Thursday, April 28, 2016

A Paisley Hiatus - Quilting Odds & Ends

Paisley Park - Chanhassen, MN

Ay yi yi. What a week it's been. An emotional up and down. I wouldn't dare make a ridiculous statement indicating that I'm the biggest Prince fan, but I'm one of many dedicated Prince fans. There are tons. I've seen him eight times and associated Paisley acts too many times to count. I have friends who've seen him dozens - even hundreds - of times live, and his music has gifted me with a tight circle of friends. Though his death has been tough, it's been beyond helpful and therapeutic the past week to spend time with friends, reminiscing about live shows, bootlegs, favorite performances and Paisley Park memories. I saw him there only one (Prince was a night owl, I am not) but he wasn't performing. Standing in back, dancing and having a good time as Morris Day and The Time performed. His death is painful, but the music will always be there and I'm thankful for it. One of my fave extended videos below.

So, onto some sewing bidness...

Since much of the last week was spent with friends I haven't had much time to quilt, and that's a major drag. The best cure to grief is getting back to a routine, and that is precisely what I'm doing! I've been working on Lori Holt's Bloom Sew Along and having fun with it. It's been a great way to sharpen my newbie applique skills.

These are the three newest blocks I'm completing. I've still got to add the borders.

If nothing else, this has been a great way to improve my curved edges when doing applique, using a point turner to slightly stretch those muthas into place when the curve isn't sewn as good as I'd like! I've been hesitant to piece the blocks together as I go, because my fear is that it will read as a hot mess at the beginning and a glorious masterpiece by the end. We shall see. Look at those curves. Aren't they brilliant? Not really, I know, but it's good and certainly better than when I started. Apologies for the darker pictures; I didn't have time to correct the white balance.

Next up for me are the beautiful blocks in this book. I need to sharpen my paper piecing skills, so I've printed out a selection of blocks from this sampler.

They're all beautiful, and they're all on the ever growing to-do list. :)

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

When Does Stash-Building Become Hoarding?

I have a thing with fabric. A big thing. While I wouldn't say that it's completely out of control (yet), I do have much more fabric than I can use anytime in the near future. It is not uncommon amongst quilters and sewers, but that's not excuse. I need to scale it back some, but that proves exceptionally difficult when there is always new fabric hitting the market. Apparently, I relish the opportunity to go, "Oh, for cute!" and then hit the ADD TO CART button, because it happens all too often.

Take for instance this morning. I was happily avoiding work and my web browser accidentally went to The Fat Quarter Shop (I just hate when that accidentally happens!). That's when I saw these...

They spoke to me, and then I did some speaking to my wallet. We had a disagreement, but I won. It's too easy to make purchases like that online, so I try not to make a habit out of it. A few weeks ago, I made a trip to S.R. Harris, a great fabric outlet that sells all their quilting cottons at 50% off retail, and midway through the trip my cart was already starting to fill up.

There were sixteen bolts in there when I took this photograph. By the time I made it to the cutting table, there were twenty-five! The most ridiculous part of that trip? Most of those fabrics on the right are from a great Riley Blake collection called Happy Harvest. It is a collection I already own, as a fat quarter bundle and some additional yardage. "Why then were they in your cart?" you might ask. Because I was afraid I would run out...before I even used them! And because issues. Madness. Luckily, I came to my senses and left with only 7 pieces of fabric.

I do take some amount of comfort in knowing that I'm not alone in this affliction. About a year ago, a well-written and researched article was making the rounds in quilting circles, Quiltanomics: The Real Cost of Quilts. There was a ton of good information in it, but the number that blew my mind was this one:

[Quilters'] buying power each year is $3.76 billion – with “dedicated quilters” spending over $3,200. What I found jaw-dropping was the statistic that dedicated quilters typically own $13,000 in tools and supplies, and their fabric stash is worth close to $6,000.

SIX. THOUSAND.DOLLARS. That's just fabric! That doesn't include the sewing machine, the tools, the furniture or the time (one of the biggest expenses). I keep that number in the back of my mind to make me feel like I'm in control. Some call that denial; I call it...well, that's probably what I would call it, too.

It's time for me to put a moratorium on fabric purchases. I'll take a few months off and give my finances a big break. Except for maybe a bundle of Halloween fabric. And maybe Lori Holt's Cozy Christmas bundle when it's released next month. Oh, and I need a few solids, too. Dammit!

Know who's sensible? Lorna at Sew Fresh Quilts. Give her blog a visit, would you?

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Berry Cherry Potholder

I've finished two quilt tops in the last few weeks, so I'm taking a wee bit of a break from big projects at the moment. I almost took the weekend off from doing any sewing at all but decided yesterday to break my boredom with a bit of time in the sewing room. I thought about doing yet another small project from Lori Holt's Farm Girl Vintage book, but I've already done approximately 1,305,211 projects from that to date. I can't help myself! And then I saw Lori's Bloom Templates when I was digging through the drawer on my sewing table.

Why not do a block from Farm Girl Vintage using the templates? Easy peasy! I need to keep brushing up on my applique skills anyway. I would only need two of them: A-3 and A-11.

I picked out a few fabrics...

...and a few tools, and I was on my way. That little Clover 1/4" bias tape maker has come in handy lately, and I also really like using lightweight sew-in Pellon as backing for the applique pieces. One of these days I'll give a go at hand-turned applique, but for now this is my comfort zone and it makes for good results.

I went with this guy  at first, because I love the little Scotties, but in the end it was too close in hue to the other red I was using and went with a pink print instead.

In virtually no time at all, I had a little cherry block! I'd been wanting to try the Fat Quarter Shop's tutorial (their video tutorial is at the end of this post) for using the backing fabric as the binding to see how I liked it, so after a quick quilting job...

...I attached the backing fabric, and cut and pressed it according to their directions.

Then it was time to sew the binding to the front of the block. It's only an 8" square, so binding only took a half an hour or so to get the job.

And there's the finished product. Cute as a li'l button! I'm not sure how much I love the backing/binding method. The corners look good not great. Perhaps it's just a matter of getting the method down, but it certainly was more than adequate for a first time, and I have another adorable little nugget to use in the kitchen.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Bedfordshire Top = Dunzo!

As suspected, the mitered borders were a challenge. A manageable challenge, but a challenge nonetheless. Start to finish, the borders probably took about 6 hours. Lining up those 1/4" partial seams at the corners isn't the easiest thing in the world, but the overall seamless effect it gives the patterned border is nice.

Here's a peek at the best looking corner...

Not bad, eh? You don't get to see that not-so-best corner. :) She'll be headin' into the quilter this weekend!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Ramen Isn't Just for Poor College Kids

Please indulge me as I share another non-quilt post.

Know what I shouldn't remember but do? Eating ramen for the first time. Ramen. Why? Probably because it's a taste sensation! I was six years old, and we had virtually no money. It was a year or so after my parents divorced and our neighbor was babysitting me while my mom worked. She gave me a bowl of ramen, and I slurped down every bit of that savory, salty broth and gobbled up the noodles. Those delicious noodles! It's still one of my favorite taste memories.

I'm ravenous when I eat ramen. Here we have an interpretive live-action retelling of me (Audrey 2) eating a bowl of ramen (Rick Moranis).

Though I don't eat it as often, I do occasionally buy the packages of the "de-fried-rated" noodles (they're delicious because they're fried, you know?). If you've never looked at the fat content, DON'T! One package is also allegedly two servings. Pfft! I've been known to eat a package dry while I cook another. Oink. I buy them at the local Asian market, because they have a lot more variety of instant noodles and several that are vegetarian.

Today I set out on a brief culinary excursion, into the world of homemade miso ramen. I've wanted to do it for some time now (think years), but I put it off for no reason other than there were Oreos to distract me. So after a quick trip to the grocery store, I used Peaceful Cuisine's YouTube tutorial as a foundation and got to work when I walked in the door after work.

It all came together surprisingly quickly, maybe an hour from start to finish. The only ingredient that isn't readily available at the regular ol' grocery store is kansui. It's an alkaline solution used to give the noodles their characteristic toothiness and pale yellow color. Baking soda can also be used, but from what I've read it yields a slightly different noodle. Other than that, it's a standard pasta dough. I threw it together, ran it through the pasta press a few times and then through the thin noodle cutter and voila!

Noodles! After cutting them, I tossed them with just a bit of starch to keep them from sticking and lightly gripped them between my fingertips and palms a few times to give them a little texture. Then I made a simple miso broth with some shiitake mushrooms, bean sprouts, thinly sliced green onions and a little toasted sesame seed oil. Dinner was on!

It was delicious! I love miso and am trying to make it a point to use it more often. It's a good way to add flavor to dishes (and sodium too, so not too much), and I'm finding more and more recipes that use it to add some umami to vegetarian dishes.

So now that I've made and devoured dinner, I feel like I should do nothing the rest of the night. That's precisely what I'll do!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Jinny Beyer Frightens Me

A little over a year ago, my Aunt Kathleen asked me if I was willing to make a quilt for her. I was hesitant at first, because making something at somebody's request puts a different set of expectations on the finished product. In my head it does anyway. When I make a quilt of my own choosing, it's made with the notion that I can give it to whomever I choose (or keep it for our house) when I'm done with it.  But having somebody else asked me? Oy. Nerve-wracked issues galore. Of course the issues are in my head and the final - or near final result as is currently the case - will be just fine. Even very good!

After talking her down from a queen or king sized quilt to a lap size, she sent the quilt kit from her home in Phoenix to me in the Mini Apple.

There it of the scariest things I'd ever seen. A Jinny Beyer pattern and accompanying fabric.  How scared was I? So ridiculously scared that I put it off for a year. Jinny Beyer is an amazing quilter and designer. There's a reason she's so revered. I'm sure Jinny herself is sweet as can be, but her patterns frighten me sometimes. Those diamond shaped strip sets (cut at 1 15/16", no less!). Those bias seams. And scariest of all, those mitered border prints sewn to the quilt to give the illusion of a seamless print. To paraphrase Whoopi Goldberg, " in danger girl."

A week ago, I finally got down to it and started cutting the strip sets and sewing them together. Though it was time consuming aligning the strips and marking them on the quarter inch to make sure those points come out well, it was worth it. They look so good! Of course, there were a few that look just okay, but you don't get to see those. :)

I cut the remaining half square triangles, making sure to handle them delicately so as not to stretch the bias at all. I pressed them in half along with the sashing to make sure they were attached evenly by matching the centerpoints.

Then it was all just a matter of sewing the halves together, again being mindful of the bias seams on both halves. It wasn't long before I had a pile of 16 blocks. Now to sew them together in quarters.

And after sewing together four of these quadrants...

...I had a completed center! I love the pinwheel patterns. All I've got to do now is the borders. Four of them. I'm still nervous about that part as it's something new to me, but what all of this has proven to me is that my fears thus far were virtually all for naught. It just took me out of my comfort zone, and that's rarely fun for me. This, however, proved to be pretty fun. What I've learned is that Jinny Beyer isn't scary at all. I'm just a scaredy cat!

The secondary pinwheel pattern created by joining the quadrants is beautiful, even if it put Audrey and Rita to sleep in the background. After the borders, it's off to Millie P's for quilting, then bound and off to Phoenix!

Sometime in the near future, I'm going to create a quilt out of this lovely fabric...

It's called Fresh Lilacs by Maywood Studios, and it's a perfect set of prints for a friend of mine who really loves lilac, green and black together. Winner, winner...tofu dinner?!

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Keepin' It Homemade

No sewing or quilting post today; I'll have one of those tomorrow.

I spent a lot of my morning in the kitchen today. Mostly cleaning up the mess, but also doing some cooking. I've always been a fan of making food at home rather than relying on pre-made meals, but I'm stepping up my game lately. Today I decided I'd give a go at making homemade tofu.

Though I'm vegetarian, I eat quite a bit of vegan food and Miyoko Schinner's fabulous book, The Homemade Vegan Pantry, has proven itself to be quite handy in my kitchen lately.

It was through this book that I started making my own yogurt which tastes so much better than store-bought. I've heard that for quite some time, but was very pleased with the results once I did it for myself!

The hands-on time for making tofu is pretty minimal, though the process itself takes a bit of time. I decided to also make my own soy milk this time...just to lengthen the process even more?

The process starts with boiling some dried soybeans (purchased from one of my favorite places in the Twin Cities, United Noodles) and letting them soak for a while.

From there, the beans are blended in a mixer for a few seconds until it's a thick consistency but not completely blended.

Once that's done, you strain the pulp. I used three layers of cheesecloth over a fine mesh sieve, and squeezed as much of the soy milk out as possible. The remaining flaky pulp is called okara and can be used in lots of different ways. I've not tried it yet, but there are plenty of suggestions in the book.

What remains is the fresh soy milk. I'm not the biggest fan of soymilk and I don't drink dairy milk anymore, but like the homemade yogurt this tastes quite a bit different than its store-bought counterpart. Better, I think. Now that I've got the soy milk, I can make the tofu.

You really only need two things to make tofu - the soy milk and a coagulant. I used nigari (magnesium chloride). You can use anything really for the tofu mold, but I used a bamboo mold I purchased on Amazon. It came with the nigari pictured in the photo above, but I used the liquid nigari I purchased from United Noodles.

After bringing the soy milk to a simmer and adding the nigari to the mixture, it quickly turns the milk into curds. It's the same as making fresh homemade cheese if you've ever done that. Within a few minutes, you've got tofu! You can strain it to your preference depending on if you want silken tofu or extra firm (in which case you'd use a bit more nigari when curdling the milk and then press it for longer).

Once the mold is in the sink (make sure that baby is empty and clean!) and lined with the cloth, I poured in the curds and let the whey separate.

I like a firm tofu most of the time, so I folded over the cloth, put the wooden insert into the mold and weighed it down with a heavy can to press out more of the liquid. Shout out to the jackfruit for doing the heavy work!

After 30 minutes or so, I had a block of tofu. Isn't it the most gorgeous thing you've ever seen?! Actually, it's not. At all. It's a pretty average first try, but I didn't want to make a full block of it the first go-around, so I made a pretty small recipe. It tastes delicious! It's more delicate in taste than store-bought and is so much fresher. I'm sure I'll be making this again.

I was in my sewing room all last night, and I'll be back with an update on that tomorrow!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Off to the The Quilter & Weekend Tidbits

It felt good to get another quilt top done, but once that part of the process is done I get obsessed with piecing the backing. It's another one of those thing where if I don't do it now, I won't do it all. I'm not always the most adventurous with the back of the quilt - often just a solid color - because I like the focus on the top and because...lazy. But this weekend was a start in the right direction! Still not the most creative, but I pieced four different small prints together.

It should look nice with the quilt, a 69-inch square. I don't know if I'll ever get tired of this happening when I'm piecing...

Those points lining up properly on a four-patch make me giddy. I folded it up neatly with the top and 100% cotton batting and off to the quilter it went!

When I don't do the quilting myself, I always take it to the good people at Millie P's Quilt Shop in Anoka, MN. They do a terrific job of quilting and are always very friendly. The downside is this -- I can't just drop off the quilt and go. I've always got to shop, and they've got a large fabric selection. How I managed to leave with only two yards of solids is beyond me (actually, it's because I spent $60 the day before at SR Harris).

I picked out a pattern and soft yellow thread for the quilt, got an estimate of a 4-week turnaround (baaa!) and decided to do some shopping.

The big draw to Anoka for a lot of shoppers is the antique shops. There are a lot of them, and they are stuffed with lots of goodies. So stuffed with old things that after a while, my throat gets dry, my eyes start itching, and I get a headache. Allergies are a joy. I stopped into Amore Antiques and walked out with this beauty.

There's a tiny scratch on one side, but $23 for a vintage pink Pyrex casserole? mama didn't raise no fool!

I planned on doing some quilting today, but after a look around my messy sewing room, I couldn't do it. I had to put some stuffz in order. Things were a mess. I try my best to put fabrics away as I'm done using them, but I was in such a hurry to get the quilt top off to the quilt shop, that there was fabric everywhere. EVERY.WHERE. I folded up the fat quarters that were mostly in tact and cut the rest up into strips for later use -- 1.5", 2.5", 3.5" and 5".

Now things are in a semi-orderly state, I can sit do other things I enjoy like nerdy kitchen alchemy. Today I made a fresh batch of soy cashew yogurt.

It's tangy, creamy, smooth and delicious. It's also very easy to make. I'm vegetarian, inching toward vegan and trying to cut out as much dairy as I can. Most of the time when people say, "It tastes just like the real thing!" I don't believe them. This, however, is an exception. I buy plain yogurt and sweeten it myself with a little fruit and agave syrup, and this tastes every bit as good as regular plain dairy yogurt. Actually, better. Homemade yogurt is one of those things that really does taste better than store bought. It's also great for cooking.

The house is quiet, things are in order and now I'll sit down and watch a little (okay, a lot) of Investigation Discovery. It's my drug of choice.