Monday, February 29, 2016

Murder Mystery Quilt Along: Blocks 1 and 2

Hello, kids. Having found out in just about the nick of time about the Murder Mystery Quilt Along, I hopped to and made my first two blocks last week.

Chapter 1 is titled 'The Parking Lot.' And here is the accompanying block:

I had just enough of that dark gray to make this block with just a wee bit left over. And the two colored bits are from a random fat quarter stack I bought at a quilt shop in Amish country over the summer. I was originally going to make a color/low-value-coordinating-color quilt with this stack and another, but it wasn't going to work out just right, and seeing as it's six months ago (actually, more) I decided to just cut into it and use it for this quilt. My natural inclination is obnoxious color, so these slightly-more-muted tones give just a pop of color without it being overwhelming. Without even realizing it I also sewed my half-square-triangle corners quite nicely (which never happens when I'm actually paying attention to what I'm doing).

There was a bonus chapter, but no accompanying quilt block, so block two came with chapter three, and was called 'The Waterfall.'

The polka dot is actually a really nice shade of spring green, but didn't want to cooperate for photos. And that water fabric I've had in my stash for years (from when I was making a lot of beach bags). I've been hesitant to use it or lose it because I knew the perfect thing to use it in would eventually come along.

I used some Heat-n'-Bond light for this (the one you can sew through) and used what I thought was a blanket stitch, and I guess it is, but I think I chose the wrong one from the zillion on my machine, as so many of them look a lot alike. I don't even know if I sewed it correctly as I couldn't remember if I was to sew through the edge of the fabric or just off the edge, so I varied, haha. It's really high-skill sewing happening over here, folks.

So that's it. I'm up to date on my blocks. I'm very curious as to how this is going to play out, as the blocks look like an element of the chapter but somehow come together to be something else in the end. And I'm enjoying trying to figure out if this or that little element is actually a clue as well, even though it's planted in the middle of the block directions. I love people who have ideas like this and can make them into an actual real world thing for the rest of us to enjoy.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Murder Mystery Quilt Along

For the past few months I've been feeling largely unfocused and unmotivated. I haven't loved any of the things I've made (the very few of them, at that), and have conflicted feelings of wanting to do nothing and everything, all at once. It's unsettling, especially when I look back over what has become my neglected little blog and see how I used to crank out project after project.

Today I was browsing my blog feed, and something caught my eye. A murder mystery quilt along. I've seen mystery block quilt alongs before, but it was the word 'murder' that peaked my interest in this one. Intrigued, I clicked on over to the course description, and after trying to talk myself out of it signed right up.

Here's the idea--you sign up (there is a fee but it's not too cumbersome), and every month you get a chapter of the story and a quilt block that is directly related to the chapter. Each quilt block and the directions may have clues contained within them, in addition to those in the story itself. If you join the Facebook group you can see the blocks that other group members are making, and maybe receive additional clues. There are even prizes at the end of the year-long project. Fabric recommendations are given, but you have total freedom to do what you want. When you complete the quilt you'll have everything you need to solve the mystery.

I just signed up today, so I'm already behind a little, but the blocks aren't too complicated and the fabric requirements aren't obnoxious so I'll be caught up before the week is out. I'm trying very hard to stick to stash fabrics, which is stretching my neurons for sure as I don't have a large store of fabric anymore.

I already feel a little more focused, and my brain has started whirring a little bit, so I'm excited for this. The hard part will be waiting for the new chapters to come out, but it's nice to have something to look forward to. If this sounds interesting to you too, you have another week to sign up--registration closes February 29th.

Sunday, February 14, 2016


Last week I told you about a class I took on Craftsy that I wasn't thrilled with. I had been kind of excited to spend a blizzardy day doing that and wasn't exactly satisfied. I happened to come across a site that I had heard about but forgot about--Creativebug. You get a two-week free trial on the site, and one class to keep forever. If you like your experience, you pay $4.95 a month for access to over 600 classes on drawing, painting, sewing, knitting, and so on. So I decided to try it out with Basic Line Drawing with Lisa Congdon.

THIS was more what I was looking for--simple explanations of shape and form and technique, and the ability--actually, the enCOURagement--to make things imperfectly.

I tend to be a bit rough on myself with sewing/knitting/crochet that everything be as perfect as I can get it, and that adds a bit of stress to the creative process. I don't think that's what it's supposed to be about, but that's certainly how I'm wired.

I certainly felt more of a boost of confidence and wanted to draw all the things, haha. I ordered a couple books just as a bit of a creative guide--this one and this one. I spent several hours one Sunday morning just working my way through, picking and choosing.

I'm certainly better with some than with others, but I filled a few pages with different flowers and nature bits, some cartoonish, some a little more realistic, some very stylized.


Nowhere near perfect, but at least recognizable, for the most part. I've been advised not to quit my day job, haha, but it's nice to all of a sudden see everything broken down to simple terms and techniques and to have the 'permission' to just go with it and not worry about perfection.

I enjoyed the line drawing class so much that I took part in the January drawing challenge. Of course, it was the end of the month so I had to cram like it was a chemistry final, but I drew everything. I didn't take any photos of those items, but I have them in a wee book I've been keeping in my purse in case whimsy strikes.

As I was getting gas last week, I noticed a bunch of birds on some electrical wires, set against the backdrop of a very gray sky. So I snapped a pic thinking 'maybe I could do that.'

So I did a watercolor background of gray, and some line drawing in black. Not great (as I looked at my phone for reference instead of sending it to my computer) but I don't think it's terrible. At least I think it looks like what I meant for it to look like, haha.

You can tell as I went along that I started small and kept increasing the size of the birds a little, but they look like bird silhouettes and sometimes we have to take what we can get.

I am by no means close to anything approaching an artist, and don't believe I have the imagination to ever be one--I just can't dream up pictures or designs. But for now I'm content to just keep trying my hand at something new, and hopefully improving upon it.

Monday, February 8, 2016

A New Creative Outlet

If you give me fabric or yarn, chances are I can make you something out of it that isn't half bad. It's not always creative or original, but I can do SOMEthing with it. Much in the same way that a cook can see a pile of ingredients and concoct a delicious meal (I'm thinking of my mom, here, who is an amazing cook) I can look at the crafty media I am familiar with and come up with some sort of project. Now, if you hand me a pencil and paper and tell me to draw something, I will just sit there and stare much in the same way I would if you handed me chemical formulas and directed me to balance them. I've always had a bit of envy for people who could draw something that looked like a real thing. They draw a flower and it looks like a flower. I draw a flower and it looks like something someone might step on or in.

Lately I haven't had much motivation for sewing or knitting. I think I feel like I've made or can make anything I'd be interested in sewing, so my incentive to learn more has been low. I don't enjoy making clothes, so I don't have much desire improve there. I've made so many bags I feel a little maxed out. I don't have a need for quilts right now. And so on. Lather, rinse, repeat for knitting. But I suffer if I don't have a creative outlet. So I decided I wanted to learn to draw or paint or something along those lines. I decided to start with watercolor. It didn't go well. So I back-burnered that. I didn't quit, it's just delayed, because here's the thing--if you don't know how to draw, if you don't understand basic shapes and muscle motions necessary to create those shapes, then you won't get too far.

I was searching for Craftsy classes related to drawing (I've taken several on sewing and knitting and they've been really helpful), and I found this one on colored pencil drawing that seemed like something I'd be comfortable with. I clearly misinterpreted the description, because I was less than enamored with this class. It wasn't a drawing class so much as a coloring class. And if there's something I'm not bad at, it's coloring.

There were a lot of materials recommended for this class, and not all of them were necessary. I had some semblance of most of them, so I only needed to stock up on a few. But even those weren't critical to the class but more of an option you might be interested in. I don't know if you've perused the art aisles at your local craft store recently, but the stuff isn't cheap.

After spending what seemed like a really long time blending colors randomly, we finally moved on to a little bit of drawing and coloring, but I felt a little...lost? with it all? maybe? I mean...I KNOW how to color. I felt like I was doing something wrong because it seemed intuitive but I was watching a video on it and thus developed some kind of disconnect. Kind of like "Am I really watching a video on coloring an apple?" Weird.

So after an apple you're supposed to do a leaf, and then some flower petals. The leaf was abysmal, so here's my flower petal.

It's hard to explain why this just didn't feel right. I's coloring! I just took a class on coloring! The course description led me to believe it was more drawing, but no. So I just kept at it because there was a blizzard going on outside and what else was I going to do? So then you end up at your 'finale' coloring projects. One was a black-eyed susan. We didn't have to draw it, there was a printout. And I had a hard time figuring out how to layer the colors when I had so many available I didn't need to layer anything to create colors.

The last thing we "drew" came out pretty well. It was a couple of cherries. Again on a printout.

I was quite pleased with myself (even though I went for bright red cherries instead of deep red because I like that color better and I can make them any color I want) until we got to the shadows. Shadows and shading are pretty important to give an object depth and dimension. So I didn't love the instructions to just sketch out a shadow and use the colors from your picture to shade it in (because I can't wrap my brain around the notion that a shadow isn't simply shades of gray as the instructor wants me to).

I suppose they can't all be winners, but this class left me feeling a little bit like..."Oh." This is the first class I've taken on Craftsy that left me feeling like I didn't learn a thing. There are worse ways to get through a blizzard, but this one proved anti-climactic to the excitement I felt knowing what I was going to be doing when the storm blew in. Next up I'll show you what's more my speed and more of what I was looking for to kick-start a creative journey.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Bad Pictures of a Table Runner with Good Quilting

Remember way back when we thought the days were so long? I miss those days. Not summer, but youth, I suppose, when even the short stretch between after-school and dinner seemed like a very long time. Now I feel as though a calendar serves me better than a clock as time truly flies and the latter doesn't seem up to the task of keeping up with it. That's all just a very fancy way of saying "Can you believe it's February already?"

January has flown by, and I am still working on the same dishcloths and sock yarn hat--no matter how quickly I knit, I feel like there's an impish little gremlin who unknits my stitches when I take a sip of tea. Our snow is already gone, it's going to be sixty degrees tomorrow (!!!) and there are only four episodes of Downton Abbey left forever and ever. I'm not dealing well with any of this.

Anyway, last week I whipped up a quick table runner for the dining room. My stash is quite low right now and would lend itself fabulously to a decent scrappy quilt (so I could then buy more fabric without any guilt), but I did have a few pieces that were just the right size for this. It's just a wholecloth quilt, nothing fancy at all. Sorry for the picture quality--I don't think I'll ever take good pictures in low light.

I'm kind of overly pleased with myself as I eyeballed all of that quilting. I used the little dotty centers as my reference (they were only an inch apart, but that's plenty of room to go crooked--trust me, haha), and everything came out straighter than the lines I tried indenting with my hera marker. Go figure.

When I started this, all I could see were the little green ovals that made up the mini cathedral windows. When I quilted it, all I could then see were the white centers, and it looked very tufted. I thought it might have something to do with the straight line quilting having an illusory effect on the curves. I thought "Wow, I can't wait to take a picture of this!" and then when I did the effect was gone, and now all I can see are the green ovals again (and I don't mean in the photos, I mean in real life, as I'm looking at it right now as I type).

I made this for the dining room table, and as it's an oval shape I wanted to mimic that. I ended up having to go with a rounded rectangle, as geometry is not my strong suit and disaster was on the horizon. The curves do look much better than the harsh rectangular corners I usually do. It also saved a bit of time as I didn't have to stop and miter anything--it all went on so nice and smooth and stayed that way. I definitely want to try this on other quilts.

I didn't have enough batting, so I used a piece of sew-in fleece. It worked fine, but I'll just have to remember not to put this in the dryer. I used linen for the binding, and wanted to use one of my fancy stitches for it. I saw one that I thought went well with the fabric, but it came out looking like the above. At least it's consistent, so it doesn't look wrong, just like a weird stitch. Here's what it was supposed to look like (but not in red):

Wouldn't that have looked cute? I had a terrible feeling something was wrong with my machine and that I would have to lug that monster to the repair shop and pay heaven knows what to have it fixed. But apparently what I should have done is use the suggested presser foot. I used my walking foot, and I believe that combined with the slight roughness of linen made everything go a little haywire. When I used the recommended foot it came out just as it was supposed to. Lesson learned. At least I didn't have to pick out all of those stitches as it does look like I meant to do it.

I am just super happy with my quilting. The stitch length was right, I didn't sew cross-eyed, and gridded quilting always gives this amazing texture that I love.

So that's it. Nothing much. It's been mostly spaghetti knitting (you know, the more you do the more you feel like you have to do, like eating a bowl of spaghetti) and my new time-sucker (it's not quite an obsession yet). When I can grab a few minutes of decent light I'll show you some pictures of my feeble attempts at this new interest.


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