Monday, December 14, 2015

Launching into Quilting Vintage

Recently I joined a new group on Facebook called Quilting Vintage which quickly grew to over 2500 members from around the world. This group, organized by Kelly Cline, a longarm quilter from Lawrence, Kansas, takes vintage linens of all kinds--hankies, dresser scarves, table napkins, table cloths, and more--and gives them new life by custom quilting them. Some are matted and framed, some are bound and turned into wall hangings or table toppers, some are turned into pillow shams or pillow covers. Each item is unique and so far I haven't seen anything that didn't turn out spectacular! Many of those in the group are using their longarms to quilt these vintage items. Others, like me, use our sewing machines or sit-down quilters (I have a HandiQuilter Sweet 16). Whatever technique used, the results are amazing.

I looked through my mother's cedar chest that resides in my closet and found I had saved quite a few of her linen table napkins, a couple of dresser scarves, a whole box of my mom's and grandmother's hankies, a couple of bridge-size table cloths, and a few other items. I've wanted to do one of these projects since I first saw them a few months ago, but it took me longer to get started than I expected. There were many other projects in line before I could play.

I decided to use one of these lovely linen napkins for my first vintage quilting project. I have several of these, so figured if I didn't like the outcome I could try again. The applique and cutwork are so delicate and there's even a crocheted edging around the corner that adds a beautiful touch.

For my process, because I'm a sit-down quilter, I have to pin-baste my layers together before I can quilt. I had in my stash several yards of a gorgeous mauve Shantung poly silk that I had bought to make a dress that never got made. It was the perfect color for the background. I expected the little bit of cutwork in the napkin would let the silk show through after quilting. I've worked with Shantung on quilting projects before and knew I would need to stabilize it with Best Press before I could pin it.

Once that was done, I used my mesh grid and pounce to mark the grid around the on-point square I marked off for the napkin placement so I could stitch the grid and quilt orange peel as the background.

The typical way to begin a project like this is to quilt the center first, working out towards the edges. I wanted to applique the napkin over the orange peel background, so did the background first. The quilted grid and orange peel shrunk up the piece significantly, more than I had expected. I was a little worried at first, but, again, figured if it turned out badly I could start over with another napkin. When I placed the napkin on the silk after the entire background had been quilted, it overlapped the orange peel by several inches, which meant some of the puff I wanted in the linen quilting would not be there since the piece was already quilted behind it. Such is life.

I centered the linen napkin over the central square, distributing the amount of orange peel behind it as evenly as I could and started quilting. I outlined it by quilting just inside the scalloped edge first to secure the piece and then started the journey of what to quilt and where. I knew I wanted to do pebbling around the applique and cutwork, so I started in that corner first.

Something I've learned about myself as I've continued to do custom quilting is that I can visualize what I want, but I cannot draw it with pencil and paper. Once I'm at the quilting machine, I can quilt what I visualized and often later laugh at the lines I tried to sketch out with a water soluble pen before starting. I didn't even take a picture of my sketched idea, but instead did some quilting based on what I had imagined, and spritzed the napkin last night before I went to bed so it would be dry to work on today.

This morning's class was cancelled, so I came back home and started to work expanding the quilting and got almost half done before returning to the shop for an afternoon class. When I got home, I went back to it once again and before supper had finished quilting the entire piece. Once I started, I didn't want to quit! There's not only a lot of orange peel, there are a lot of pebbles, too!

The bow I envisioned is a little bulkier than I might have wanted, especially the center knot, but overall I'm delighted with my first try at quilting vintage! I threw in a few swirls, and added feathers up both sides into the corners. It was fun making the feathers bump into the scallops up both sides of the napkin.

Since I do my feathers free motion, they are entirely organic and don't mirror each other. If I want "perfect" feathers, I use a stencil, but not this time. I found that there were places I could tell where the napkin overlapped the background orange peel quilting. The feathers were flat in those spots, but overall, I'm very happy with my first attempt. It's a learning process, experimenting with the designs, testing the sequence to see what works to attain the look I want. There are a few things I will do differently next time.
With this piece complete and ready for binding and a hanging sleeve, I'm already looking at what piece I want to try next. I'm definitely hooked and look forward to playing and creating more interesting vintage quilted pieces!

More snippets from the sewing room soon,

Sunday, November 29, 2015

When iced in... Quilt!

Driving into the sunset on Wednesday evening.
On Wednesday afternoon, I drove 2 hours to one of my best friend's homes to spend the long holiday weekend. I joined Linda and her family for Thanksgiving dinner for the third year in a row where, this year, we had over a dozen children to entertain us! It was such a joy to see so many children among us as the family continues to grows and friends with children are included in the celebrations. With plenty of food and fellowship, we were blessed to be together on an icy day. The remnants of that meal will feed several of us for several days this week as we enjoy leftovers.

Carving the turkey and ham, getting ready to feed the crowd!
The kids are gathering at the kid-table, ready for their Thanksgiving feast!
The rest of the weekend was spent staying in and warm at the sewing machine while the ice continued to accumulate throughout the weekend.
The leaves were coated with ice that only got thicker as the weekend progressed.

A stack of over a dozen movies still sit on Linda's TV stand that we watched throughout the weekend as light entertainment. To say the time spent was productive would be an understatement. Two tops were completed, a third has all of its parts ready for the design wall, and a fourth has the hand-binding over half done. Only one project remained untouched, but I have the necessary foot (thank you to another friend who loaned it to me!) to complete the pintucking necessary before the applique can be done.
Stitching the final rows of half-hexies together to complete the Snowday top.
Snowday hexified panel top complete! Now to decide on borders for finishing.

The parts of the Snowday hexified panel were nearly ready to be assembled when I left home. I completed sewing the rows of half-hexies together for the last section and then successfully framed the panel to fit and assembled the top. Additional borders will be added before it is entirely complete, but this is a great step forward in getting it done.
Experimenting with layout options for the remaining sets of triangles of Skylines.

The pairs of triangles are sewn and their thirds are waiting to be sewn on.

Half of the strips cut for the Skylines hexified panel had been cut into triangles and sewn together at a previous retreat. This weekend I cut the remaining strips into triangles and got them all sewn together into half-hexies, and all of the halves are now pinned together.
All of the Skyline hexies are pinned and ready for the design wall.

Original design Elvis quilt top is ready for borders and quilting!
Another project I took along was one I had started several months ago. A good friend from California had purchased several pieces of Elvis Presley fabric that she had sent to me to turn into items for her to gift among friend in the Elvis Fan Club she belongs to out in Los Angeles. This weekend I finally put the final stitches in the top of the throw. I even have enough of one of the fabrics to cover about 80% of the back, so with a little inventive piecing, even the back will be Elvis!

Hand stitching the binding to finish The Iris.

As projects got completed towards the end of our weekend, I pulled out The Iris and made it over half way around, hand-stitching the binding down to get it finished up. All in all, I got so much accomplished this weekend! It was so amazing having the entire holiday weekend to dedicate to finishing or making significant progress on several projects. Good company, good food, a warm place to work, can't be beat!

By the end of the weekend, it had rained/sleeted/iced for three days and there was about 1/2" or more of ice on everything. Luckily by Sunday morning the temperatures had climbed up above freezing, so the treated roads were just wet for driving. As I prepared for my drive home, I took some amazing pictures of the ice on trees and grass. Although an ice storm is nothing to play with and can be very deadly, it is still gorgeous to see. I left during a window of mid-30s when it sleeted or rained much of the way home. The forecast tonight calls for more freezing rain and ice overnight across central Kansas, so I am grateful to be home safe and warm after an amazing weekend.

More snippets from the sewing room soon,

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Holiday Baking Tradition Continues

Today I took a break from quilting and spent a good portion of my day baking the traditional Norwegian Christmas bread, Yulekaga, that my dad and his parents before him, and I'm sure his Norwegian grandparents before them have always baked for the holidays. The recipe that was handed down to me makes a large enough batch of bread dough to make five loaves! As my dad always did, I bake one batch just before Thanksgiving and another batch shortly before Christmas. Most loaves are gifted either to friends locally or sent to special friends and family across the country.

As a child I remember Dad getting home from work about 4:30pm and my mom having all of the ingredients set out on the kitchen table ready for him to begin the process as soon as he walked in the door. From beginning to end, it takes close to 8 hours to make yulekaga, so he would be lucky to be getting it out of the oven by midnight. My special job back then was to open the cardamom seed pods to extract the seeds, which were then placed in a small (and now very old) wooden pepper grinder that was kept in the spice cupboard for that sole purpose. I'd then course-grind the seeds into a small bowl that would get emptied into the bread dough at just the right moment as directed by Dad.  

My dad getting ready to bake the annual batch of Yulekaga
During the 7-1/2 years I lived with and cared for my parents from 2004 to 2012, I helped Dad with the bread-making process each year. It was a sad day when I came home from work towards the end of our time together and found that Dad had killed the yeast and forgotten several key ingredients. From then on he "supervised" as I took over the duty for him.

The recipe as given to me goes as follows:
  • 1 quart milk
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 6 eggs 
  • 1 Tbs ground cardamom seed
  • 1/2 lb butter
  • 1 Tbs salt
  • 3 pkg yeast
  • 10 cups flour
  • 1 lb candied fruit & peel
  • 1 lb raisins
  • 1 lb golden raisins
Scald milk and add sugar. Cool to lukewarm (using a candy thermometer to get in the correct temp range to activate the yeast). Add yeast and half flour.* Beat well. Add salt and eggs. Beat well. Blend in melted butter and add remaining flour. Mix in ground cardamom and fruit.    *I add the cardamom with the first half of the flour for better flavor distribution.

Place in greased bowl and let rise until double (approx 2 hours). Punch down and knead, put back in bowl and let rise again (approx 2 hours). Punch down and knead, divide into five equal parts and place in greased loaf pans and allow to rise again (approx 2 hour). Bake at 350 for ~1 hour.
Gathering the ingredients for the first batch of Yulekaga of 2015.

After comparing recipes with my cousins, it turns out there are variations. One uses condensed milk instead of milk as I've found in several online recipes. Another variation is how it was baked. My dad's brother always put the dough into the old metal coffee cans and baked tall round loaves instead of using purchased loaf pans. However it's made, I'm grateful several cousins are also continuing our grandparents' tradition.

I've made this recipe so many times now that I have it memorized, so when I get to the grocery store I can easily grab what I know is missing from my pantry on baking day. The only limitation to making it is that the candied fruit and peel is only available from just before Thanksgiving through Christmas. Once it's gone, it's gone until the next winter holiday season. The last few years of my caregiving time, I purchased several extra tubs and put them in the freezer so I could make it anytime so Dad never ran out. Having a slice of toasted and buttered yulekaga with a cup of coffee was his favorite mid-morning snack.
Blending the ground cardamom into the batter after the first half of the flour is added gives a better flavor distribution.

The only thing I have changed on the recipe is when to add the ground cardamom. Instead of waiting to add it with the fruit, I add it after the first half of the flour is added to the batter. It gets distributed throughout the dough much better than waiting until after all of the flour is added.

The dough doubles in size each of the three times it rises--twice in the large bowl and once in the loaf pans.
Once the dough has raised twice in the large bowl, it gets dumped back onto the large cutting board to be punched down and kneaded again, then divided into five portions to be put in the loaf pans to rise a third time.
My loaf pans include the one my mom used to make and cut her fudge. Do you see the score marks?

The loaf pans I use include several that my dad used that had also doubled as fudge pans for my mom. There are still knife scoring lines in the pans where she cut the fudge.
Dough has raised a third and final time in the individual loaf pans and is ready to bake!

To get the five loaves into the oven all together, I place two across the back end-to-end, then three next to each other in front of them.

Tonight I set the timer and brought it in the living room so I would hear it. It's a new one as my old one died. Well... this one doesn't work either. It never dinged... at all... I was sitting in my rocker reading bedtime stories to my 3-year-old grandson and after the last book realized I didn't hear the timer ticking. I got up to look and it had stopped at 0 without making a noise! Yikes! I went into the kitchen, opened the oven, and discovered that the baking time for this batch was exactly the length it took to read four bedtime storybooks. Perfect timing!
Freshly baked loaves of Yulekaga are cooling on racks, waiting to be bagged and frozen until gifting.

The bread is cooling and will be double bagged and put into my freezer until time to gift it.

After a fun evening of playing with Mormor's wooden train set, Jacob is sound asleep on the makeshift bed of couch cushions. He was perfect company this evening and we plan on having a wonderful play day together tomorrow. We will start our day with a piece of toasted yulekaga for breakfast as promised by Mormor at bedtime.

More snippets from the sewing room soon,

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Through the Ashes, Bringing Hope

My friend Jeannie and her family lost their home to a forest fire in Bastrop, Texas, several years ago. She was blessed to be gifted a quilt for her daughter's toddler bed that is now being used by her younger daughter in their new home. This fall there was another round of forest fires around Bastrop that destroyed the home of someone she knew with a small daughter. She asked me, knowing I'm a quilter, if I could help by making a toddler-bed sized quilt to gift to this family. I've made blocks and quilts for victims of house fire before through a Facebook group called Sew It Forward. That group hasn't been active lately, so I knew this was something I wanted to do.
I went in my stash and found this delightful Daisy Kingdom fabric from several years ago that I had bought with thoughts of making something for my granddaughter before life turned upside-down with my move to care for my parents in 2004. I pulled it out and thought it was perfect! Bright, cheerful, perfect for a little girl who just had her life turned upside-down.
Border print framed with the smiling daisies became the backing for this quilt.

What started out as the pieced back later became the front, embellished with quilting and thread painting.

I took the yardage with me to a sew-day and started cutting pieces to put together. Using the border print bordered by the smiling daisy print for the top was my initial thought; however, as the friends I was stitching with watched my progress, they loved the randomly pieced backing and thought it should be the front. I switched gears and went with it. As the layout came together, I found I needed one more piece to fill in a few blank spots. There just wasn't quite enough there in the three original prints to make the entire quilt, front and back. I found the purple in the shop where we were sewing and picked up a half-yard cut to fill in those open spots. Before we left that day, the top and back were pieced and ready to sandwich. I even got approval of the top layout by our youngest quilter who even posed for a quick pic!
I packed up and went home from our sew-day to sandwich and begin quilting right away. I knew Jeannie wanted to get this quilt delivered as soon as possible, so it needed to get finished and shipped off to Texas quick! That weekend I was able to work on it and completed the quilting, and got it bound. I sent it through the washer & dryer, and packaged it up to ship in record time. I used two spools of poly thread, one pink and one purple, through a single needle on my Handiquilter Sweet Sixteen to thread-paint the lettering of "You are my Sunshine" in the large yellow block. I had used a water soluble marker to draw registration lines and then draw the letters to follow with my stitching. I then stippled around it with a swirl meander.
Then I moved on to the other blocks. Most of it was quilted in pink, and some in a soft yellow. The yellow sides of the half-square triangles were quilted with feathers in pink thread, and modified orange peels filled the smiling daisy halves. One of the smiling sun blocks and several flowers and bugs on the large print were outlined to give them dimension, while the rest of the quilt was quilted with swirls and loopy meanders.
I added the words "love" and "hope" in the quilting of the two small horizontal yellow blocks near the top of the quilt. I was delighted with the results of my last minute, stash busting efforts to create a quilt for a little one who needed comfort after she and her parents lost their home to fire.
The quilt has safely made it to Texas and has been delivered to the family. I blessed and released this quilt with no expectation of acknowledgement as this family recreates their life from ashes. I pray that the little girl who received this quilt feels the love that went into every stitch to bring her comfort.

More snippets from the sewing room soon,

Four Different Looks, Same Pattern

Recently a friend asked me to quilt four table runners for her, three of which will be offered at a spring charity fundraiser. All four were made from the Charmed Table Runner digital download pattern from Annie's Craft Store using charm squares and coordinating yardage. Three were made with fabrics from three different universities near and dear to people in our region of Kansas--University of Kansas, Kansas State University, and the University of Oklahoma (yes, we have friends in southcentral Kansas who love OU!). She also had one made in Christmas fabrics for a gift exchange.

As I began thinking about about how to quilt them, I decided each had to have its own personality. So the thought process of how to quilt each one differently was started as I put my free-motion quilting ideas and skills to the test at Sassy, my HandiQuilter Sweet Sixteen. I started with the Christmas runner figuring swirls and snowballs (large pebbling) would be great for the center with a loopy meander in the charm square border. It came out great and had a wonderful wintry feel to the quilting.

Next I moved on to the University of Oklahoma. This one I decided to do some linear ruler work in the border, quilting lines 1-1/2" apart and adding a second line 1/4" away in the charm square border. At the corners, a cool windowpane plaid design appears where the linear lines intersect.  The center was quilted with swirls and I added feathers in the setting triangles at both ends. Overall, the look is quite nice!

I was gaining confidence as I moved on to the Kansas State University runner. This time I changed things up and quilted a 1" crosshatching in the center part and swirls in the charm square border, adding feathers to the setting triangles at either end of the center section.

Finally, I moved on to the University of Kansas runner. Being a huge Jayhawk fan, this is my favorite of the four. Going for a completely different look on this one, I pulled out my various rulers and templates and picked the HandiGadgets 8"x4" Arc B2. With this template lined up 1/4" away so my arcs would meet at the intersections, I quilted arcs in each charm squares around the quilt, including the setting triangles. The center section was crosshatched at 2" creating a nice balance in quilting density across the runner.

It amazed even me how different each one looked once completely quilted with the different designs! Having returned them to my friend, I'm looking forward to seeing them trimmed and bound soon. It was a fun challenge for me to create four unique pieces from the same pattern. I love challenges and look forward to new ones with coming projects!

More snippets from the sewing room soon,