Category Archives: Cats

A Project to Honor My Spirit Animal

Hey, remember a couple of posts back, when we looked at taking non-credit college courses online?  [Creativity and Connections] I took a Coursera class taught by some instructors at the University of Florida, called Healing With the Arts.

The class took us through a module a week, covering visual arts, music, dance, creative writing, drama, and we breezed through many interesting forms of expression. Although my life was hectic during the time, I’m now on the final week of the class, and I found myself needing to submit a final project, so here I am.

At one guided imagery session, the instructor encouraged us to become acquainted with our own “Spirit Animal.” [Being a Harry Potter fan, I usually substitute “Patronus” whenever the phrase Spirit Animal is used.] During the actual session, one of my cats, Ponyboy, burst into the room and insisted on cuddling with me at the exact point in the guided imagery when I was supposed to come to a clearing in the forest and meet my Spirit Animal. So, he became, in actuality as well as in imagination, my Spirit Animal.

This video goes through the process I used to create a bracelet that has a drawing I made of Ponyboy, laser engraved on it. As shown in the video, you could make a drawing, reduce it or enlarge it, or you could use a photograph, or you could laser engrave a .pdf you found on the Internet. A client could change up the decoration on the bracelet, using colored yarn, different beads, or any number of variations. If the laser printer was used in a hospital setting, it would need to have some ventilation.

Altogether a very interesting class! I will keep going back to the journal I created for the class, and try to keep it going to stimulate creative projects that have other good, healing results!

Building a “Cat-Proof” Christmas Tree

For the first time in many, many years, we decided to forgo getting a regular Christmas tree and make our own…out of wood.  The reason became very clear as we watched our six month old kittens repeatedly try to climb an artificial plant in our TV room only to have it come crashing to the floor.  Now, we have had cats forever and we have witnessed them denuding the Christmas tree one or two feet above the floor, drinking all the water out of the tree stand and pulling the tree skirt out from under the tree to make a nest.  But this year we decided to surrender to the cats and make a cat proof tree, or as one of our sons calls it, a cat accommodating tree!

basic plywood tree jennyskip
basic plywood tree

I acquired three 2’ x 4’ sheets of ½ inch Baltic plywood, and using scraps of wood and green deck screws, fastened the sheets together to form a 6’ x 4’ pallet for my wife to draw a Christmas tree. The plan was to construct a tree that could easily be disassembled once Christmas was over and to store the tree in the attic. I asked Jennifer to outline the tree and locate two large openings for shelves and two smaller openings to use for hanging cat play toys.  When this was completed I took a jig saw and cut out the tree and large openings. I used an electric drill with a 4” diameter hole saw to cut out the smaller openings.

I painted the tree with forest green paint and took it inside for Jennifer to decorate the tree.  We covered the dining room table with brown paper and it became our inside work bench for constructing the tree. Jennifer will tell you that our dining room table is my favorite work bench!!

While Jennifer added snow, popcorn, holly and beads, I began construction on the boxes that were to provide the support for the tree. The plan was to mount a 5” wide by 10”  deep by 10” high box to the back of the tree at the center. Five inches of the box was left exposed from the front and would be decorated as the tree trunk.  Two boxes 12”x 12” x 10” deep would be constructed and decorated as Christmas presents, these would be attached to the front of the tree on the left and right side of the trunk. This provided a very stable tripod arrangement to support the tree. These were fastened from the back of the tree using the same deck screws used throughout the build. The boxes were constructed using ½ inch Baltic plywood. I used a skill saw to cut out all the parts since my table saw was still occupied by the Boy Scout Eagle project we are working on (Adirondack chairs for a homeless shelter in town. Maybe a topic for another blog… how to build chairs with 10 boys 13 to 14 years old trying to use electric drills and sanders!)

Two 12” inch deep shelves were cut from the same ½ “ Baltic plywood. These had their front corners rounded off with the jig saw and painted red. Later these had a wooden strip attached to the bottom which provided a bracket for attaching the shelves to the tree.

tripod tree base jennyskip
three wooden boxes form tripod base

The tree was moved to the TV room and placed in front of the fireplace. The backup plan for supporting the tree was to run a board between the tree and underside of the fireplace mantel.  We then loaded the tops of the boxes and shelves with treats and hung two catnip toys in front of the small openings and sat back to see what happened. Our 16-year-old cat and the two kittens immediately put the tree to use. They climbed the front, the back and in between. The tree did not even shudder! Success!

cat Christmas tree jennyskip
cats checking out the tree

Of course, after 30 minutes the newness wore off and they haven’t been near the tree again. However, my wife and I have felt stress-free! No broken glass Christmas decorations!  No throw-up from the cats reacting to the chemicals added to the Christmas stand water to extend the life of the dying tree (only kidding about the chemicals). No urine stains on the Christmas tree skirt!  No 50,000 pine needles all over the floor to clog up the vacuum!  And I figure that if I get one of those tree shaped things you hang up in your car that are pine scented, we can even enjoy the smell of a real tree! Next, we might even add LED lights, battery-powered so we don’t duplicate the cat-atrophy I saw on the movie Christmas Lampoon!

A Left Brain Autumn Table Runner Post

For Autumn table runner number 3, I’m doing a left brain sort of a project. Actually they’re all pretty left brain for me, because rather than offering a tutorial or a gallery of images, I tend to analyze everything that went into a project. To the nth degree.

This project looks pretty simple, but it was troublesome to pull off.

I had it in my head that I wanted to do some machine appliqué text letters. But nothing in my pattern files fit. Ditto for the two of my favorite sources for machine embroidery patterns,  Embroidery Library site and Urban Threads. I found the appliqué font for this project, Sporty Script, at Rivermill. It was delivered in a zipped file, including several different sizes. I chose the biggest size, 7 inches, for this.

As this is the first sewing project featuring text as the main design element, that I’ve done in a while, I was experimenting. Just playing around, really, to get a feel for what I could do, how it would end up. My fabrics were remnants, of course, of about a yard each for the top and bottom. The top piece is Hoodie’s Collection for Michael Miller Daisy Drama  in fall colors. The bottom is a mustard-colored Fabric Traditions NTT print with glitter shot through it. At first, I wanted the fabric of the text appliqués to be a yellow-orange or a sherbet-color, but I tried mocking that up, and didn’t like the resulting look much. In the end, I decided on the green batik. It picks up some of the color of the green and beige and yellow in the top fabric, but it’s more subtle than a solid orange or yellow would have been.

The thread for the satin stitch around the letters was a light gold Robison-Anton rayon, color Patricia. When I first bought an embroidery machine, I got several boxes of thread with it from the dealer. I didn’t realize this spool was from the special Marcia Pollard Elegance Collection, as I guess the free box was a sampler of various RA threads. But I liked the color, and have used it for a lot of machine embroidery. The machine’s embroidery software has a matching feature, so that if you don’t have a color your pattern calls for, it will bring up the closest color you have on hand, if you have entered all your inventory into the program’s database. Anyway, I forgot to search in the matching db, but took off for the sewing store thinking I could just grab another spool of “Patricia,” pay, and leave. Wrong. They didn’t have it. So to be on the safe side I got 3 spools of similar gold colors, hoping one of them would be a good match. One of them was ok, but it took some testing to determine that.

To do appliqué embroidery on a quilting cotton-type fabric, I hoop up the fabric and stabilizer(s), in this order: 1) tear-away stabilizer on bottom, 2) table runner top background fabric (the Daisy), 3) fabric of the text appliqués (the green batik), 4) possibly a transparent water-soluble stabilizer on top, but not always necessary. I didn’t break it down into a detailed mathematical placement here, so the lettering is somewhat haphazardly scattered. I did do some general arithmetic to make sure I had enough surface area to put 13 letters down, including 3 upper case ones, that were in a 7-inch font size. As I hooped and appliquéd the letters one or two at a time, I didn’t get the same amount of space in between them, like you would if you were hand-lettering from a Speedball chart. I will need more practice positioning with chalk or a disappearing marker, before trying to eyeball it next time.

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Sorry to report that, weirdly enough, after many attempts, I could not get this photo, taken with an iPhone in the portrait position, to rotate into the correct position!  A WordPress phenomenon! I’ve found since, that a workaround is to only use iPhone photos taken in the landscape position. Unless you know how to insert some code that will get the program not to automatically rotate your portrait photos, which I currently don’t.

I added some leaves and acorns cut with the Accuquilt Go! Big machine and Fall Medley template and applied with Steam-a-Seam 2. Then stitched around the shapes with a machine satin-stitch.

I loaded the top, bottom, and batting onto the quilting frame, with the long edges pinned to the leader cloths, in hopes that it would only take two passes to quilt with the Qnique. It did, but the bobbin stitches for about half of the runner were horrifically ugly.

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Ugly bobbin stitches with obvious tension problem.

I briefly considered leaving this the way it is, because the top looks fine, and hopefully no one will come over for dinner and snoop underneath the runner, to see what the underside looks like. But dang! If they do, seeing this will ruin their appetite for sure. So I picked out all the ugly stitches while watching the Blacklist last night on TV.

Next, redid the meander stitch quilting using sewing machine with a free-motion spring foot, then squared up the corners and edges. For the binding, nothing I had in a package looked good, so I went into the scrap bin and cut up all the scraps of the green batik into 2-inch wide strips, sewed them together, folded the strips in half long-wise, and sewed the binding out of that.

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The applique saying is “Happy Fall Y’all” and with a black cat and a velvet pumpkins on the table, it’s beginning to look like Halloween around here.  Never mind about the digital photo orbs in the background.

Autumn Table Runners

This is the second autumn table runner post, the first one presented a few posts ago, here. That first one was pretty much general quilting, with a pieced top and a whole underneath side, with batting in between, quilted on the Qnique longarm, or “mid arm,” as some people designate it. The raw edges are bound with Wright’s Quilt Binding.

table runner jenny skip
pieced Autumn table runner

If you had to categorize this next one, the main descriptive word that comes up is “appliqué.” It is quilted, in that small pieces of fabric were put together on the top. But the underside is not pieced, unless you count that I ripped it in half length-wise and serged the two long halves together.  And there is no batting in the center.

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appliqué Autumn table runner, with Sheenah

Naturally, the fabrics used in these projects are mostly remnants from the 50%-off bin at JoAnn Fabric Store. I had a couple of larger pieces of fabric, say, almost a yard each, for the top and bottom. The top is a plaid fabric with metallic orange-gold threads woven into the check pattern. The backing is a striped very low-pile flannel in yellow, tan, and tobacco-ey colors that wash together.  You can see the center seam of the runner above, and I decided to make one side a maple motif, and the other side an oak motif. All the leaf, pumpkin, and blackbird appliqués were cut with the Accuquilt Go! Big machine and templates. I backed each appliqué piece with Steam-a-Seam 2 double-sided fusible web, also cut on the Accuquilt cutter, and then ironed them on to the runner top side.

applique jennyskip
deciding where the appliqué shapes were going to go, and securing them down

After the appliqués were applied, I wanted to pull them all together with branches and tree motifs. I looked at lots of methods for yarn and textile couching, which is technically just laying down strands of yarn or string and then sewing over them. Looking through my box of sewing machine feet, AKA my Foot Stash, I found that I had a heretofore unused Yarn Couching Feet Set.

Husqvarna Viking Yarn Couching feet jenny skip
couching kit

The two plastic feet each had a small hole (one was larger) through which the end of the yarn was to be threaded. You hold the end of the yarn in one hand and move it around, if in “free motion” mode, and then sew over it. (You can also use it with an embroidery hoop and software pattern.) The kit also contained two different types of hooks to mount on the back of your machine, to use as thread guides for the yarn, a device for threading thick yarn into small holes, and some sample yarn and a DVD and basic instruction sheet.

I found this process to be pretty interesting, but this yarn was very slubby and every so often I had to cut and re-thread, because the big slubs wouldn’t go through the hole.

yarn couching jenny skip
yarn couching on the oak side

Next, after couching, I needed to sew down the appliqués. Originally I wanted to do a big thread-art project, using different colors of thread to add shading to the pumpkins and also do the tree trunks and branches in embroidery thread. But since I used the thicker yarn, I decided to just basically outline the shapes in one color and not do a whole bunch of shading, and leave it as sort of “primitive” colors and shapes.

accuquilt table runner jenny skip
finished runner, with free-mo embroidered appliqués

After going over all the appliqués with free-motion embroidery, I spray-starched the backing and ironed both top and back, making sure the back piece lined up with the top. Then I sewed all around the edges of the top  with Wright’s Bias Tape Maxi Piping in black, with the piping facing inward, toward the center of the cloth. I then sewed the backing on, right side facing the appliquéd side of the top, and sewed the edges, leaving the piping sandwiched between, and leaving about a fist’s length of seam unsewn, for turning. After turning inside out, and hand-sewing the opening closed, I pressed the edges, making sure the piping was peeking out and at the very edge of the seams. Then I top-stitched around the edges, about 1/4 inch from the piping edge, using thread that matched the top (and back for the bobbin thread).

Sometimes people will comment on the nice stitching, so I wanted to come clean and say that it isn’t me who’s responsible for that, it’s my Foot Stash. I use a special see-through foot with a little groove in the bottom, for sewing piping, and another special see-through foot with a metal attachment, called an edge-stitching foot, for top-stitching.  And the machine has a triple-stitch function that I use for pretty top-stitching, setting the length on a 5 or so (normally it’s more like a 2.5 for ordinary seams).

jenny skip natural edge table and runner
Skip’s natural-edge table decked out for a Fall party

It was fun to make, and the cats definitely like it.  Sigh.  Cat people will understand.

 

Riding the Coat-tails of my Jacket Success…

By Jenny

After my successful jacket project with Craftsy I decided to do another jacket, this time on my own, with another pattern and no online instructions or lifeline to help me out, in case I got in over my head.

This was a remnant project in that I used mostly fabric remnants from JoAnn’s clearance bin. Since remnants at JoAnn’s are typically 1 yard or less, I counted myself lucky to find 3 matching remnant rolls, which added up to enough fabric to make a jacket. Incidentally, I was looking at the wrong side of the fabric and picturing that as the final finished article.  When I opened the fabric rolls, I saw the right side of the fabric: it was shiny like satin and about twice as vivid in color as the underside! I used a synthetic suede remnant for the skirt, and a 4-way stretch remnant for the top.

In the end, I wasn’t 100% happy with the results, but I learned a lot.

suit craftsbyjennyskip.com
jacket, top and skirt

I chose a Butterick suit pattern with the name Connie Crawford as the designer [B5336], thinking that the Sewing Personality Connie Crawford’s touch would make this a hot pro project. I was very impressed with the procedures and details, but also found some deep disappointments.

Good thing #1: The pattern comes in a plethora of sizes! You can even get it in a size 6X (that’s 42 – 44 W). It says on the front “Modern Fit with Ready-to-wear Sizing”–I guess that’s true, the size range I bought came in Xsm to Xlg.

Good thing #2: Two jacket views, one with lapels and one without. Both views look like a classic suit jacket. You can have patch pockets in front or not. Both jacket and skirt were lined, so they looked rather tailored.

Good thing #3: There’s a big section in the pattern for fit adjustments if your figure is in need of some; like fuller arms, larger or smaller bust cup, pear or apple shapes, or slanted shoulders.

Disappointment #1: There was a missing piece. I guess they decided at some point to combine the waistband piece instead of having it in 2 pieces, 21 and 21A as shown in the pattern. Or maybe the 21A is only included in the larger sizes? I tried to go online and look up the pattern to see if there was any explanation but couldn’t find a jot anywhere.

Disappointment #2: In step 15 it talks about the jacket front lining (piece 15) but labels it piece 3, which is the same size and shape, but nevertheless had me utterly confused.

Disappointment #3: In step 20, it says to under stitch to the break point of the jacket (what is the break point? I couldn’t find the term anywhere else in the directions.) And I had trouble with the previous under stitching from step 13. It was extremely awkward to under stitch the way the instructions described.

Disappointment #4: The whole lining was sewn to the jacket with right sides together, so that a seam had to be opened up in order to turn the jacket right-side out. So in step 22, when the sleeves were sewn to the sleeve linings, it said to match the back seams to avoid twisting. But it didn’t elucidate on just how to do that, so I ended up doing it the way it seemed to me to be logical to do, but it was wrong more than once, and I had to rip it out both times and sew it again. A hassle!

Disappointment #5: This was the skirt waistband. Other skirts I’ve made call for an elastic strip to be inserted into the waistband through an opening that is later slip-stitched closed after the elastic end is sewn to the beginning. Then you can stitch in the ditch on the side seams to anchor the elastic to the fabric. In this pattern, the waistband is sewn to the top of the skirt with the raw edges of one side of the waistband even with the top of the skirt, then the elastic is sewn onto the seam allowance of the waistband, then the waistband is folded over and stitched to the skirt. It was a bad move because the waistband and elastic were very bunchy and the fabric got rippled and puckered. It was just a bad look. Then I had to hand-tack the hem up, and the synthetic suede fabric (called sueded knit) was pretty hard to pierce with a hand needle. Now that the skirt was lined with a woven lining fabric, it had no “give” to it like a knit, and was actually a little tight-fitting. Looks like I’m going to have to lose about 5 or 10 lbs before I feel very good about wearing it.

Disappointment #6: There were mondo pattern pieces; 21 to be exact. However, quite a few of the 21 had to be cut not only from fabric, but also lining and interfacing as well. That was a lot of cutting to do! I had to rest for a week. Would you believe that for this project I used 6 different types of fabric? Two linings, 3 fashion fabrics (the top wasn’t included in the pattern; I used another pattern that only had 3 pieces), and one large amount of interfacing.

Disappointment #7 but Good thing #4 to save for later: The finished outfit has much more of a Fall vibe to it than a Spring one! My fault because I looked at the underside of the jacket fabric to begin with. And the outside temp was already up to 90 degrees this week. So I guess this outfit will be ready to wear in about 6-8 months…

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The cats were in no way disappointed

Pick Your Passion: Quilting, Bluegrass, or Armchair Quarterbacking

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“Black & White & Cats Galore” quilt on display at the festival

Offering some recognition (!) to the quilters and musicians who put on the local Quilt and Bluegrass Show at Thornebrook. What a pleasure to walk the park, shop, and look at 75 or so gorgeous examples of fabric and thread art.

Thornebrook quilt show craftsbyjennyskip.com
Thornebrook setting for quilt display
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quilt on display at Thornebrook

Thanks to the Tree City Quilt Guild, A-1 Sewing, all the vendors, and the musicians. Patchwork was the ensemble performing while I was there. I love to listen to beautiful, pure folk singing with string accompaniment. Sublime!

Patchwork bluegrass
Patchwork singing bluegrass in the pavilion

Here’s another cat quilt featuring redwork embroidery.

redwork cats quilt
cats in redwork
Pam McIntyre quilt at 2015 festival
this one is by Pam McIntyre
thread art at Thornebrook 2015
gorgeous thread art mini-quilts
 Pele art quilt Thornebrook 2015
Goddess Pele art quilt at Thornebrook
Pele description
artist’s description

The festivities were slated to run until 5 pm or until it rains, so looks like the rain won out. Meanwhile, in another part of town, in the pouring rain, the Mighty Gators barely squeaked by with a win against unranked Florida Atlantic, in overtime. Unbelievable! Amazing day: pick your passion and run with it!

It’s Fall, Y’all

So we’ve been thinking about Fall home decor and Halloween hi-jinks. If you want to see some fascinating history about how modern-day Halloween celebrations have evolved since medieval times, check out this History Channel page.

Meanwhile, one of our two cats, Grayzie, had to go back to the Vet Specialist to get a second radiation treatment to burn out his thyroid, because apparently the first treatment didn’t work. Like before, he went and stayed at the vet hospital for about 5 days, until his radioactivity levels lowered enough for us to take him home. When he got home, the other cat, Pauly, hissed at him and treated him like–well, like a dog. Like he was a total stranger. We worked with them on that, rubbed Pauly, then Grayzie, down with a pair of dad’s dirty old socks (which they love to snog) and got that hissing back down to a minimum. But for a joke, we found this prop at the hardware store and put it out for Pauly, to see how she reacted.

cat skeleton jennyskip
“Grayzie, is that you?”

We had a lot of laughs with this photo; if you can come up with a funny caption you’d like to submit, please leave a comment!