Thursday, May 20, 2010

Precision Piecing

For you non-quilters who read this blog, quilters often talk about this mythical group called the "Quilt Police." They're supposedly the ones who walk around insisting that things have to be done a certain way or look a certain way. They're the critical ones who have a comment (usually negative) about everything. I think there are "X, Y, or Z Police" for just about anything you can think of (novel writing? blogging? cooking?). You can let yourself be beat down by the negativity or you can ignore it and do what you want because who are you really trying to satisfy anyway? A third alternative is to take that negativity and channel it into something positive, like a challenge simply for the sake of the challenge--because you might learn something, or it might even be fun!

Fabric manufacturer Timeless Treasures and Wing and a Prayer Design company have collaborated on a Block of the Month project being offered by quilt shops around the country. I have signed up to make this batik beauty through one of my local shops.

The program is set up so that each month participants receive a small packet with instructions and just enough fabric to make that month's block. Some months we'll make the setting pieces rather than a block. At the end of 12 months, if I stick with it and keep up, I'll have a king-sized quilt top.

Since this is a program being offered around the country, there will be hundreds of identical quilts if we all finish on time. This is one time when I don't care about being unique or creative. I want to hone my skills. So, for ME, this is going to be one of those times where it WILL matter whether my seams align properly. It WILL matter that my unfinished blocks measure 12.5 inches. It WILL matter that my triangle points are points and not blunt. To whom will it matter? ME. Nobody but ME. This quilt is a chance for me to practice patience and precision. I am willing to unsew if sewing it again will make it better. However, the great thing about this project is that the instructions use methods that give you room for error. You make units that are a little over-sized and trim them down. But you still have to piece those units accurately to have the correct outcome. And if I do it right, my quilt will lie flat on my bed in the master bedroom.

Below is April's block. My corners sit nice and sharp. Many of my angles are also sharp. Some are not. But, check it out--12.5 inches!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

TBR Day. The Earl's Intended Wife / Louise Allen. 2004

Louise Allen has written some 2-3 dozen Regency historicals for Harlequin Mills & Boon in the U.K., most of which have also been published by Harlequin Historicals in the U.S. My copy still had its WalMart sticker on it, so I assume I picked it up in early 2006 when it was published over here. When I entered this in my database, I realized that the only other Louise Allen book I'd read was her 2007 Virgin Slave, Barbarian King, a Roman historical set in 410 AD. I don't know how I'd overlooked her books in the past since I do tend toward Regency-set books so often. I definitely liked this well enough that I'll look for some of her backlist.

TEIW is not your typical Regency. That scores some major points right there. There's adventure, drama, and a Big Misunderstanding. I'm not fond of the Big Misunderstanding, so despite the unusual setting, adventure, and drama, the book lost a few points, too.

The book starts on the island of Malta although it ends back in England on Alex's estate. Part-way into the book there is a sea voyage to Gibraltar. During the voyage there is a storm and Hebe and Alex are swept overboard near the coast of Spain. Fortunately they safely wash up on the shore, but then must make their way overland to Gibraltar, evading the French as they do so. Later, Alex & Hebe arrive (separately) back in England. Circumstances bring the two of them back into contact with one another again. They marry. After several weeks of marriage they finally talk to one another and a HEA ensues. That's the short, somewhat flip version of the story. There's actually quite a bit more to it, but there's a major spoiler I want to avoid. You can go here to read an excerpt and a blurb.

I realized after I finished reading it that the book is told almost entirely from Hebe's POV. If there were any scenes from Alex's POV, I don't remember them. Usually I prefer multiple POVs. But Allen's writing is very good and I don't feel as if I was missing anything. Then there was the whole bit of Alex & Hebe getting washed overboard and surviving long enough to make it to shore. Normally this is wall-banger territory for me. I think I was willing to go with it because I was enjoying the characters of Hebe & Alex and I was genuinely interested in seeing their relationship develop.

So while this wasn't an outstanding read, it was certainly entertaining and kept me interested. As I said, I intend to seek out more books by Allen and I expect I'll enjoy those as well.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Variation on a Theme

The guild's UFO rules are quite liberal. We are allowed to list as UnFinished Objects quilts that haven't been started, designed, kitted, or that exist other than ephemerally -- as in "I'm going to make something." And I have one of those ephemeral ones on my list. I knew back in February I'd want to make a baby quilt for work colleague L. who is expecting her first baby in June. Now that it's May, it is time to get started.

Going in I knew L. is expecting a girl. She told me that she likes bold, bright colors. Having enjoyed the process of making the Happy Rainbow Quilt I started to wonder if I could make something similar, yet much, much simpler. And limit myself to pink and purple. Doing that would be a study in value as opposed to a study in color. And this time I did have to buy a few fat quarters of purple, because for some reason my purples are too grey-ish.

I ended up cutting 4.5 inch squares and it took awhile to come up with a combination I liked. Now I have a stack of reject squares for the scrap pile. You can see those off to the side or scattered on my ironing board. But here's the end result up on the design wall. I'm now busy sewing it together.

Oh, I should mention, the top has to be finished Wednesday night so I can wrap it up and present it at her baby shower on Thursday. I'll have to take it back to finish because I just didn't start it soon enough.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

UFO Update

I interrupted work on my UFOs (UnFinished Objects) to do the Happy Rainbow Quilt for the auction and with that done, it's time to get back to my UFO list. My guild is sponsoring a mini quilt-in on Friday and I'm going to pack up one of my machines and start quilting this Blooming 9-Patch that I've been anxious to work on for some time.

Most people do a large bed-sized version of this quilt, and it really can be stunning depending upon one's fabric choices. I wanted one I could hang on a wall in my living room. My late mother-in-law gifted me with most of the fabric in this quilt shortly before she passed away. I think she would have liked how it turned out.
This year I set my sights much lower! Christine had suggested I aim for one per month. An excellent idea, although it hasn't worked out that I actually work on one per month. No, being ADD means I work on multiple things at once. But I did shorten my list to 13 items and while we're now over 4 months into the challenge, only 1 item is actually finished. That would be this one here:

However, I've made significant progress on 2 more items on the list. One I'm hand quilting and it's almost finished. The other just needs to be layered, basted, and quilted. It was literally just in pieces back in December.

So, have I told you lately to go over and bid? Yeah, you need to do that right now.

Phyl's 5 Phaves from April

Before I get into this month's list, don't forget to hop over to the Brenda Novak Online Auction for Diabetes Research. My quilt is listed here and last I looked had already been bid up to $91. Very exciting. QBFF T. says she's going to win it. Make her pay through the nose!

I had plenty of strong reads last month and it was hard to pick just 5.

5. In for a Penny by Rose Lerner. This is, I believe, Lerner's debut novel. I had seen several positive reviews for this book, including this DIK review at AAR. The story involves a young man, Nev (short for Lord Nevinstoke), who inherits an earldom and an impoverished estate. When he learns the extent of the debts his father left, he proposes marriage to the only child of a wealthy brewer, a young woman named Penelope, or Penny. Penny is a "Cit" and thus looked down upon by most of aristocratic society. But Nev needs Penny's money and Penny is attracted to Nev and wants to help him. The purpose for their marriage is very straightforward. This book compares, I suppose, in some ways to Heyer's A Civil Contract but with a much more satisfying ending. This is a wonderful marriage of convenience story about a couple who have an awful lot to work through in order to get to their happy ending. And as a historical there's some good stuff here about the poor economy of post-war England, the huge gulf between the haves and have-nots, and worker unrest. This was an excellent book and it has me greatly looking forward to Lerner's next book due right after Christmas.

4. Savor the Moment by Nora Roberts. Book 3 in the Bride Quartet was another winner. This time we have Laurel, the cake-baker, and Del, Parker's brother and life-long friend to Laurel. Laurel has always been in love with Del, but he's always treated her as a sister. One night Laurel gets tired of being a "sister" and changes their relationship by kissing him. As a romance, this book is pretty simple and probably wouldn't appeal if you want it to be about the romance. But I didn't really mind. Once again I loved the underlying story of 4 girlfriends who have such a solid relationship with one another. The book is full of great, witty dialogue and one obligatory wedding "disaster" story that made the book, for me, a very fun read. I was hooked from the start. And very hungry for cake.

3. Broken by Shiloh Walker. After having read Walker's Fragile last year, I was really looking forward to the sequel about Luke's brother Quinn. Broken did not disappoint. In fact I think I liked it even better. There was a very clever twist that I spoiled for myself by peeking at the end. Bad Phyl! Bad Phyl! KristieJ did the same thing. She, too regretted it. But even with that spoiler, this was a terrific read because the characters were both so strong and determined. Sara is a woman in trouble. She lives under the radar (using only cash and a false name) and is a boarder at the same house as Quinn. Quinn is out of the army now and works as a bounty hunter. Just as he gets close to Sara, Quinn is handed a new assignment--and Sara is his new target. Quinn has to decide between what his gut is telling him and what he sees in the folder from his boss. Very well done.

2. The Wild Marquis by Miranda Neville. This is a book I liked so much that I ended up writing a full review of it here.

1. Breathless by Laura Lee Guhrke. I wrote what was essentially a two word review for this a couple weeks ago. "Wonderful, engrossing." And that pretty well sums up this classic historical. Besides the very unusual setting (small town Georgia, turn of the 20th century), this book clearly shows two people who start out truly disliking and distrusting one another and slowly changing their minds as they get to know the other. But this book is so much more as it brings to life this small Georgia town and also explores the stigma of divorce. And it has the most lovely, romantic ending, too.