Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Stitching, Piecing, and More Books

I've got a pretty good summertime rhythm going. It's sort of a Groundhog Day existence that's a combo of devotion time, exercise, machine piecing, hand stitching, and book-listening. It's quietly routine and peaceful.

All I have for pretty pictures is more of what I've had my hands on, including these scissors that can be found laying everywhere in the sewing room. I use each one, but am especially fond of the kangaroo scissors (center right), gifted to me by Di J. when I was in Sydney, Australia teaching beginner quiltmaking. I also like those (top) won in an Instagram giveaway from @warmcrochet that's now Warm Heart Scissors

They're arranged on a piece of one of Painter's Palette 42 new solid colors: Topaz. 

My Alison Glass Stitch Club Kantha Sew Along project continues. The end still isn't in sight. 

I've hand-stitched the 75" length of the quilt 137 times, using approximately 285 yards of Eleganza #8 perle cotton thread... so far. The ripply texture is becoming apparent.

At the sewing machine, I'm making more improv log cabin blocks. One type of log cabin is made with four values of three colors around an orange hearth.

The second type of block is pieced from Painter's Palette neutrals in the colors white, oyster, and rice paper. Every block has a skinny black and white striped insert. 

Playing around with layouts, I think I'm leaning toward something like this, with one large centered diamond. Still working out how to join them, preferably without cutting each one into a precise square.

Book Recommendations
If you read The Rose Code by Kate Quinn - and if you haven't, you must! - then you'll know that The Diamond Eye, also by Kate Quinn is another must-read. 

This book is based on the life of female Soviet sniper Mila Pavlichenko. Mila learns to shoot, becomes a skilled rifle marksman, and after receiving certification, enlists in the army when Russia is invaded. Though she has a difficult time convincing male officers of her abilities, over time she proves herself, and earns the respect of men in her command. When Hitlerites invade Russia, Mila's skills and cunning become renown; she's known as "Lady Death." After being wounded again, instead of being returned to the front, she's sent with a Russian delegation to the US to garner help for her country from President Roosevelt. She and Eleanor Roosevelt become friends, and Mila becomes embroiled in an attempt on the president's life. 

This is such an intriguing bit of history! Don't miss the author's message at the end, explaining where she obtained factual material, how she used it, and how she wove it into a truthful and partially-fictitious story.

Linda's score: 4.5/5.0

Take Your Breath Away
 by Linwood Barclay is one of those stories that will echo in your head for several days after reading it. I believe it's because the author does such a good job of entwining fictional personality traits into the reasons for what's happened. 

Brie and Andrew Mason (a building contractor) live in an older home that they intend to either fix-up or tear down to start anew. When Andy goes away for a weekend stay at their lake home, and to spend time with his friend and business partner, Brie goes missing. No one thinks Andy is innocent, including his outspoken sister-in-law, and the lead female detective on the case. It's now six years later and a series of sightings lead Brie's husband and family to think she may be back in town. But by now, Andy has a new girlfriend whose brother is living with them, Brie's mother is dying of cancer, and there's been a recent murder.  

The male narrator, George Newbern, who plays Andrew Mason, is fantastic! If you listened to Goodnight Beautiful, also by Linwood Barclay, you'll recognize his voice. 

Linda's score: 4.3/5.0

A Room Full of Bones
by Elly Griffiths is book #4 in the Ruth Galloway series, and I think is better than the third book. Ruth is now somewhat more settled into her role as Kate's mother, and Kate has begun calling all men "Dada." An Australian rents the house next door to Ruth, intending to repatriate Aboriginal bones from the local Smith museum. When the Smith museum director is found dead next to a coffin, holding the bones of a medieval bishop, detective Nelson heads to the horse ranch of the museum's owner to begin searching for answers. Mysteries surround bones, skulls, drug-smuggling, and The Dreaming.

Linda's score 4.0/5.0 

Intending to read book 5 in this series which is A Dying Fall, I learned that there's actually a book numbered 4.5: Ruth's First Christmas Tree. It's described as a novella, and I was dismayed to find it's not available through my library apps. However, it was a happy surprise to find it's a FREE download from Google Books. So, I'll next be reading Ruth's First Christmas Tree. Then, A Dying Fall.

In a show of support for my modern quilt making friends in Central Florida MQG, I'm joining another QAL (quilt along) that I came across through Instagram. It's being co-coordinated by Shannon Fraser @shannonfraserdesigns and Amanda @broadclothstudio and is called #30DaysOfImprovQAL

Once you sign-up for their weekly email - go here to do that - each Sunday you'll receive information and instructions about making five 5"improv blocks in the upcoming week. By the end of August you'll have 25 blocks to put together into an improv quilt. 

The first email arrived Sunday with guidance for selecting five fabrics. I'm going with all solids. Painter's Palette colors from L-R are:

Daisy, Yarrow, Topaz (new color), Poseidon, and Limelight.

If you're an EQ8 user, you might like to know that Paintbrush Studios offers a swatch download of all Painter's Palette solid colors, including the new ones! I imported the swatches (they're loaded by name!) into EQ8 to use when designing a quilt. This is my QAL color mock-up created in EQ8.

I'm following the Instagram hashtag #30DaysOfImprovQAL so I hope you see you on it too! Linda

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Improv and Book Reviews

Five yards of Painter's Palette "Clementine" arrived (mail ordered from Pineapple Fabrics), and once again I'm reminded why I love this line of solids by Paintbrush Studios. In my quiltmaking history, having had two quilts suffer from fabric bleeding (though I am a life-long fabric pre-washer), I'm always cognizant of the possibility that fabric will bleed. Kaufman Kona has failed that test on several occasions. 

Yet every time, when I pre-wash Painter's Palette, the Color Catcher (can you see it in the lower left corner?) comes out white! I hope Paintbrush Studio never stops manufacturing their solids this way. As well, this Clementine exactly matches the small (less than a yard) piece of Clementine I already have in my stash. 

No bleeding? Matching dye lots? What more can a quilt maker ask for?

Now I have everything needed to begin foundation paper piecing the EQ8 improv design I came up with, however, another project has jumped into the queue - an improv log cabin quilt. 

One of several challenge themes for QuiltCon 2023 is "APQ Modern Log Cabin Quilt Challenge." (MQG members: read challenge information here.) I've never liked log cabin blocks, and have never made a log cabin quilt. However, I asked myself, "How could I make a log cabin block different, so it would be fun?" Such questions are sort of what "making modern" is all about. 

Could I make curved improv logs? Digging through and choosing colors from my bin of all solid colors (quantities of a fat quarter or less), augmented by smaller scraps sorted by colors in shoeboxes, I started with an orange center (traditional log cabins have a red center) surrounded by four values of a color. 

Since I've wanted to learn how to add "skinny inset seams" that seem to be appearing in modern quilts, I Googled to find a 2015 inset seaming blog tutorial by Stephanie Ruhle @spontaneousthreads. Stephanie made straight insets, but it wasn't difficult to make them curved, and cut from black and white striped fabric. I like where the project is going, though the layout is a big question mark. 

This is a good place to share something I heard in the book Since We Fell (review below). The character is writing a book and reflected that on some days words flowed better than other days.

I'm paraphrasing to describe a quilt maker's creative flow: 
Some days creativity flows like a faucet. Other days it's like cutting an artery.  

Ha! It's true, isn't it? When a quiltmaker is trying to make an original design, it often doesn't come easily.

Though I've been trying improvisational piecing for several years now, taking workshops as well as making my own attempts (see log cabins above!), improv remains my most personally challenging modern quiltmaking method. I have plenty of space to learn more. 

So, I registered for the free "30 Day of Improv Quilt Along" being co-hosted by @shannonfraserdesigns and @broadclothstudio. We'll be making improv blocks during the month of August. Today, the quilt along features a free Zoom lecture by Pat Bravo (Art Gallery Fabrics) who will talk about color.

It's not too late to join in. Go here to register on the form that looks like this.

Book Recommendations

The House at Sea's End is the third book in the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths. Since listening to the first book, I haven't been able to get them as audiobooks, so this is another e-book that I read on my iPhone.

Dr. Ruth Galloway, a forensic archeologist, continues to work with the local police whenever a body is discovered. So when six skeleton's are found lodged in a seaside cliff that has begun crumbling away, Ruth is called in. As she investigates, and works with Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson, she's still uncertain about her relationship him. He's a married man with two daughters. Ruth's own daughter, Kate, has a naming celebration organized by druid Cathbad, and Kate is also baptized.  

Linda's score: 3.8/5.0

The New Neighbor by Carter Wilson is about Aidan the father of twins who, on the same day he buries his wife, also learns he's won the lottery. Now a millionaire (several times over), the story picks up weeks later as he's moved himself and children into a grand home in Bury, New Hampshire. What Aidan doesn't learn until he moves in, is that the house has a history. More than a year ago, the previous owner and several family members went missing, and still haven't been found. Aidan begins receiving threatening notes, and even though his past sins begin to loom, he's determined to find out what happened to the family. His efforts lead to more fear and danger for Aidan and his twins.

Linda's score: 3.9/5.0

Best Friends Forever by Margot Hunt is an unlikely story about a chance meeting in an airport between two women who live near one another in Jupiter, Florida. One of them, Kat, is unhappily married and super-rich and the other, Alice, is somewhat happily married with two children, but struggling to pay bills. 

When Kat's husband is found dead, having fallen from the balcony of their gorgeous mansion, suspicions are roused when a witness reports seeing a woman on the balcony with him. Both Kat and Alice are suspect, and two detectives are determined to identify the murderer.

Linda's score: 3.8/5.0

Since We Fell by Dennis LeHane reminds me why I don't often read books written by male authors. Of course there are exceptions, but this book isn't one of them. There's entirely too much unnecessary "f-bomb" dropping, and the story moves very slowly. I nearly left it unfinished, but I wanted to know what happened to Rachel. 

When the story begins, Rachel's mother has just died, having never revealed to Rachel the name of her father. So she begins her search starting with detective, Brian, then to a friend of her mother's, and finally to her father. Rachel, who is a Boston TV reporter, has a break-down while on air, is in an unhappy marriage, and becomes a recluse. She reconnects with Brian, and he's almost too good to be true. He leads her on a path she never could have imagined herself on.  

Linda's score: 3.2/5.0
I guess you can tell that I've been tearing through books as I've spent time in my sewing room (still hand quilting that "bless-ed" Kantha quilt!) and power walking frequently. I apologize for the brevity of the book reviews. Writing these still feels like an unpleasant homework assignment, but hopefully my scores give you the guidance you need to decide whether or not to read a title.

You may be interested to know - and perhaps a little happy for me - that we have made the decision to NOT have our Bismarck palm removed. A second tree man, who actually came to the house to access the tree, affirmed that it's beautiful, healthy, and asked: "Why would you want to take it out? Trees grow in Florida." So, instead of taking it out and selling it (which he told us he would do), next week we'll have it groomed to remove a few broken/dead fronds and seed pods. By the way, we also learned that our Bismarck is a "he." 

We are relieved and happy about this momentous decision which was "more difficult than buying a new car," according to hubs. We'll continue to enjoy the palm for many years - truly a "flourishing palm." 


Thursday, July 14, 2022

Summertime, and the Livin' is Easy

Not much new has been going on since my last post. Each day has an activity: line dancing, power walking, Zoom Bible study, Central Florida MQG, Big Cypress Quilter's, and oh... a quilter's pool party! That was fun. Seventeen of us shared a long hot afternoon eating hot dogs, mac 'n cheese, dishes everyone brought to share, and root beer floats, as all the while we were in and out of a gorgeous pool. 

A complimentary issue of Curated Quilts - this one with the theme "utility" - arrive last Friday.

I received it because my "Grandma's Scraps" quilt, made in the Kawandi-style using the challenge fabric (along the outside border) and vintage scraps, was selected to appear in the mini challenge section, in the back of the journal. 

I've previously had quilts selected for issues: Triangles; Stripes; Collaborate, and Youth  - and I can honestly say that the happiness of having a quilt in print doesn't diminish.

If you're interested in an annual subscription to Curated Quilts (no advertising, ever!), use this link to get a 10% discount.

Á la Amy Friend @duringquiettime from whom I learned (in a virtual workshop) Improv Paper Piecing, based on her book by the same name, I settled on an improv block design for a quilt. I used EQ8 to design the block that I'll sew into a modern quilt using only solids. After making several test blocks of various colors and sizes, I landed on an 8" square block in colors that are a big step out of my comfort zone: Sangria, Hot Pink, and Clementine for the background (Painter's Palette solids). 

I'm also using a new-to-me foundation paper piecing method with quilting freezer paper sheets purchased  here. I think I'm going to like this method! First, you don't need to shorten the sewing machine stitch length, and second, using my Bernina #10D (dual feed) edge stitch foot to glide along the freezer paper fold makes a perfectly straight line!

I went through all my threads to see what I could come up with for machine piecing, and machine and hand quilting. I was pleased to pull this assortment of Aurifil, Wonderfil, and DMC. Since I had enough Sangria and Hot Pink fabrics in my stash, I cut out all the pieces needed to make a 64" X 72" quilt. I'm awaiting delivery of five yards of Clementine so I can get started. 

Every evening I continue to slog away, hand quilting my Kantha quilt (I also took it to Big Cypress Quilters on Tuesday and got in three hours of stitching there). I sure don't know why stitching this seems endless. Maybe it's because I'm seeing more and more Kantha-makers showing their finishes. 

I still have a long way to go.

Today I counted, to find I've stitch 106 times along the 75" length of the quilt.

I have 84 more passes to make. 

In August 2013, we had our yard landscaped, and among other plants, this five foot-tall Bismarck palm was planted. The landscaper told us, "It's slow-growing." 

Ha! This is what it looks like today, not quite nine years later. We're guessing it's about 40 feet tall. as it's taller than the peak of our house, and hubs is no longer able to reach and cut off the lower palm fronds as they die. Since a Bismarck can get up to 60 to 70 feet tall, and it's already overpowering our small front yard, we've gotten an estimate to have it removed. Gulp.  

Though it's a perfectly healthy, gorgeous specimen of a Bismarck, the longer we wait the more it will cost to remove. So, September may be when it's taken out. I'm insisting on holding off through August because the fronds block the west sun on the roof in the late afternoon. My heart doesn't want to take it out, but my head is telling me we must. 

Book RecommendationsWith the reading of The Return by Nicholas Sparks I've gone back to an "old" author whose first books I remember reading: The Notebook, and Message in a Bottle. Sparks hasn't changed his writing style, and can still touch the soft parts of a woman's heart. This charming story left me with that ooey-gooey feeling. Do you know what I mean? 

The Return is narrated by a man because the story is told from the perspective of Trevor Benson. He has returned to his deceased grandfather's home in New Bern (North Carolina) where he created many happy childhood memories, including learning bee-keeping. As he tends the bees, and gets the house fixed-up anticipating selling it, he reacquaints himself with the community. He also meets Natalie who works in the sheriff's department, and Callie, a teenager who often trudges past Trevor's house. As Trevor is adjusting to his life since being wounded in Afghanistan and considers what he'll do with himself now that he can no longer practice surgery, his interest in Natalie deepens. Though they both feel a connection, she's reticent about herself. What isn't she telling him? And why is Callie so angry, and defensive? 
Linda's score: 3.9/4.0 Between Two Kingdoms by Suleika Jaouad is a difficult book to score. When a story is true, and sad, and makes you contemplate death, and how to live, it's not easy to say, "I enjoyed this." Still, I recommend it because it contains many profound insights. 

Suleika narrates the audiobook in a slow-speaking voice with an odd way of pronouncing words that contain the letter "t." Perhaps that comes from being multi-lingual with Arabic and French speaking parents. I found it a relaxing listen, in spite of the topic. I'll just come out and say it: while in her early twenties, Suleika is diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. It's a terrible, painful disease, that involves difficult treatments and side effects. Suleika takes the reader through it all. She also examines her emotions, and those of her parents and boyfriend. As difficult as her experience was (you know she survived because she's narrating it!) her insightfulness through the experience leads her to acceptance as she takes a cross-country trip to meet face-to-face with some of the people who wrote to her during the worst of her illness.

Unknown to me, Suleika wrote about her cancer experiences as she was going through them, for The New York Times, and also spoke on NPR. Hence the reason people knew her/wrote to her.  I followed-up on her whereabouts after finishing the book.

For the sheer intensity of her story, and for the timely coincidence of this book recommendation (just as an Iowa friend has recently died from the same disease: acute myeloid leukemia), I'm scoring it high. If nothing else, the book will remind you to appreciate good health and the life it allows you to live.

Linda's score: 4.0/5.0

Thursday, July 7, 2022

July Doin's

I continue to plod along on my Alison Glass Stitch Club Kantha Sew Along. Five more balls of Wonderful size 8 perle cotton/Eleganza arrived, and I've cut into two of them. Good thing this along has an August due date because I'd be hard-pressed to finish any sooner! 

Maybe Kantha has been slow-going because I've been distracted by other projects. I finished my Quilting Guild of The Villages "30 Challenge" quilt. I'm calling it "Party, Times 30."

It's entirely improv-pieced from my scrap containers. After machine ruler quilting, I completed it with big stitch hand quilting using four colors (red, aqua, green and yellow) of Wonderful #8 Eleganza.

The scrappiness of the design represents the various places and backgrounds our guild's 1,100+ members come from. We're "scrapped together" in 27 chapters, with colorful characters and personalities in each one. They're represented by the bright pops of red, aqua, green and yellow which appear in the guild's logo colors and flying geese shapes. 

Per challenge requirements, it measures 24" X 24". From the back... 

A UFO turned into this 68" X 85" quilt top. I have no clue what to call it. It began as assorted colors of solid 8½" X 8½" squares that I paired with more squares, cut up, pieced and then joined with inset squares of charcoal-colored linen. 

I intentionally inserted two columns of sashing - solids and linen rectangles - to make the quilt top wider at 68". 

I've been considering how to quilt it, thinking a curved design, perhaps like all over clam shells, might be appropriate. Or echoing circles around each square. Thoughts?

Book Recommendations
Most of the book, The Unsinkable Greta James by Jennifer E. Smith, takes place during an eight-day Alaskan cruise. Though I've cruised only once, it was easy to imagine the ship - Greta keeps calling it a boat - and the activities that were offered.

Greta is on the cruise only because her mother, who was supposed to be on the cruise with Conrad, Greta's dad, has recently died. Greta is trying to get along with Conrad with whom she's never had an amicable relationship. She's also reaccessing her career; she's a renown guitarist. She lives to play her guitar, write music and lyrics, and travel all over the world, but after a failed performance, captured on video and gone viral, she's questioning her success. While onboard, she meets a Columbia professor and author who adores books by Jack London. Greta spends time with him. While whale-watching and on a glacier-trekking excursion, they all learn more about themselves. 

Linda's score: 3.7/5.0

I was attracted to the book Jane of Austin by Hillary Manton Lodge because of the title. And then I was happy to have picked it for the places it references.

Jane, Cecilia and Margo are sisters whose mother has died and whose dad has created a financial scandal in San Francisco. The sisters must fend for themselves, so they open a tea shop. In spite of being successful, they're forced to look for a different location. Low on money, they accept a cousin's offer of a place to stay and the opportunity to set up a new shop in Austin, Texas. 

What happens in Austin defines them. Love; love lost; love found. I liked the clean wholesomeness of their lives.

While listening to a book, I often learn something. The tidbit in this book will have me going to Amy's Ice Creams (350 flavors!) and Torchy's for tacos, the next time I'm in Austin visiting grandchildren! Also, if you like to bake, the book includes recipes for scones, macarons, and kolaches (I've never eaten one).

Linda's score: 3.8/5.0



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