Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Stepping Stones

Four and a half years ago when I was in Sisters, Oregon for the annual outdoor show, I picked up several yards of a colorful print fabric that I just fell in love with. The fabric was designed by Valori Wells, a native of Sisters and co-owner of the shop that sponsors the annual show. I wasn't quite sure what I was going to do with it, but I was pretty obsessed by it. Some months later I was browsing through my copy of the book We Love Color, a compilation of quilts by designers using all solid-colored fabrics. Ironically, Valori Wells has a quilt in the book, but it wasn't her design that spoke to me, it was the one by Lisa Call. This link will take you to her blog and a picture of the quilt she made for the book. Her inspiration for the design is pretty cool. Anyhow, I was able to take her muted color palette and translate it into my bright, colorful version of "Stepping Stones."

I love this quilt. All of the colors in the focus fabric are used for the "stones" in the various blocks. I used the lines created by the blocks, big and small, to quilt uneven parallel lines vertically and horizontally along the quilt. I found the perfect shade of Aurifil 50 wt. thread that matched the eggplant background. These pictures were taken after I washed the quilt and it shrunk just enough to give it that puffy, soft feel.

Some of the blocks went a bit wonky in the quilting--it's not technically perfect. But I don't care. I made it as a souvenir of a fabulous vacation and to celebrate a gorgeous piece of fabric. Also, this quilt serves as a lovely reminder of my sister--I cut all the fabrics during her final visit out here when she was still healthy enough to travel.

See? I loved that fabric so much, I put it on the back.

It took me about 4 days to make the quilt top. I let it sit for over two years until I began quilting it last fall while I watched football. I finished it up in January. My second finish of the year!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

TBR Day. Finding Comfort on the Keeper Shelf

I know that TBR Day is all about tackling those unread books cluttering up our shelves and/or devices. Usually, it's not that hard for me to find something to read. But since the outside world has become an unstable and scary place, I find myself drawn to the tried and true, drawn to what I know I will like. And of course, I also find myself spending more time sewing and getting lost in creative spaces. These are good places for me to escape to when there is time to do so-- and I have become incredibly grateful that I have both the time and the means. I try not to take it for granted.

Concurrently, when Jo Beverley passed away last year, I promised myself I would re-read all of her books. I decided to start with the Rogues series and I picked up The Arranged Marriage back in November. It wasn't until a couple of weeks ago that I moved on to book 2, An Unwilling Bride and then as soon as I finished that one I devoured Christmas Angel over the weekend. I first read these books over 10 years ago and it is delightful to be reminded of little details that have long since been forgotten. My understanding of the history of the years surrounding Waterloo has increased during the last decade, so my appreciating of the setting of these books is, I believe, greater.

So today, I simply say thank you to Jo Beverley and all the writers like her who wound up on my keeper shelf. There is as much joy, if not more joy in re-reading a book as there was the first time around. We call them comfort reads for a reason and this week I think I need as much comfort as I can find. 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

First Finish of the Year

In 2016 I did a lot of sewing, but didn't finish that many things. My goal this year is to catch up on all of those UFOs (Un-Finished Objects) that surround me. I'm going to have to start a few things from scratch, too. I've signed up for 2 more mini-quilt swaps on Instagram and our extended family is expecting two new babies later in the year. I'll be busy making quilts for them.

Meanwhile I can celebrate this little 18" quilt that I finished earlier this week. It's from the Black & White mini-quilt swap that I signed up for in November. This one will be going to Sweden next week. I can't wait to see what I'll get in return!

The original pattern is called "Christmas Lanterns" from the book 101 Fabulous Small Quilts. I reduced the size by 50% and left off the borders. There are 288 rectangles that measure .75" x 1.5" finished. The quilting is cross-hatched, following the seam lines with white Aurifil 50 wt. thread.

My Audible playlist while I worked included Morning Glory and Ain't She Sweet.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

More Mini Quilts

In my last quilting post I talked about some Instagram swaps I joined this fall. The second swap was a Christmas Tree mini quilt using the Geometric Christmas Tree pattern by Kristy Lea. My partner in this tree swap wanted a modern minimalist look and a glance at her Instagram feed gave me the idea to use a black constellation fabric I found last summer. I made a test quilt, didn't quite like the very light green that looked white, and made a second one for my partner. I finished them both, and kept the first for my own Christmas decorating.

So here's the first one:

I think the gray thread that I used for the quilting overshadows the constellation print just a little. Still, I really do like how this turned out.

But my second attempt was MUCH better:
I used black thread for the background and a wider cross-hatch for just the tree. The constellations are easier to see. I also got rid of the pale green fabric as I mentioned above.

Here's the lovely tree I received in return from a quilter in North Dakota. I love that she chose red and used some gold beads for a little bling.

After finishing the swap, I made identical mini sewing machine quilts for my QBFFs. Once again using a Kristy Lea pattern, this time the Geometric Sewing Machine.
These were made with the rainbow of fabric in the Blueberry Park collection by Karen Lewis. Some close-ups:

All of these mini quilts are less than 16" x 16". It feels good to have finished a few things, even if they are small. I'm working on one more swap that's due in mid-January. Still having lots of fun!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

TBR Day. A Kind of Honor / Joan Wolf. 1980

Wow. This book is nearly 40 years old. And no, it hasn't been in my TBR pile 36 years. I bought it used a number of years ago, so I have had it a while. The romance I read these days is written much differently than it was back in the 80's. It was kind of refreshing to read a book so noticeably different in style and tone from those published today.

A Kind of Honor is Joan Wolf's second published book. (And it's a vast improvement over her first book, which I reviewed for TBR Day 6-1/2 years ago.) This one takes place during the winter/spring of 1812-13. England is preparing for what it hopes will be a final and decisive blow against Napoleon's army in Spain. But there's a traitor leaking vital information to the French. Our hero, Adam, who is home after being wounded in Spain, is tasked with finding and stopping the leak.

It's made obvious right away that the traitor is a French émigré, the Duc de Gacé. Gacé is married to an Englishwoman, who is described as the most beautiful and gracious woman in Society. Amanda, or "Nanda" to her family, is unhappy in her marriage to Gacé. Her focus is on her step-daughter and her son. As Adam works to expose Gacé, he falls in love with Nanda and she with him. So now he must also find a way to free her from her husband.

The book is told primarily from Adam's point of view. Occasionally we are let into Nanda's head. A couple of the transitions were a bit abrupt and confusing-- I chalk that up to it being some of Wolf's earliest writing. But there's also a feeling of distance from the characters. There's an awful lot of telling and not much showing. In many ways, it reminded me of some Presents I've read that were also written in the 80's. Anyhow, there's so much focus on Adam and his work that the romance is very much in the background. So that part didn't work so well.

What did work well was the historical aspect. This book is firmly rooted in time and place. Not only are the efforts to defeat Napoleon front and center, but there's a genuine feel that the social mores of the time are important. When they are broken (because yes, there is adultery) they are not broken lightly.

For those of us who like our historicals to have that strong sense of time and place, this book works very well. It's also interesting to look at an author's earliest writing. Only two years after this would come His Lordship's Mistress, which is one of my all-time favorites. But unfortunately, A Kind of Honor lacks that emotional connection that I'm always hoping for. Still, I have to say that even though I wished for more romance, I really did enjoy reading it.

Friday, October 28, 2016

A Few Finished Projects

I haven't shown off any of my finished projects since last spring when I finished the purple and green quilt I'd first begun for my sister. As I look around, it doesn't seem as if I've finished all that much stuff, yet I've been spending a lot more time sewing over the last 6 months than I used to. As is typical for me, I am working on half a dozen thing simultaneously. It's kind of like how I read--a library book here, a book on my phone everywhere, another book on my Kindle over there, and an audio book in the car. Sometimes I feel like a poster child for middle-aged ADD. But I'm managing to be productive.

One thing I'm also doing? Hanging out on Instagram. It's where a lot of the other quilters are. I've discovered swaps! Too. Much. Fun. There's more about that below.

Anyway, there's proof I've made stuff!!

First up is this little backpack. I found the pattern on Craftsy. It's not very big, about 8" x 11" and not designed to hold anything really heavy. It was perfect to use on my vacation instead of a purse. It wasn't the easiest thing to make, to be honest, but I was very happy with how it turned out.

Here's a paper-pieced mini quilt. The patterns are from Designer's Workshop. Artist and designer, Eileen Sullivan, sells the best patterns. I own quite a few of them. You'll see that the little hanging below is similar to a set of fall leaves I made last year. Anyhow I love these little projects and have plans to work on those other patterns I have. They are great ways to use up scraps of fabric in my stash.

Lots of quilters on Instagram take part in mini quilt swaps. Someone organizes a swap based on a theme. Quilters sign up and agree to make a small quilt, usually no more than 16" square, and send it to someone in exchange for receiving one in turn. After following a couple of these swaps, I decided to enter my first one. This swap used the paper piecing patterns by Kristy Lea, aka QuietPlay. My partner requested a block out of Kristy's Retro Kitchen collection. So here's what I made:

And here's what I received in return:
It's even prettier in person. Check out the detail in the binding. I need to try that technique sometime.

There are some stunning pieces in this swap that involved over 300 people from around the world. Search #quietplayswap on Instagram for a peek. Needless to say, I'm hooked. And currently entered in two more swaps! Wait til you see the little Christmas tree I'm working on. Or, if you want an advanced sneak peak, you'll find me over there as @QuilterPhyl. I've already posted one picture.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

TBR Day. Cold Pursuit / Toni Anderson. 2014

I've had a few book in Toni Anderson's Cold Justice series on my Kindle for a while now, and finally read the first one last month. Since the theme this month includes suspense, I had a great excuse to move on to Book 2. And I'm glad I did. I found this book just as engrossing as A Cold Dark Place, with a nice blend of suspense and romance.

Cold Pursuit opens with a bang-- literally. Single mom Vivi is Christmas shopping with her young son, Michael, in a Minneapolis mall when terrorists strike. Also shopping in the mall is an FBI agent who is part of the same Behavioral Analysis Unit as the heroine from ACDP and on leave. Jed is a veteran and immediately goes into combat mode. Vivi hides her son in a small cabinet and quietly goes looking for an escape route. Jed helps Vivi and some others get out and then goes back for Michael. Along the way, SWAT arrives and most of the terrorists are taken out. But one one avoids capture. During the ensuing investigation, it is discovered that Michael may have heard and/or seen something significant. Only there is a problem. Michael is mute. There is no easy way to discover if he knows anything.

Vivi and Michael are taken to a safe house, but -- as you might expect -- it doesn't remain safe for long. So Jed takes them off to his home in Wisconsin, a secluded cabin near his family. As all this is happening, Jed & Vivi find themselves more and more attracted to one another. Jed especially tries to resist, because hey-- this really isn't the time, is it? I won't go into the rest, but there are plenty of twists and turns. I really didn't want to put it down.

It was interesting to read this book now. The people behind the terrorists are trying to provoke a war between the U.S. and Syria. As we know, in real life, the war in Syria continues, with world-wide implications. We are all aware of how horrifying the images have been. And then there are people trying to make political fodder out of the refugees. I think there were parts of this book that hit home in a way they might not have had I read it when it was first published.

There are several interesting secondary characters, especially Jed's family. Young Michael is key to the story, but he doesn't come across as an overly cute plot moppet. Quite the opposite actually. The book is tied in the loosest of ways to ACDP, so there's no need to read that one first. After reading two books in the series I appreciate the deft blending of romance and suspense. I'm really quite eager to read more of them.