May flowers and Mermaids

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Early May flowers

We’ve been taking a break from blogging and vlogging, and it sure gives me a different perspective on life!

Changes in lifestyle–such as living through the aftermath of a hurricane, losing your vision, retiring from a high-paced career, or getting sick–can take a toll on the ol’ creative process.

Documenting our every creation adds a level of stress to each project. I like blogging; it’s Show and Tell for the Digital Age. But not having to immortalize an item via posting it, can sure be freeing. If the project does not live on in my [limiting] descriptive words, it still lives on as what it is: a creative accomplishment, a spark of ideas, a sense of wonderment, a nod for practical uses, shared audacity that might elicit a smile.

Here’s the latest, a quilt that finally assembled itself once I got on board with it…

I don’t think it would have come about if I hadn’t weeded out the fabric stash. I had a lot of fabric in there that was given to me, or that I had scooped up because it was cheap or free, and I didn’t really like it, I just kept it around “in case.” Well, that stuff was weighing down on me like a ton of bricks, creating obligations that I didn’t want to have. I had been thinking in terms of clothes I wanted to make, and it suddenly occurred to me, I hate most of the clothes I’ve made. I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing them. All the time and effort and angst I put into apparel sewing, and with lousy results! I’m over it! Stage One was a giveaway, now I’m waiting for Stage Two, the Yard Sale, and then Stage Three will be jettisoning the remaining cargo to the local Thrift Shop or Goodwill. And I’ll be free!  [wait, not stone-free, I’m keeping all the quilting cottons, of course.}

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Focal point of the quilt: the appliqué panel in the center
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With the patchwork border
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Quilting with the Q’nique
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finished quilt

It is lying on top of a king-size bed, so it is pretty massive, the biggest quilt I’ve made from scratch, so far. The backing is 108″ wide cotton fabric from JoAnn’s, one large sheet of fabric with  no seams down the center. The binding is a discontinued color of Wright’s Quilt Binding: I bought three 3-yard packages of it on clearance and I used all of it but maybe 6 inches. Whew! It looks gray in the picture but it’s actually a grayish light blue-green color.

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End-of-May flowers

Remind Me Again Why We Mix Media?

I was coming home from the gym yesterday morning, and the outdoor speakers in the shopping center were playing the old Bertie Higgins hit, “Key Largo.”

Don’t get me wrong, I adore that song, even if it is a little on the schmaltzy side. It clogged my mind with vague recollections of the feast that was the original movie with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. The song, although cute and memorable, is not in the same league as the epic movie.

Which brings me to my latest craft project, art journaling.

I was introduced to art journaling when I took an online class offered by University of Florida, called Healing With the ArtsIt was fun, but I didn’t really accept it as a serious art form. Later I was surprised, astonished even, to discover that loads of people are out there art journaling, and there’s a giant craft market catering to those journalers!

I would have never found this out if I hadn’t signed up for a free 2-week Craftsy subscription.

The old Craftsy had individual classes for sale, in many different categories, such as photography, sewing, woodworking, cooking, knitting, and various modes of visual art. They also offer kits and supplies to make some projects, and space to showcase your projects and interact with the community. The recently updated Craftsy Unlimited has a monthly or yearly subscription fee, for which you can access ALL the content (with a few exceptions.) And from time to time, they add in a few perqs as incentives to subscribe, such as coupons to buy some of their merchandise. I did subscribe in between two awesome perq campaigns, and got none (so much for my loyalty as a paying customer!) But I have been combing through the class offerings, which are treasure troves of techniques!

That’s where I learned that Mixed Media (including art journaling, paper crafts, card making, and scrapbooking) is such a big thing. I can see card making: you pay about $5 per greeting card at the store, so you might be able to save money making your own cards. And scrapbooking: you can make some really cute memory books for the family to delight in. But art journaling? It seemed to me to be a vast, deep rat-hole to throw your money down, a waste of time and resources that would only ever benefit your own selfish self.  But crafters are jumping on the mixed media arts band wagon.

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Stamps and such

And mixed media art supplies aren’t cheap! Craft stores sell special designer paints and inks, pricey pens and markers, row after row of stick-on and stamp-on words and motifs in cellophane envelopes. One artist called them “sentiments.” Also essential to the craft is paper: you can buy pricey blank books, but some of the class instructors advocate using an old book as a (non-) blank canvas for your work, and even junk mail and newspaper advertisement pages can be covered in gesso and used as the basis for mixed-media works of art.

Each little project has a background, focal point, possibly other embellishments, and “sentiments.” I have to compare our generation with the Edwardian and Victorian English girls who busied themselves doing needlework, playing the pianoforte in the parlor, and painting with watercolors. We will possibly be remembered by our posterity for our inked-up oversize manila luggage tags bearing stamped-on messages such as “Life is better at the beach” and “Bloom Where You Are Planted!”

Bloom…

 

 

Wow, Spring!

After being under the weather for about seven weeks, I finally felt okay enough to resume walking in the mornings before going to the gym. I was surprised that suddenly trees are blooming in the neighborhood! It’s Spring already!

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rain runoff
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street
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fountain
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azaleas
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Liveoak leaves falling
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azaleas
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tulip tree
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jungle palms
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budding trees
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It was Abe Lincoln’s birthday
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the end of the line

 

 

 

The Steve McQueen Connection

Maybe you’re one of those hard-to-shop-for people who already has  everything.  So, for a holiday gift this year, maybe you got a DNA test kit from Ancestry.com or another company that was advertising them at a cut rate.  You spit in the tube, send it off, find out what the pie chart of your ethnicity shows by way of percentages European, Asian, African, etc., then what?

We did the test a few years ago, after I was charmed by an Ancestry.com vendor at Rootstech.

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test kit

Oddly (to me), most of the DNA connections I’ve found through ancestry.com  have no pedigree listed on the site at all, so I have no earthly idea how I’m related to them. You can go and see what matches you have in common with them, and then presume that you’re related to them through a common ancestor from the match in common. But when you have some Smiths, Williams’s, and other such very common names in the various ancestral lines, it could be any one of them.

For one thing, my parents’ few siblings had no children, so I have no first cousins. The second cousins should be the descendants of my grandparents’ siblings.  So I would have at least 4 common ancestors with a DNA match who is a second cousin. Third cousins: we would have 8 common ancestors to be descended from.  Fourth cousin: 16 common ancestors.  Unfortunately, in the majority of my matches, I have to guess which one of the 32 common ancestors the match is descended from. That generation (5th cousin) is my great-great-great grandparents, and most people haven’t gotten that far in their research. But, some people have gotten far. And maybe they can help me, because when you go back many generations, there weren’t  as many people in the world.

Another quirky thing about the DNA test, is that a person inherits 50% of his or her DNA from their mother and 50% from their father. So it is actually possible for a brother to have a DNA match and his sister to not have that match. I have seen that first hand, since my son and daughter both had their test results registered on the site. The DNA match I’m referring to would be at the level of distant cousin.

Ancestry also has an affiliated phone app called “We’re Related.” You also have to link up with Facebook somehow, to get matches. And DNA has nothing to do with these matches, they’re all based on the pedigree you’ve entered on the site, and enhanced by information from other people’s pedigrees, I guess.  So every now and then, we get a notice from “We’re Related” telling us who may be a cousin, and exactly how we are possibly related. This week, for me, it was Steve McQueen.

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Me & Cousin Steve

When we first get the notice of a match, it’s fun and interesting to see who is our distant cousin, but I never took it very seriously, since practically everyone in the US who has colonial ancestors, is related at the level of tenth cousin or so, right?  [Or, as one friend put it, “we’re all brothers and sisters when you go back to the beginning!”]

But it wasn’t until I was reading a blog called A Tree Grew in Oakland that I realized I should be checking the connections given in these notifications, to see if they are feasible. I knew by clicking on the 10 in the notice above, and seeing the ten generations the site came up with for my lineage, that I only had an ancestor for the prior 5 generations. It ended with my furtherest-back ancestor, a great-great grandmother, but they listed 5 more generations previous to hers. You could say that I had a brick wall. I didn’t know where she came from. I still don’t know for sure, but these new connections are feasible, and when I entered some of the information, hints popped up to show that there are historical records that confirm the data.

Another coincidence is that a few days before, I’d gotten a notice that Derek Jeter is possibly my 8th cousin. When I clicked on the 8 to see what they came up for our common ancestor, the lineage included that same great-great grandmother, but this time it showed  three previous generations in her maternal line, rather than paternal like the Steve McQueen connection.

Amazing, do you think that great-great grandmother wanted her lineage to be found? Time to stop all the fun speculation and actually follow up on some of these leads.

As Pat Shaul, the author of A Tree Grew in Oakland, says, not all of the connections on “We’re Related” are correct. But when he wrote that he had some checking to do, it hit me that those speculative relationships from Ancestry.com can be a gold mine of a starting point for research!

The Allez Gators Quilt

Thanks to Google, I was able to quickly find out that the French word for quilt is courtepoint. I have to admit, I’ve never ever seen or heard the word courtepoint before! Not that I have much of a working vocabulary for French anyway; my formal training in French words is limited to 2 years at Herndon High School back in the seventies…“Où est Phillipe? Il est a là piscine….”

But I have a family member who majored in French at the University of Florida. In fact, her grandfather was a French scholar and chairman of the languages department.  Owing that French words and being a gator are dear to her heart, I designed a lap quilt around those two elements.

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la courtepointe est finie

The design is based on the chants they make you do when you go to a football game. “Orange!” “Blue!” “Orange!” Blue!” et cetera.  So in French it would be “L’Orange! Le Bleu!”  Not exactly rocket science here, but… we’re talking…college football. Then, I added “Allez Gators!” Get it?  The standard greeting in Gainesville, if you come across anyone who is dressed in orange and blue, no matter what the occasion, is “Go Gators!”

The stripes in the quilt were made after the manner of Edyta Sitar’s Mix ‘N Match Inspired Scrappy Quilting class from Craftsy. Fabric is cut into strips, then pieced together, then cut into the desired shapes: in this quilt, the shapes were cut from the Rick-rack template on an Accuquilt Go! Big cutting machine. And the green gator was just a freehand sketch.

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strips into stripes, the orange version

Sitar has a recommended mix for this type of assembly, with 5 types of fabrics that blend well with colors, including a large print, a small print, a polka dot, a stripe,,,but I used fabrics that match up with the gator licensed collegiate fabric. Florida has a distinctive paprika-colored orange and a royal blue; you wouldn’t want to end up with, say, a Tennessee orange which has more yellow, or the Auburn orange and blue, which is burnt orange and navy blue. Totally different orange and blue. Oh, yes, there’s more to college football rivalry than prowess on the field, you have to get the true colors right. There’s room for some creativity, but one must uphold the standards, as set forth here.

Ah, for the lettering…I could have used one of the cool Rivermill machine embroidery appliqué templates, but the problem there, is getting the individual letters sewn onto the quilt top one by one, with a pleasing amount of space in between each letter. If you’ve ever done calligraphy, using a Speedball pen and ink guidelines book, you’ll recall that every letter has a standard dimension, and the spaces between the letters are not the same. When you are appliquéing letters on a background fabric using machine embroidery, you’d have to know the exact dimensions of each letter and how far apart to space them.  I thought it would be easier to just draw out the letters, then attach Wunder-under to the back of the lettering and glue it onto the fabric before satin-stitching around the edges. Easier said than done! Wunder-under consists of a piece of paper that has glue on both sides, one side having an additional backing paper. The idea is to iron it on to a piece of fabric, then peel off the backing, exposing the glue on the other side, then flipping the appliqué over and ironing that side down to another fabric. But to use that “easy” procedure, you’d have to draw the word backwards on to the Wonder-under first, which is something that the left-brained aspect of me, was unable to pull off.

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ironing Wunder-under to the back of a fabric

So what I ended up doing, was sketching the word on the back of the Wunder-under, the crinkly, textured side that has the first application of glue to be ironed on, then ironing it onto the wrong side of the fabric, then cutting out around the sketched letters with embroidery scissors and an X-acto knife, then peeling off the backing of the Wunder-under and ironing it down to the quilt top.

After all the appliqué pieces were backed with the adhesive sheets and ironed onto the quilt top, I stitched around them with zig-zag or satin stitching to anchor them down. Then I starched both top and backing (both fabrics being white cotton), and quilted them together in random stipple stitching with orange thread,  with a layer of poly-cotton batting in between. I sent off for some pre-wound orange bobbins on Amazon from a dealer who had originally bought them from Superior Threads, and I had no trouble with tension. Then I squared up the edges and applied a binding strip 2 1/4 inches wide, also cut with an Accuquilt die. I bet it would have looked great with rick-rack shaped edges, but I was chasing a deadline at this point, so straight edges it was.

Happy holidays, and though they didn’t even get a bowl game this year,  Go Gators!

Holiday Brunches

WARNING!! If you have gluten sensitivity, are vegetarian, pescatarian, vegan, Paleo,  or have any other dietary limitations or qualms about eating fattening food, just pass on over this post, nothing to see here…<

I love the idea of having a late breakfast -slash-early lunch during the holidays. As craftspeople, we like the satisfaction of making things when it comes to meals, too, or just basking in the glow of other people’s creations.

We had brunch at the local breakfast house, 43rd Street Deli, Saturday. Take a look at their creative specials menu:

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holiday specials

I had to go for the Crabby Patty special, needless to say.

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Crabby patties for breakfast

Those curvy-shaped fried things with the green undertones are fried avocado slices. Pretty delicious! And their toaster was on the fritz, so I had to get rye toast that had been grilled in just a thin even layer of butter…savory-crisp on one side…

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Skip always gets pretty much, this

Skip’s usual: 2 eggs, any style, with sides. Amy went for the creative and exotic.

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Cajun Persuasion Benedict

Noele liked the decked-out Holiday Waffle.

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waffleicious

Amy asked for a sample of the blackberry-thyme topping that went with another menu item we passed over, and tasted as good as it sounds.

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Berry Thyme

We got a Swiss Colony breakfast  box as a gift from James and Danielle, so we decided to break it out for Christmas morning.

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Swiss Colony Christmas gift breakfast

The part we enjoyed included peppered bacon, Canadian bacon, marmalade and strawberry preserves, but there’s much more for another day’s brunch….

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bacon, eggs, toast and orange marmalade

I got the recipe for this Olive Shortbread from a recent magazine; it’s a sweet-salty nibble.

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Kalamata Olive shortbread

We still have a little bit of mini-canolli and cherry-topped cheesecake leftover from the family party, for dessert. Oh, did I mention, breakfast comes with dessert at Christmas?

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desserts

This was Amy’s Christmas morning brunch.

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Amy’s Chicago-style Deep Dish Pizza brunch spread

Is that spiced cider in the lower right? Mmmmm.

John and Amber had biscuits and gravy after opening presents. I didn’t get a picture, but I can picture it in my mind, with hot sausage,  big flaky buttermilk biscuits, thick-sliced crispy bacon on the side…

Merry Christmas everyone!

Simple Holiday Sewing with Buzzkill Fears and Trepidations

Which is better, cotton or polyester?

It used to be cotton all the way, however, there are so many cool polyester fabrics, it would be a shame to miss out on them. Am I right?

The idea for this Santa blanket came from looking through my fabric stash. The stash includes a big box of polar fleece, minky, minky dot and velour-type fabric remnants, mostly polyester or cotton-poly blends. Our local JoAnn store will roll up some fabric remnants for sale at 50% (sometimes 75%) off.

Most apparel remnants are less than a yard, but most Home-Dec items, including blanket-type material, can be a yard or more. I figure that one yard of fabric 50 to 60 inches wide is a good size for a lap quilt or a baby blanket. If less than .8 of a yard, it would look better pieced with some other fabric.

The main part of this Santa blanket is a high-pile red minky that’s velvety soft on both sides. I think it’s the ideal fabric for a soft blanket. The edges are trimmed with thick bands of white minky dot fabric sewn on right-side edge to back edge of blanket, folded over and sewn down, which are supposed to be reminiscent of the trim on Santa’s hat and suit.

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Santa blanket

The next is a takeoff on the Santa blanket, except the center part is pieced and backed. The top is made of 3 pieces of flannel (flannel is a cotton fabric) in red, black and white. The top was sewn, right sides together at two edges, to a piece of red minky dot fabric (polyester). Actually, the back is two pieces; I had to add a strip because the back wasn’t quite big enough. The big fabric cylinder was then turned inside-out. Then two wide strips of black minky dot fabric were sewn on the two ends with still-raw edges, folded over and sewn down, à la Santa blanket above.

I wasn’t very happy with the way it looked constuction-wise, so I decided this one is going to be kept on our couch, ain’t nobady’s business if I do. If I decided to give this as a gift, I probably would have put a layer of polyester batting in the center and quilted it together.

If not tacked together in the center (which this one isn’t), these layers of fabric will probably crackle with electricity when you shake out the blanket. I always worry about stuff like that. For instance, you see along the selvage, on really cute children’s pattern flannel and other fabrics, the buzz-kill warning: Not to be used for children’s sleepwear.

You can google this and find that there are several points of view: that some of these fabrics could catch fire easily. But then, commercial pajamas for kids have chemicals in them to serve as flame-retardants to the fabric in case it does catch on fire. I can remember my kids wearing sleepers that, when they’d been washed about a zillion times, really did crackle and spark with static electricity when they were romping around in them. Wonder if the flame-retardant chemicals washed out after a while? Wonder if the chemicals contributed to eczema? Wonder if shaking out these blankets full of static electricity could cause a fire?

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take off on Santa blanket

And while we’re on the subject of polyester fabrics, there’s a new contraindication going around: shellfish are eating little pieces of plastic that they find in their natural habitats, which are in turn passed on to us at the dining table. Researchers have found that one source of the tiny plastic particles in seafood is run-off water in which polyester clothes are washed. Here’s one article.

We could wall ourselves off from all polyester and acrylic contamination: wear only organic fibers, eat only organic foods, wash with soap that doesn’t contain exfoliating pellets of man-made whatever.  Or maybe it’s too late for that? Maybe it’s a step in the ultimate direction of The Singularity, where mankind becomes one with machine…it starts with our food sources ingesting plastic, and then little by little, those plastic components creep into our metabolisms, our anatomies, our selves?

I think I like cotton better.

 

Simplifying Holiday Decor

Decorating for the holidays: I’m all for simplifying!

Last year, the kittens were less than a year old at Christmas, and we knew that if we brought an 8- or 10-foot tree into the house, it would get crazy in here. This year, Ponyboy has beefed up to about 16 lbs and when the three cats go racing around the living, dining room, and kitchen, he can be a formidable projectile.  So we don’t think we’re ready to go back to a real tree, and got the plywood cat-loving tree we made previously, down from the attic.

The coffee table needed some bright color…lucky for me, I had a cache of remnants that would fit the bill.

I started out with a whiteish piece of fabric, which I thought might work for a center square to machine embroider something on. I ended up giving this Urban Threads design a go: it’s a dirigible-driven sleigh for a steam-punk Santa. Then I squared up the fabric to the design, trimming the block to about 9 inches.

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Santa’s dirigible, an Urban Threads design

Of all the suitable remnants I had lying around in the hoard, I chose a bright red glitter cotton one, a polyester plaid shot through with gold metallic threads, and a polyester shiny metallic green fabric with diamond-patterned raised stitching.

For the lining or backing…I thought something gold would be good–preferably something I had in the stash that was already wide enough so I wouldn’t have to piece it. I brought out several…

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gold fabric for backing
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or maybe one of these?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jackpot, of course I picked the one that was wide enough. I pinned it, right sides together, to the pieced and stitched top, sewed around the perimeter, leaving a fist-size opening, then turned the inside out and pressed the edges. Then I stitched around the edge of the finished square.

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this was the backing we ended up with
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coffee table cover being snagged by cat
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under the cat-proof tree

On the wall above the mantel in back, is what Skip calls…the Family “Palm” Tree.

 

 

 

Most Lame Halloween Ever

It’s even more depressing to talk about it.

We didn’t even have one trick or treater come to the door.

And I hurt from the knuckles up from my three-hour visit to the dentist to get prepped for a crown.

So the thought of “more candy for me” doesn’t even sound good.

I tried to “friend” my dentist on Facebook a couple of years ago. She was like “hell, no.”

Because I am the worst patient ever. I woke up this morning (All Saints Day, la la!) with crumbles of that rubbery material they use to make impressions of your teeth, two trays of which I barfed up onto the reclining chair of doom, stuck in my hair. Ew.

But here are some pics that capture the spirit of the holiday, at best…

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neighborhood hi-jinks
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Who are the people in your neighborhood? Ghouls.
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Our Sheenah and the new 99 cent Publix shopping bags
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in your space decorations
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open front door, see butt of 12-ft tall scary cat

Thanks to Danielle for the last two pics of their decorations, they were so funny I had to share them. The skull, with its rotating eyeballs, is maniacal!

Walking Out in the Morning Dew Stream of Consciousness

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“Red sky at morning, sailor take warning”

With temperatures falling into the 60’s at early morning, been able to resume brisk walking in the neighborhood. Walking is meditation in motion. I can’t help thinking about the glut of bad news from the day before and the day before. And tunes from the past get stuck in my head…Armageddon is waiting…governments and the itchy trigger fingers of the men on the big posters…is this the eve of destruct-chienne? The dogs of war are not here, at least: we have a leash law…

Are we walking into a lonely road that leads to isolation? Does it take us to a place where we will no longer be safe?

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the creepy back road

Down the end of the road is about 15 minutes. I need another 15 minutes to make 30 minutes so I can count this as a workout. I head down the side road to the offshoot condo community, a bastion of liberal-leaning anonymous neighbors, I think some older, retired academics…can tell by their bumper stickers and license plate holders, proclaiming “Obama 2012” and “My other car is a Tardis…” and they’re sleeping, or out walking a big dog at dawn, skulking, not wanting to make eye contact. The place reminds me of Reston, Virginia in the seventies…and sure enough as I saw the pink sky at sunrise a few minutes ago, it has started to rain…the slats of the wooden privacy fences absorb raindrops and release the scents of carved-up trees, their dried pulpy insides open for all to imbibe…who will fight for these intellectuals, sleeping within? Their reasoning, their discerning powers will be laid waste in the looming millennia…

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rainbow

Focusing on the footfalls through pine needles and air-composted tree debris along the curb, I glance up, not alerted by anything, and chance to see the rainbow…it’s pale…but unmistakeable…and suddenly I do not seem to be so bereft of hope…

 

Using current technology to create 19th Century crafts