Category Archives: Home Decor

Quilting for the Tropics

by jenny

My grandmother used to say “We lived in ‘the tropics’…” which included Guam  and Hawaii, during the time period leading up to World War II. When they retired, they moved to Florida, which she considered to also have a tropical climate.  And she wasn’t always happy about the heat and humidity in Florida. Being a practical quilter, she wanted to make quilts that would be useful to the prospective owners. One of my favorite quilts she made for us had a pieced top made of scraps leftover from when she made us flannel pajamas, and the backing was cotton sheeting. There was no batting in between. It was just the right weight, and kept us toasty warm but not suffocated like a heavy blanket would. The cotton backing was cool and almost slippery.

I kept those attributes in mind when I set out to make some quilts for our favorite non-profit organization, Plenitud PR.  They do workshops in sustainable living practices, organic gardening, rainwater management, and much more. Although the temperature is always around 70 to 85 degrees F, some of the workshop participants would appreciate sleeping with a light blanket.

I used cotton flannel remnants for the quilt tops. Remnants are usually what is left over on the bolt of fabric after most of the yardage has been sold. They are typically less than a yard in length, and packaged as remnants and sold at less than the usual price. At JoAnn Fabric, they are normally 1/2 the regular price, and sometimes go on sale for even less. Some cheaply made cotton flannel is wound onto the bolt so that the fabric grain is skewed. I always wash lengths of cotton flannel before cutting, then make sure the cut edges are straight, by cutting a little notch near the cut edge and ripping the fabric along the straight grain until I reach the end of the cut edge. Sometimes I have to cut and rip more than once to be able to rip straight to the other edge.

For these blankets, I embroidered plenitud.pr on the lower front. Now that I have looked up the web site, I see that it is Plenitud PR (without the ., but technically it is now PlenitudPR.org. Placement of the dot can be crucially important in our high-tech world). But since it is just a blanket now, and currently has no power to connect to the Internet (now, but how about in the future?) I will leave as is.

machine embroidery hoop jennyskip
hooping the fabric for machine embroidery

The backing is extra-wide cotton, made for the special purpose of backing quilts, so that it doesn’t have to be pieced. I spotted these bolts of extra-wide material at JoAnn’s, and was able to find several that only had a small amount left on the bolt. Another $core: I was given the “end of bolt” discount price for the yardage. The backings were cut just a few inches larger than the quilt tops, so that the larger edges could be folded over and stitched down for binding the edges. I used several of the machine’s designated quilting stitches for channel-quilting the tops to the backings, and for top-stitching the bound edges. Some of the stitches I wasn’t so happy with. For all the stitching, I used the walking foot, AKA Interchangeable dual-feed foot with the zig-zag attachment. I used the automatic stitching setting so I wouldn’t be cramming my foot on the pedal for a long time, but the tension and stitching looks very uneven on some of them. It’s not the prettiest stitching I’ve ever seen but ripping it out at this point seems unsustainable….

For historical information about quilting in the tropics from older generations, Hart Cottage Quilts site is fascinating to read.

What do the CNC, Laser and a Light Switch Plate Have in Common?

You can make a light switch plate with a CNC machine, and then engrave a decoration on the plate with a laser.  I was inspired by Kenbo Studio’s YouTube channel A Cut Above,  when he used a scroll saw to cut out a switch plate in the shape of  Star Wars droid R2D2.  My grandchildren love Star Wars, so I searched the internet for Star Wars images and landed on a cartoon image of R2D2, a good test image for my project.

Before I post the details of the project, let me digress into the history of the light switch, which is so cleverly hidden by this switch plate. Wikipedia gives a brief history:

“The first light switch employing “quick-break technology” was invented by John Henry Holmes in 1884 in the Shieldfield district of Newcastle upon Tyne.  The “quick-break” switch overcame the problem of a switch’s contacts developing electric arcing whenever the circuit was opened or closed. Arcing would cause pitting on one contact and the build-up of residue on the other, and the switch’s useful life would be diminished. Holmes’ invention ensured that the contacts would separate or come together very quickly, however much or little pressure was exerted by the user on the switch actuator. The action of this “quick break” mechanism meant that there was insufficient time for an arc to form, and the switch would thus have a long working life. This “quick break” technology is still in use in almost every ordinary light switch in the world today, numbering in the billions, as well as in many other forms of electric switch.

The toggle light switch was invented in 1917 by William J. Newton.

“As a component of a building wiring system, the installation of light switches will be regulated by some authority concerned with safety and standards. In different countries the standard dimensions of the wall mounting hardware (boxes, plates etc.) may differ. Since the face-plates used must cover this hardware, these standards determine the minimum sizes of all wall mounted equipment. Hence, the shape and size of the boxes and face-plates, as well as what is integrated, varies from country to country.

The dimensions, mechanical designs, and even the general appearance of light switches changes but slowly with time. They frequently remain in service for many decades, often being changed only when a portion of a house is rewired. It is not extremely unusual to see century-old light switches still in functional use. Manufacturers introduce various new forms and styles, but for the most part decoration and fashion concerns are limited to the face-plates or wall-plates. Even the “modern” dimmer switch with knob is at least four decades old, and in even the newest construction the familiar toggle and rocker switch appearances predominate.”

This brought to mind a two-button light switch that I saw at my grandmother’s house when I was a child.  At the time, I didn’t realize the historical significance of this type of switch!  Today,  a light switch takes on many shapes and types. We can control our lights remotely with our smart phones. I have a lamp in my house that has a built-in speaker to play audio files, that can be controlled with my smart phone.  We have light switches with built-in occupancy sensors to control the lights. I have even worked with light switches that provided a binary input to a microprocessor to control the air conditioning system at a laboratory.   But enough digressing… back to the project.

Using Vectric software and the dimensions of a single switch cover plate,  tap files were generated for the plate outline and the switch plate hole. The Shark CNC machine was fired up and a wall plate cut from1/4 inch thick Baltic plywood. After separating the wall plate from the tabs holding it in place, I set the plate under a store- bought switch plate, which was used as a template to drill the screw holes.  I could have used the CNC machine to do this, but it would have meant a bit change.  If I was making a number of these at one time, it may have been worth the extra step to change the bit. The wall plate was then given a quick sand, and then painted with a high gloss white primer, followed up with a clear coat of lacquer. 

Next, I moved the plate over to the Full Spectrum 40-watt laser to engrave a cartoon image of R2D2.  I’m still working out the details on how to line up the laser image on a project, so it took a couple of test runs to finally get the image centered on the wall plate. With the white paint and clear coat on the plate, it only took one pass with the laser to get a satisfactory image. I did reduce the speed to 80% and left the power setting at 100%.

I’m going to continue to experiment with this project using different types of wood.  I may also try to not only engrave the piece with the laser, but also to cut out the shape using the laser. I also want to try to improve on the use of the CNC, to provide a profile on the border of the switch plate. I think for the time being the grandkids will be happy with an image of their favorite cartoon figure. I might make some switch plates with a feel-good motif for the parents, too… maybe a plate engraved with the words  “When In Doubt, Turn It Out!”

light switch plate craftsbyjennyskip.com
light switch plate

Homemade Holiday

Just a little quickie post to recognize some Christmas gifts that were given to us, that were crafty and/or homemade.

We don’t want to seem unappreciative of the not-homemade gifts that were given to us, but we are especially excited that some of our family members made things to give us, or gave us things that were crafts made by someone. Crafting is rather a new thing for us. We’ve always liked crafting in our spare time, but now we have more spare time. We can try to do crafts we never had time to do before.

candy cane ornament
Candy cane ornament on the tree from granddaughter “A”

This candy cane ornament was a hand-made gift from our granddaughter. It looks like plaster of Paris (?) or a ceramic or clay shape, painted, with a hole drilled in the top and a silver ribbon added for hanging from the tree. Lovely handiwork!

crafty watch
This is a watch from grandson “C” that he bought at his school’s Christmas craft fair

I was blown away that grandson “C” chose this crafty watch for Me! at his school’s Christmas craft fair. It’s got a red (his favorite color) leather band with beads and a burnished metal butterfly charm that matches the watch, with a snap closure. Love it!

Christmas Cornhole craftsbyjennyskip
grandsons playing a game of Christmas cornhole on the lawn

Kids and grandkids played cornhole at our family Christmas party, using the set we made in a previous blog post:

http://craftsbyjennyskip.com/thanksgiving-food-fun-and-games/

see also: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7qJZQr3H7Xg

(And please subscribe to our blog and You-tube channel! Thank you!)

crocheted doily
crocheted doily from daughter-in-law Olga

We were in awe at the crochet skills that went into this gift from our daughter-in-law! The intricate, perfect, and beautiful stitches make this an heirloom piece. I’ve always been fascinated by the serene symmetry of vintage crocheted doilies. The intense blue color of this one (in real life, it looks a lot more blue than in this pic) makes it modern as well as classic.

Christmas breakfast
Food gifts for Christmas

Here we are “creating” with one of our Christmas food gifts, apple cinnamon pancake mix. This couple sent us a breakfast food package and a treat basket from the oldest Candy Shoppe in America, Ye Olde Pepper Company.

craftsbyjennyskip.com
Grandpa (AKA Santa) with some grandkids and their snowmen

Santa and some of the recipients of our Snow People project (see the post at: http://craftsbyjennyskip.com/snow-people-revisited/

Other crafty gifts we’ve gotten include artful photos, homemade sugared pecans, musical recordings, and gift cards at creative venues. It certainly is gratifying to see our posterity using their talents to create beautiful and useful things. And with this latest gift, we are reminded that…

happily ever after
Hope everyone had a happy Christmas!

Snowman Ornaments of Wood, for Christmas

Christmas tree ornaments are favorites for lathe turning projects. Carl Jacobson and Alan Stratton are sponsoring their fourth annual Christmas ornament contest for wood turners. See their You Tube channels for details. Over the 15 years I have been turning wood projects, I have only turned Christmas ornaments once. That was after watching a video on how to turn a “fly house” from a branch out of the yard. This mini-birdhouse was a favorite with the grandchildren. Carl’s challenge reminds me that making Christmas ornaments for the grandchildren would be a good project this year. With 18 grandchildren, it may be a monumental project! To keep it simple and do-able in the time I have, I’ve decided to turn snowmen. This won’t win any competitions but hopefully it will be a winner with the grandchildren, especially if I put their names on the ornaments.
In preparation for this project, I referred to the “no-fooling-around” resource on the web, the Wikipedia site, to learn more about snowpeople.

“A snowman (or snowperson) is an anthropomorphic snow sculpture often built by children in regions with sufficient snowfall. In North America, typical snowmen consist of three large snowballs of different sizes with some additional accoutrements for facial and other features. Common accessories include branches for arms and a rudimentary smiley face, with a carrot standing in for a nose. Human clothing, such as a hat or scarf, may be included. Low-cost and availability are the common issues, since snowmen are usually abandoned to the elements once completed.”
One of the first photographic records of a snowman was taken in about 1853 and is shown below.

snowman Wikipedia
Snowman 2

“The Snowman No. 2 (4095825226)” by Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru / The National Library of Wales from Wales/Cymru – The Snowman No. 2. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Snowman_No._2_(4095825226).jpg#/media/File:The_Snowman_No._2_(4095825226).jpg

Evidently there is no clear record of when the first snowman was made. Maybe it happened when a Neanderthal decided to make one to attract and trap a wooly mammoth. Bob Eckstein, author of a book entitled The History of the Snowman, documented snowmen constructed during medieval times by studying artistic work found in European museums, art galleries and libraries. One of the earliest illustrations he found was dated 1380.

Snowmen have been thrust into the competitive genre of “who is the biggest?” A record was established in 2008 in Bethel, Maine with a 122 foot, 1 inch snow-woman. Prior to this in 1999, Bechtel, Maine produced a snowman named Angus, 113 feet, 7 inches tall weighing 9,000,000 tons!

Okay, way too much information on snowmen. Because making a snowman is a fun winter activity, and decorating for Christmas is also a fun winter activity, it seems logical that our next project will be a snowman ornament.

The Hallmark Information web site offered some historical insight into Christmas decorating. Christmas trees have evidently been a holiday practice as far back as the 15th century in Germany, appearing in the Americas in the 1700’s. Evergreen trees showed up in religious plays adorned with apples and were referred to as Paradise trees. Later they were used in homes, and ornaments of small pastries in the shapes of stars, angels, hearts and flowers were hung on the trees. The custom of having Christmas trees spread through Europe and eventually was brought to America by German mercenaries fighting in the Revolutionary War. By the 1800’s Christmas trees were very popular in the United States. Many of the commercially available ornaments came from Germany. F. W. Woolworth brought the ornaments from Germany into the Five and Dime Era, selling $25 million worth of Christmas ornaments by 1890. At this time the German-made ornaments were cast lead and hand-blown glass. Over time, ornaments became more elaborate and more expensive. By 1925 Japan had entered the market and was shipping large quantities of ornaments to the US. Czechoslovakia entered the market and by 1935 over 250 million ornaments were finding their way onto US Christmas trees. By the beginning of World War II, American companies entered the ornament market. In 1973 Hallmark introduced ornamental glass balls.

I couldn’t find many historical notes on when hand-made wooden ornaments originated but they must have been used on early Christmas trees. Christ-Kindl Markt mentions “shaved wood” ornaments created by farmers, in their essay on German Christmas ornaments history.

A wooden snowman seems to be an appropriate historical object to adorn a Christmas tree or a holiday table. But one last concern, since these are going to my grandchildren, who range in age from about one year to 17 years: safety. I don’t mean safety at the lathe, that’s a topic for another discussion, but safety associated with the ornament.
The ANSI/ASTM approved ornament would probably have to be made of surgical grade stainless steel, one foot in diameter and equipped with seat belts! It would have to comply with mechanical/physical testing (choking hazard), flammability testing (oops maybe I’ll need to soak the wooden snowmen in a flame retardant such as boric acid), chemical testing (oops again, the boric acid may be toxic and I guess lead based paint is out of question), electrical testing (check, we got this covered) and labeling (guess it will have to be 12 inches in diameter to accommodate all the labels or I could use the trick like they use on TV: ultra fine print to list all the side effects that can result from use of this ornament).

I think I’ll play it safe and make some wooden table snowmen ornaments and paint them with child-proof paint in case the grandchildren gnaw on them. I’ll provide a lengthy Christmas letter with the ornament gift, that enumerates in great detail everything our family has done over the past year and sum it up with a three page, ultra fine print disclaimer associated with the use of the ornament.

I chose Southern Magnolia, AKA poplar, to make these snowmen, primarily because I had tons of it and secondly, I was going to paint them. Maple would have probably been a better choice but all of my maple is 4/4. I cut 2 1/2 inch square blanks 6 inches long and mounted them on a midi Jet lathe between centers. I mounted a Stebcenter drive in my scroll chuck and used this to turn the blank into a cylinder with a tenon. The blank was then mounted in the scroll chuck with the tenon and I let the chips fly. I used a combination of carbide tipped tools, a bedan and thin parting tool.
I did do some planning before I started turning. I tried to adhere to the 1/3 – 2/3 proportions. I do have plans to make a Fibonacci gauge but in this case I relied on the good ol’ 1/3 – 2/3 rule.

Once the snowman was parted off the lathe, my wife took over and turned this lifeless chunk of wood into a lively snowman.

I also wanted to provide my grandchildren with another memorable gift for the Christmas holidays, so in spite of my wife’s advice, I decided to add my Annual Christmas Satire to this blog. I must add a disclaimer that all figures in this essay are fictitious and any resemblance to anyone alive or dead is coincidental. It does answer the question….

Does Snowman 2 have a sibling and if so, what does he or she do?

By Solaroller (my pen name to protect me from the CIA, NSA, IRS, SPCA etc.)

Yes, Snowman 2 has a brother by the name of Shaved Ice, who is a gangsta’ rapper. They are actually step brothers, having been adopted by the same parents, Elmer and Madge Goldberg, both activists in the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The boys’ parents owned a large produce distribution company which gave them access to several large walk-in freezers, necessary to provide a comfortable environment for Snowman 2 during the spring and summer seasons. Their produce business also gave them a constant supply of carrots necessary to maintain Snowman 2’s proboscis (not to be confused with a worm’s proboscis, a long tubular sucking organ.)
Snowman 2’s birth parents had long disappeared sometime during the 1950’s while extensive above ground testing of the hydrogen bomb was taking place in New Mexico, Snowman 2’s birthplace. All that remains of Snowman 2’s parents is the Hot Mud Spa at the New Mexico Talladega Spa and Resort.
Snowman 2’s brother Shaved Ice was adopted by Elmer and Madge while they were on a trip to Havana, Cuba for their annual attempt to smuggle Cuban cigars into Miami, Florida. The cigars were painted yellow and shipped out of Cuba in crates of bananas in keeping with their produce business. Shaved Ice was found living in a dumpster behind a Cuban tattoo parlor, where, as a 10 year-old child, he would perform customized raps for tattoo parlor patrons. When they heard him sing “Elmer and Madge done outfoxed the Badge” to the tune of the Tiny Tim favorite “Tiptoe through the Tulips”, they knew that they had to have this little boy as part of their family.
Shaved Ice grew up to become a famous rapper at night while running the cigar smuggling business for Elmer and Madge during the day. All this went on year after year without Snowman 2’s knowledge. Snowman 2 did follow Shaved Ice’s climb to success as a rapper but was not aware of his nefarious cigar smuggling activities. It was only many years later that a series of events drove a wedge between these two loving brothers.
While on a gig at a Walmart parking lot in Carson City, Nevada, Snowman 2 encountered a young undisciplined boy by the name of Sheldon Wanarski, who grabbed three of Snowman 2’s buttons, typically made of lumps of coal, and ran off to a waiting car. Later it was learned that this little fellow was actually from a very disadvantaged home where the family barely had enough money to eat, much less pay to heat their home in the bitter Nevada winters. The little boy had taken the buttons to burn in their stove for space heating and to warm their porridge for dinner. Regardless, Snowman 2 was left buttonless, standing in the Walmart parking lot surrounded by hundreds of laughing, unsympathetic children.
Elmer and Madge were infuriated and spirited Snowman 2 off to their walk-in freezer while they figured out what to do. They contacted Santa to see if he could supply new buttons of coal, but were disappointed to hear that Santa had moved over to penguin poo as a substitute for coal. Elmer and Madge could not bring themselves to a decision to make this substitution for Snowman 2’s buttons. Upon hearing of this tragedy, Shaved Ice had a suggestion. He knew that Cuba still had connections with Russia. After the Cuban Missile Crisis of the 60’s Russia had begun to smuggle pin ball machines into Cuba. The Castros did not support any activity that brought joy to the Cuban people, so pin ball machines were outlawed. Over time, the unlawful entertainment machines advanced from pinball machines to Play Stations. As energy supplies in Cuba were strictly controlled by the government, the Cuban people had to pay exorbitant prices for energy. A black market developed, with the Russians smuggling lumps of coal into the country disguised as power supplies for Play Station games. Shaved Ice contacted his Russian customers for Cuban cigars and struck a deal. Russia would skim off some of the coal disguised as power supplies and divert these to Shaved Ice where he would paint them yellow and ship them into the US as bananas. All of this worked very efficiently until Snowman 2 happened to look more closely at one of his buttons and saw it was marked “made in Russia at forced labor camps”. He immediately went to Elmer and Madge and demanded to know what this meant. Elmer was never one to keep a secret and spilled the beans, telling Snowman 2 the whole history of his step brother and their smuggling business. Snowman 2 and Shaved Ice have since made peace with one another and now Snowman 2 uses penguin poo for buttons.

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!

Machine Embroidery Finish

Finished reversible table runner with an everyday side and a holiday-ish side.

quilted table runner
every day machine-quilted table runner
machine-quilted holiday table runner jenny skip
holiday side of runner

The design on the every day side was “traced” using the machine’s 2mm satin stitch, and free-motion settings. I feel that my machine’s specialty stitches are underused, so I wanted to try out one for this project. For stitching the outer border, the feed dogs were turned back on, and the machine’s star stitch was used.

star machine stitch jenny skip
close-up of star-stitch border

Finished just in time for Fall Selfish Sewing Week, It’s also the final wrap-up of National Sewing Month. Not sure if Selfish Sewing Week is a widespread phenom. I’d never heard of it before, but I do like the notion of it! Sometimes I don’t feel justified just sewing for myself, which is a little crazy, because there isn’t a lot of feedback generated from folks to whom I’ve given home-sewn gifts. Or the feedback isn’t overwhelmingly positive. If I sew something for myself and I end up hating it, it doesn’t hurt my feelings. If I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing it in public, there’s no visible shame, there’s no ongoing question. There’s no wondering if the other person received it in the mail, or getting the same package returned from the postal worker three months later.

What would you plan to sew if you were participating in Selfish Sewing Week? Something trendy?
Elle

Glamour

Vogue

Burda

Something for the home?

Etsy Fall Tutorials

Something for relaxation?

Spa Gift Patterns

Something to show your team spirit?

Go Gators! Etsy Offerings

The week’s wide open!

P.S. 23 December 2015

The more I looked at the finished table runner, the more that yellow binding around it didn’t agree with me. So I ripped it off and re-sewed metallic gold seam binding on the edge instead.

table runner, machine embroidery hack
everyday side with gold binding
machine embroidery hack with gold metallic binding
Christmas-y side, with gold-bound edges

Machine Embroidery Hack

This project is the second of a number of winter holiday quilts I intend to make for gifts this year.

Defining Quilting, Wikipedia writes that in America in the early 19th Century, the type of quilting done was whole cloth rather than pieced assembly. Piecework quilting would have been a thrifty pursuit, using up smaller bits of cloth. But colonial seamstresses were also able to employ thrift in the whole cloth quilts by using old blankets as batting in between layers of cloth and sewing through.

This small quilt, slated to be a tabletop runner or a wall decoration, is pretty much a whole cloth quilt, except for the addition of a couple of strips on the sides of the red panel, to make it an even match to the reverse side.

Like the colonial quilters, I decorated the whole cloth with an embroidery design. Except I “embroidered” with the sewing machine, using a 2mm satin stitch that is loose in some areas, tight in others. I switched the feed dogs’ normal setting to “free motion spring action” so that the fabric could be moved around under the needle in whatever direction I needed to sew. Then I attached the free-motion spring-action foot (I tried the plain free-motion foot first and didn’t like it a whole lot. The spring-action foot is much better). So this is not one of those machine embroideries that stitched out an automated pattern inside a fixed hoop, it’s all free-motion sewing using the machine’s satin stitch setting. A narrow zig-zag could be used with a similar effect.

To add a special holiday touch, I used gold metallic thread. I’ve had problems with metallic thread shredding during machine embroidery, but this time I wised up and used a special metallic thread needle, and it worked pretty good most of the time.

gold thread and metallic needles, craftsbyjennyskip.com
needle and thread

With a nod to the thrift and industry of our colonial forbears, I used fabric remnants for the front and back whole cloth components, with the green and black strips on the side from a Robert Kaufman Kona cotton roll-up (2 1/2″ x 44″ strips in Dark Colorstory). Love being thrifty! Love to see a cast-off roll of fabric in the remnant bin and wonder what can be done with just that one lone little piece?

Skip looked at the embroidery and said “Wow! Where did you come up with that beautiful design?”

metallic design, craftsbyjennyskip,.com
machine “embroidered” whole cloth

I just turned the little quilt over and said, “Here,” and showed him the motif on the reverse, which I had just traced over with the machine needle, and it duplicated the design on the opposite side in bobbin thread.

tracing design machine embroidery
reverse side

Are you also working on holiday gift items? September’s almost over…