To start with, here is a photo of the string quilt I made. I finished it a couple of weeks ago. I am so pleased with how it turned out. I was afraid as I went along that the lack of perfect diagonals, that lack of careful fabric selection, would make it be muddy – but it really looks good. I will now pick out some backing fabric and set it aside to wait for the stay-at-home order to be lifted so that I can go back over to the quilting machine. In a few weeks, I hope. Look back to this entry to find out more about why I made this quilt.
And as I posted in the past post, Byron and I have been making masks. I’m now up to 161 – and I’m putting the mask factory on hold for a while.
So today I went up to my sewing room to poke around, and what did I see but a bag of scraps. Not just any scraps, mind you – these are well-aged scraps. They are mostly from 10-15 years ago, maybe even longer ago. Some are from Cindy, and some are mine. They are mostly strips cut from the end of the fabric when you have pressed it and folded it, but before you start cutting the actual pieces of your quilt. They are, essentially, in truth, trash. Too small to keep and too large to throw away.
So, I decided that I would use them! I would reclaim them from the trash and make something pretty out of them! So I started doing a variation on “crumb quilting” – making quilt blocks out of crumbs of fabric. But what I’m making are “coins.” They are basically stacks of fabric strips in all various colors, etc. Just a strip made up of strips.
There are a few (very few) rules that I am following. Here they are:
First, remember that the fabric police are under stay-at-home orders. They will not be coming by to tell you that those two colors don’t go next to each other, or you can’t use batiks in the same quilt as regular fabrics. Nope, they are out of commission, so do what you like.
Second, I am stitching these onto strips of scrap muslin 4.5″ or 2.5″ wide. So the strips of fabric do not have to be on the straight of the grain – the muslin will take care of that. Another thing the muslin takes care of is the need for a full 1/4″ seam allowance. This lets me use strips of fabric that are pretty narrow, because I can use a scant 1/4″ or even an 1/8″ seam allowance.
Third, the fact that all of my scraps might be mediums-to-darks, or that there is not enough difference in scale, or that some pieces are directional, or that some individual pieces of fabric are not the most beautiful, all of this does not matter. The fact that some are Cindy’s and some are mine, that some I don’t even remember what they are from, that some are my least favorite, that does not matter, either. Put them all together and they will look fine.
Now, I was tempted at a few points to pull certain pieces of fabric out of the mix. “Oh look!” I said, “that is the last remaining piece of that fabric that I loved so much!” But I resisted temptation. After all, what would I need a 1.25″ wide, 14″ long piece of anything for if it is not for this? And, I have not seen (or missed, evidently) this fabric for over a decade. So I slapped it into the stack of coins. That’s it. It is not wasted.
To what end, you may ask? Well, uh, well, I guess it will become a quilt. The stacks of coins could all be pieced together, or they could be separated from each other with a solid fabric. We’ll see what I think when I get more stacks made.
Everyone who has a blog in the whole country is posting about their stay-at-home situation, I am sure. After all, what else is there to post about? That’s what we’re doing these days – staying home. We are not traveling, we are not having scrumptious meals at elegant restaurants, we are not going to parties or church or even work, many of us.
And, fear not, I will not disappoint you by bucking the blogging trend: I will satisfy you with a nice long post about all that Byron and I are doing while we are under stay-at-home orders in our city and state.
Here’s what we’re doing: we are staying home.
We are so incredibly blessed to have jobs that we can fully do at home. For me, I am beginning to hate the idea of Zoom and FaceTime and all of that kind of thing, but even in the midst of being incredibly weary of it I look forward to seeing and interacting with people using those excellent and wonderful technologies.
We have nearby grocery stores that are, for the most part, pretty well stocked with the things we want.
We have potato chips in the pantry all the time now, which is totally not normal. But I guess that potato chips and M&Ms and other yummy snacks are OK when you are living in such an odd time as we are.
It was so wonderful to have some friends stop by last Sunday afternoon, and one evening this week, to pick up masks that Byron and I had made, or just to sit and visit from the other side of the driveway. Three-dimensional conversation was fabulous.
Masks. Yes, I have been making masks, and Byron has been helping me. After I made my 100th mask (some by myself, some with helpers) earlier this week I said that I would be getting out of the mask business. But today I made another dozen because I had some requests, and if you’re going to make four you may as well make twelve.
I finished the string quilt top (I mentioned it in a post a few months ago – I will post more about it soon).
I am making some little Christmas presents. Yes, it is only April. I will say, I am often somewhat ahead of the game on Christmas presents, but this is unusually ahead of the game.
The occasional online game, some emails, some interactive iPad games that have people I actually know playing them with me, a little television, a few handwritten notes and cards …
For the most part, truly, I think we are doing fine. Like many people, I had grand plans for how I would spend the at-least-five-weeks of stay-at-home, but two weeks have passed and I have not done many of the things on that list. No worries, there are still three weeks, at least, to go – but it is possible that nothing on that list will get done. There is a certain enervating quality to this time. A certain time-out-of-time feeling to it. I can’t keep track of what day of the week it is, and whereas I usually am very happy for a day to be a work day, now I will say TGIF with everyone else.
As some memes have aptly pointed out: we are not “stuck at home – we are safe at home.” And so we are.
Fifteen days ago Cindy and I got our new longarm quilting machine. I may write another post about putting it together, but this one is going to be about using it.
First of all, it is fantastic. It is fun, it moves so easily, and it is very smooth in its stitching. In many ways it is the simplest sewing machine I have ever used, because it only stitches. It has no feed dogs, it just feeds thread and bobbin together to make stitches.
In another way it has a magical feature, which is the stitch regulator. A stitch regulator, in brief, is, well, something magic whereby the machine does not stitch unless you are moving it. So if you move it slowly, the stitches are made slowly. If you move it fast, they are made fast. And what this means is that the stitches are all the same length, no matter if you move the sewing head fast or slow. And what this means is that it is much, much easier to be good at quilting with less experience.
So fifteen days ago at about this time of the evening Cindy and I took our first stitches with this brand new machine. We loaded up a length of about three yards of muslin for the backing, a piece of batting, and another three yards of muslin for the top. And we threaded it, and loaded a bobbin … and began. And it was amazing. The next day we both took off work and spent the whole day together figuring out how to use it, practicing things we had learned or seen on YouTube, and reading the instruction manual. I think we finished that first three-yard stretch that day, so we took it off the machine and signed and dated it. We will keep it (for a while) as an example of what things were like at the beginning and how far we have come in our abilities and skills.
Then a day or two later we spent another day together using it, and again, we were just so amazed. It is so fun! And we figured out how the bobbin winder works. And we researched thread. And different ways to load quilts into it to work on.
And then another day we got out the laser pointer device and practiced using a pantograph (which is a drawing that you follow with the laser to quilt that exact design on your quilt).
And every single time we walk into that studio and see that amazing machine there, we are gobsmacked. Totally gobsmacked.
Today I took the day off to go over to Cindy’s to work on it again, for the last time for a while. (The pictures in this post are from today.) The last time because, as many of you know, our cities have just enacted stay-at-home rules which mean that I can’t go over there any more until at least five weeks from now. Now, I am very much in favor of these rules. I am in favor of measures which will slow the spread of COVID-19 and make it possible for those who need hospital care to be more likely to be able to get it, and therefore to survive the illness.
But I admit to being a bit sad about just this one thing, really. I can use all of the remarkable technology to see my friends and talk to them over the internet, and we have plenty of food and a comfortable house and are contented and happy together. But there is no way I can be over there to use that machine legally for the next several weeks, at least. But I believe that these restrictions will not go on forever, and when I get back there I will have practiced on my own (very nice) regular machine, and I will have made at least one more quilt top and be ready to quilt it. And I have a feeling that I will get right back into it and will not have actually lost much, if any, of my new-found skill. It will be like riding a bike.
This blog has been pretty quiet lately, and it’s not for lack of things to write about! There are many things going on that I might write about soon. I usually write upbeat and cheery things in this blog, and truly, I’m usually an upbeat kind of person. But there are some folks right now who are not feeling cheery and upbeat, and I have been thinking a lot about them. Among others, I am thinking of the seniors – not the people over 65 (or these days, over 60 – egads), but the people who are seniors in high school and college.
When I was a senior in high school, the spring of my senior year was a fantastic season for me. There were special events galore for seniors. There were the “will all seniors please stand and be recognized” at my final chorus concert of the year, my final band concert, my final orchestra concert. There were the special school-related parties where seniors were honored, the awards dinners for my sports-classmates. There was the wonderful, surprising day when I was awarded an Academic Letter – a big deal for my school, which was pretty sports-crazy in those days, as I recall, so getting a Letter though not being a varsity athlete was pretty cool. The marching band parade season that made special mention of the seniors in the band was very fun.
And of course there was graduation itself. I was in the Bicentennial Class of 1976, so we had a lot of extra hoopla at our graduation ceremony. We had red-white-and-blue tassels for our mortarboards, we had red-white-and-blue ribbons for our medals, there was bunting all over the football field where our ceremonies took place. My classmates who gave speeches, our families sitting out in the bright sunny afternoon – and then the parties that followed, photos, flowers, balloons, cheering, and all of that – special and memorable. Once-in-a-lifetime events.
College was special too in my spring semester of my senior year – many “last” occasions for various things. Last chorus concert, last opera orchestra performances, special lunches with some of my favorite professors, and of course non-academic things, such as the last service at my church in college, last IVCF large group meeting, last meeting of my small group, those special parties during our last finals week when we exchanged addresses and promised to write and hugged each other and made plans. And graduation was special, too – more pomp, a bigger stage, more pageantry, a better band (haha) and being so proud to have accomplished our degrees with whatever honors we received.
Our seniors this year, high school and college, had all of their “lasts,” too – but they didn’t even know that they were the last time for whatever. Those lasts happened casually, with little warning, without being especially marked. The last time your Bible study met, did you realize it? Did you pray more earnestly? Did you hug harder? Your last service at the church that had become your family, your last meal with those friends, your last movie night with your housemates – did you notice? You might not have.
And high school seniors – hanging out at school, hanging out with your friends, going to practice and games and classes together, meeting at lockers and in the cafeteria – did you realize that you would not be doing that again (or at least, now, until mid-May)? Even if you do get to do these things again before the school year ends, will you feel the lack of these couple of months in this, your last year in high school?
Our daugher-in-law recently was informed that she would graduate, yes, but there would be no in-person ceremony. There would be some kind of “virtual” graduation that the university was making every effort to make special and meaningful. And I am sure they’ll do a good job, and we will go to watch it on the computer screen with her and our son and other family members, and we will have a party and celebrate the achievement – and I imagine she will wear her gown and cap, because she paid for them already, after all. And we will go back with joy in December, when the May graduates have been invited to participate in the December commencement for real, and we’ll do it all again (but in person). But I know that she and our son are disappointed.
So, seniors, I feel for you. I really do. I know that you are unsettled, and sad, and irritated, and have questions and are disappointed, very disappointed. This is a special time that will never come again in just this way, and it is being swallowed up in a very disruptive historic event. This season is difficult and scary for many folks, but for you there is a particular edge to your feelings because of the unique aspect to what you are losing out on, what you are not getting to do these weeks and months. I am so sorry.
PS the photo has nothing to do with anything, just a quilt block I made recently. All blog posts need photos.
I know, that is a very strange, upbeat, optimistic title for a post this particular season. I know, the Tar Heels are really, really … not good this year. Not good at all. We have a losing record, we have lost 5 games in a row, we are last in the ACC, we are … not good.
Some years we have been amazing. We have seven national championship banners in our rafters, and we were really, really good more seasons than those. We have many NBA players who were part of our program, we have coaches around the country, players and coaches around the world.
But this season … not our best. Possibly one of our worst, in fact, in the past couple of decades.
We have had a lot of injuries of our top players. Two or three at a time, even four at a time, key players injured or sick will be hard for most college teams to deal with. This is the first season that our bench is not as deep as most of our opponents’ benches. Injuries are always something to consider, and some of the seasons when we had arguably our best teams we had one player injured at a key moment late in the season and that prevented us from getting as deep in the post season as we would have otherwise.
But we are still fans. We still love our Tar Heels. We may lament and groan and cry out in frustration and irritation (“don’t be idiots!” “why did you do that?” “our uniforms are WHITE!”) but we still are fans.
Tomorrow Ivis and I will go to the game. Maybe we will put together 40 minutes of good basketball and win the game. Maybe we will get the 880th win for Roy Williams tomorrow afternoon. I hope so. I hope so.
But even if we do not, it will still be a good day to be a Tar Heel. #gdtbath
In 1984 a friend, Donna Stanley, and I discovered that we both liked to do jigsaw puzzles. We also discovered that we both liked to do them fast. We thought we were above average in our ability to do puzzles fast. Naturally, we entered in the National Jigsaw Puzzle Competition, as one does. It happened that it was being held in Athens, Ohio, where my brother-in-law and his family lived. So off we went.
The competition was sponsored by Springbok puzzles, which was at the time the very best jigsaw puzzle brand. The puzzles were interesting, had non-traditional cuts, and were high-quality in their production. For the competition, Springbok had made two limited release, never-before-seen puzzles, one in 500 pieces (for the individual competition) and one in 1000 pieces (for doubles). Donna and I entered as individuals.
There were over 100 competitors – I actually don’t remember how many, but maybe even over 200 competitors – in the individual competition. We each had half of a six-foot table, with a divider down the middle so that our pieces would not be mixed up with our neighbor’s pieces. When the starting bell rang, we each turned over our never-before-seen puzzle box, opened it, and got to work.
Donna and I were competitive. I don’t remember which of us finished before the other (we were not seated near each other), but I remember that we were in the top 10% or so. But we were slow compared to the winner, who happened to be a grad student from Duke University. She did a 500-piece puzzle all by herself in about 63 minutes or so. In the photo, you can see that competition puzzle, the ballet legs. Donna and I did it in less than 1:40, I think, and time was called after, I think, 4 hours with some folks not yet finished. The top 15 finishers in the main competition went on to the final round. We watched that, and I swear that puzzler had eyes that could focus in two directions at the same time. She won hands down.
Two years later we decided to enter again (my brother-in-law was still living in Athens, after all) but this time as a team in the doubles category. Springbok was not the sponsor any longer, but instead the competition puzzles were made by, I think, American Puzzle Company or something like that. For the 1000-piece puzzle each team got a whole table. This time, the winner the previous three years in the singles competition (the Duke student) was also competing with a teammate in the doubles competition. And once again she blew away the competition. Donna and I were definitely in the top finishers, maybe the top 20% or so with a time of around 2 hours.
We had a lot of fun both years, not only going on the trip together and being with my family, but also practicing for the competition. We made a good team, with similar style of piecing, similar skills in recognizing and remembering shapes and colors, and neither one of us with a particular weakness or dislike for the hard parts.
Last night after supper I got out a 500-piece puzzle that I had never done before. It’s a good brand, and the picture is interesting and the material is good quality. I did not time myself exactly, but I think it took me 3 hours and about 40 minutes to put it together. I worked on it about 3 hours yesterday evening, and then finished up this morning before work. Much slower than I used to be, but I am older and creakier and the light is not as good …
There is a World Jigsaw Puzzle Championship in Spain this September, though …
You may be thinking that I’m about to tell you how puzzled I am by the Tar Heels basketball season. You may be expecting me to tell you how perplexing it was when the Tar Heels, to a man, lost their minds the other night against Clemson; when they mistakenly thought that their teammates were wearing orange jerseys; when they thought that dribbling around and waiting for something to happen is the Carolina Way. You might think that I would write about that because you know that I am a Tar Heel fan and have season tickets and was at The Game that made history, when Clemson, for the first time Ever, won in Chapel Hill.
But no, I have a different puzzling season in mind – the season following Christmas when the decorations are put away and the entertaining is less frequent and the table can be devoted, for a few weeks, to jigsaw puzzles. I put down a vinyl tablecloth so that the pieces will slide around easily, and if we need to actually eat at the table I put another tablecloth on top of the puzzle. A few bumpy areas don’t matter to eating, right?
This year I received three puzzles for Christmas. I just finished the 1000-piece Christmas-themed one (it took me four days). I am now about to do one that features many elaborately decorated donuts (500-pieces). Then I will do one of the Dean Dome on a January night in, I think, 2013, when Reggie Bullock had a career-high 24 points (1000 pieces). Then I will probably get out another one or two puzzles that I have done before that were fun.
Jigsaw puzzles have a few rules to them.
First, I turn all the pieces over and separate out the edge pieces. Then, after the edges are together, I pull out pieces that are from some part of the puzzle that is usually connected to the edge. I don’t always save the sky for last – sometimes it is actually the easiest part because of gradations of color.
If I pick up a piece and try it, and it does not go, I put it back where I got it. I seem to develop a spatial memory of where the pieces are, so later when I see the space for that piece I can just reach over and get it. It’s kind of uncanny sometimes. (This rule especially applies if anyone works on the puzzle with me – don’t put that piece down in a random place, put it back where you found it!)
A few years ago I decided that I would not ever do a puzzle larger than 1000 pieces. Part of this is because it is impractical on a normal-sized table, but mostly it’s because the search space is just too large to be fun and to have the feeling of making progress. I also decided not to struggle with a puzzle that I was not enjoying just because someone gave it to me or I bought it. That said, I can only ever remember giving up on two puzzles.
Sometime I’ll write about competing in the National Jigsaw Puzzle Competition – but for now, I have to get back to these donuts with the sprinkles.
Someday I want to be really good at the Royal Icing style of cookie decorating. A year ago I tried it for the very first time and enjoyed it. I did it once in the spring, and then a week ago for Christmas and again today.
The key is to practice. The tricky thing is getting the icing to the right consistency. One YouTube video I watched suggested that the edging icing needed to be like toothpaste, and the flowing icing like shampoo. Apparently I can’t get that quite right, but then, who sees bowls full of toothpaste?
Every time I do it I get better at it, so eventually I should be pretty good at it. Then I’ll work toward getting a bit faster. Meanwhile, Bon Appétit!
I am sure I have written before on this blog that I love to read. I read a lot – every day. I usually read on my Kindle, but sometimes an actual book.
I occasionally listen to a book on Audible or some other audio service. There is controversy in the reading community as to whether listening to a book counts as reading it. For me, I find that I enjoy listening to a book that I have read before. I am a visual learner, so I find it harder to pay attention and retain a lot of details in lengthy things that I listen to. But for books that I have some familiarity with, I am happy to listen (especially if the reader is excellent, as many of them are).
I am a member of Goodreads, which is a social media platform for readers (without all the drama of some other social media platforms). I like it because I can keep track of books that I want to read and books that I have read. It also has an annual “reading challenge” in which each participant sets a goal for a certain number of books, and then tracks progress toward the goal.
In 2019 I had an initial goal of reading 30 books. I increased the goal in about June because it was clear it was too low. I set it at 35 books. I have now read 44 books, and I have two or three going that I might finish before the end of 2019.
Most years I read mostly novels, a few young adult or children’s books, some books that I have read before, two or three classics, and a handful of non-fiction. This year was a bit odd in that I did not re–read any books, and I only read one classic. But in terms of overall proportion it was pretty typical – 31 fiction, 13 nonfiction (the three books I am currently reading and might finish are one nonfiction and two fiction).
So, in case you’re interested, here is my list from 2019 (starting with the most recent):
- Dead Men Do Tell Tales: The Strange and Fascinating Cases of a Forensic Anthropologist by William R. Maples
- Tamarack County (Cork O’Connor, #13) by William Kent Krueger
- The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron
- Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
- How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking by Jordan Ellenberg
- A Better Man by Louise Penny
- Trickster’s Point (Cork O’Connor, #12) by William Kent Krueger
- Tales from the Couch: A Clinical Psychologist’s True Stories of Psychopathology by Bob Wendorf
- A Dying Fall (Ruth Galloway, #5) by Elly Griffiths
- The Two-Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman
- Ruth’s First Christmas Tree (Ruth Galloway, #4.5) by Elly Griffiths
- A Room Full of Bones (Ruth Galloway, #4) by Elly Griffiths
- Northwest Angle (Cork O’Connor, #11) by William Kent Krueger
- This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger
- Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport
- The House at Sea’s End (Ruth Galloway, #3) by Elly Griffiths
- Vermillion Drift (Cork O’Connor, #10) by William Kent Krueger
- Virgil Wander by Leif Enger
- The Swan House by Elizabeth Musser
- Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates: The Forgotten War That Changed American History by Brian Kilmeade
- The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo
- Kingdom of the Blind (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #14) by Louise Penny
- The Janus Stone (Ruth Galloway, #2) by Elly Griffiths
- The Joy of x: A Guided Tour of Math, from One to Infinity by Steven H. Strogatz
- Wait: Thoughts and Practice in Waiting on God by Rebecca Brewster Stevenson
- Heaven’s Keep (Cork O’Connor, #9) by William Kent Krueger
- Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty
- Beartown (Beartown, #1) by Fredrik Backman
- Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death (The Grantchester Mysteries, #1) by James Runcie
- Mercy Falls (Cork O’Connor, #5) by William Kent Krueger
- The Deal of a Lifetime by Fredrik Backman
- Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
- Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz
- It Was The Best of Sentences, It Was The Worst Of Sentences: A Writer’s Guide to Crafting Killer Sentences by June Casagrande
- The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin
- Mr. Churchill’s Secretary (Maggie Hope, #1) by Susan Elia MacNeal
- Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport
- A Great Reckoning (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #12) by Louise Penny
- When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel H. Pink
- Red Knife (Cork O’Connor, #8) by William Kent Krueger
- Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup
- The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing (Mo & Dale Mysteries, #2) by Sheila Turnage
- Three Times Lucky (Mo & Dale Mysteries, #1) by Sheila Turnage
- The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers
I have been working on a quilt for the past several years. It is a “curved log cabin” quilt that I started in a class that Cindy and I took at the quilt show. By the clever use of wider and narrower strips one can create a blocks made up of all straight seams that seems curved. I decided that I wanted to make a whole bunch of these blocks and make a bed-sized quilt. I had a nice collection of light and dark batik fabrics, and chose a turquoise blue batik for the center of each block. I started cutting strips and laid them around the edge of my work table in little groups of different fabrics. I went to town and made a lot of blocks.
Then I wanted to work on another project, but I couldn’t really, because the little groups of strips of all of those fabrics were all over the table. I eventually put all of the strips away into a box and set it that project aside. Out of sight out of mind. A few times over the years I got it out again, but it was hard to work on unless I set out all of the strips of fabric all over the table so that I could choose the combo for the next group of blocks. It was hard to decide which fabrics to use next, and even how many blocks I was in the mood to make. So I would stop for a while, and eventually put it all away again.
I realized that I had to change my approach to this project. I simply was not going to work on it straight through until it was finished; I was going to have to figure out a way to do a little bit at a time without having to get all of the fabric out and put it away over and over. Aha! I decided to make little “kits” that would each make four blocks. I put four center squares and enough light and dark strips into a ziploc bag. I used all of the fabric strips that I had already cut and pulled together six of these kits, and put everything in a box right in view. It was so much easier to get up the interest to work on this if I knew that I was only going to make four blocks. I could easily do that much in between working on other projects, and it did not leave a big mess all around the room.
I need about 256 blocks to finish a quilt that would go on a queen size bed. I have made 86 blocks now. Recently I had used up all of my little kits so I spent some time last week cutting up more fabric strips and will assemble some more kits soon. Bit by bit I will get this finished, and I will have a tidy sewing room in the meantime. And I won’t have to labor over deciding what fabric to use or how many blocks to make – I will work that out in advance, and then simply pick up a kit and go for it.