only, some mentioned a relationship like Mom or sister. Seeing these names hit me so hard I knew I could not proceed that day, it was just too emotional, and I had to step away until the names became familiar friends.

I layered that quilt, did some stitch in the ditch between each signature rectangle, and then decided rather than an allover quilting design I would treat each name as its own little quilt, and try to do a motif on each to honor each name, and to reflect what I was imagining that person might like.

Melvin and Milton have strong straight lines of quilting. Viola is on a solid lilac fabric, first name only, and she has a pretty feathered vine. Louise, Lu Hamilton - Grandmother, and Bunny. Clamshells and bubbles, Diane-shiko or simple wavy lines, I varied the motifs, and loved seeing the names become little quilts before my eyes.

Below, three of the rectangles I signed and sewed on to the long strip of names, one for my husband's Aunt Rita, one for my uncle Milt Woolson, and one for a friend's mother.

I used silk thread rather than a heavier one which probably would have worked better on these fabrics, but I didn't want to obscure the names. The quilting takes back seat to the names.

I now will ship this to yet another volunteer for another volunteer to bind, sew on the label and sleeve, and add it to the growing number of quilts exactly like mine that will comprise the exhibit. They will all be quilted by different people, in different threads and styles. I feel like these names are now "my people." I have spent hours with them. I know they will be seen by many over the four years of travel they will have. I hope they raise awareness and funds for research to treat and eventually cure or prevent this disease.

Please visit Ami Simms' site, to read what is going on and for more information.

After the next snowstorm I will gently fold and pack this quilt up with the label for it, with my own signature as the quilter. It will be part of history now, and I hope it can help enlighten the world.

Keep quilting, you never know when your skills may be needed.