Name Calling at Thirteen and a Half

We're considering a couple of names for the babe: either Cherry-Vanilla Ice Cream or Yogurt and Berries.  It's now 13.5 weeks old - old enough to learn its name, right?

Wonky Log Cabin Tutorial #5

Look at how far we've all come!  This is Val's quilt top, ready for basting and quilting:

For the last tutorial, we talked through the basting process, remember?  Basting is securing all three layers of the quilt together - the quilt top, the batting, and the backing - prior to quilting.  You have basting options - straight pins, curved quilting safety pins, or adhesive basting spray - and your choice just depends on your personal preference and style.  I started out using the basting spray, and LOVED it because it kept all the layers very secure while quilting.  I started moving away from using it because I couldn't afford it for all the projects I was doing.  But, whatevs.  It's your preference - try all three and see which you prefer. 
Check out Caitlin's quilt, all basted and ready to go (she used basting spray):

Alright.  This tutorial is about quilting.  You're probably thinking, "Isn't that what we've been doing all along?  Doesn't quilting mean 'to make a quilt'?"  Well, yes.  But it also means to sew through all three layers (top, batting, back) so they stay together.  A lot of traditional quilting is done by hand.  If you have the patience for that, kudos to you.  I do NOT have the ability to do that kind of thing by hand, so I always machine-quilt my pieces.  Side note: I typically use a regular 1/4" presser foot for quilting straight lines.  I have used a walking foot too, but really I don't see any difference in the quality of the quilting.  There's lots of debate research out there about regular vs. walking foot quilting.  Just do what you want.  It'll be OK.
Basically, you'll take your 3-layer basted quilt, and feed it through the machine, stitching in a pattern of some sort over the entire quilt.  There are a variety of pattern options out there.  Caitlin chose "stitch in the ditch," which means she sewed straight lines in each of the seams.  It doesn't really stand out on the front (because it's in the ditch, silly), but it shows up on the back.  I think that is a fun choice for a wonky log cabin quilt, because it adds some wonkiness to the back of the quilt too.  Just make sure you backstitch at the beginning and end of each seam - you don't want your masterpiece to unravel.

Others have decided on straight lines in a grid pattern - shows up more on the front and makes the quilt look "quilty" from both sides.  I'm a sucker for a soft, awesome quilty-quilt.  The more lines you stitch, the more quilty it'll look. 
You have tons of options - sewing a line down the middle of each strip, quilting a diamond or triangle grid pattern, only quilting the middle strips or outer strips, quilting 1/4" off the seam lines ... and on and on.  If you're not sure what to do, look around at what other people do, find quilts you like in magazines or on blogs, or allow the shape and pattern of the quilt to guide you.  It's fun to come up with new patterns, but it's good to know that you can just do a grid too.
Another side note: if you want to branch out beyond straight lines, and if you feel comfortable with your machine, you might want to try free-motion quilting.  Free-motion quilting gives you more control over the pattern, and you can do loops, circles, meandering patterns, or words.  I won't give you the tutorial on that (because it overwhelms me), but there are lots of good ones on other blogs (like this one or this one).  I will say, however, that you need to feel pretty comfortable with sewing and your machine before tackling a big quilt with free-motion.  Maybe try it out on a few potholders first.
Quilt the entire quilt - some readjustment may be necessary in the basting as you go along, but that's to be expected. 
Come back soon for Wonky Log Cabin Tutorial #6 ... the final step!


Gazpacho and the Half-Birthday Chinese Longevity Noodle

Once upon a time, in a faraway land, there lived a princess wait.  I got a little carried away.  The title of this post made me think that I needed to make up a children's book or something.  Not so.  Recipe first, then Half-Birthday Chinese Longevity Noodle.

Gazpacho (Cold Tomato and Cucumber Soup) - from Uncle Marvin of Maine
1 large can (32 oz) whole peeled tomatoes OR 3 1/2 cups fresh diced tomatoes
1/2 c. bread crumbs
1/3 c. olive oil
1/4 c. red wine vinegar (I used white wine vinegar - still good!)
1 very large cucumber, peeled
1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
1 large clove garlic
1 tablespoon salt
Garnish: 1 chopped green pepper, seeds removed (optional)

Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor, and blend until smooth.  Top with chopped green pepper if desired.  Serves 6.  (note: don't add the green pepper to the blender, as it will turn the soup a muddy brown).
*Add more vinegar and garlic - to good effect (according to Uncle Marvin)
**This was my first ever gazpacho experience.  It was highly rewarding.  

What does Gazpacho have to do with a Half-Birthday Chinese Longevity noodle, you ask?  Well, not much, except that both are eaten out of bowls, and both happened to me in the past week.  I was given this recipe for gazpacho last summer, after my parents visited Uncle Marvin of Maine, and was told that I just had to try it.  Well, it turned out to be a bad summer for tomatoes so we used them all in salsa instead of soup.  However, this year I've already collected a bag of tomatoes from the co-op I'm a part of, and since I had some cucumbers in there too I was inspired to puree.  That, and the fact that it was a no-cook, cold  option on a 90 degree day.  I highly recommend this.  Love the vinegar.  And next time I'll probably add another garlic clove or two.

The story of the Half-Birthday Chinese Longevity Noodle goes like this: my friends A and T lived in China for a couple of years, and introduced me to the notion of the Longevity Noodle.  According to custom, one must eat this special noodle on one's birthday - all in one piece, without breaking the noodle - to ensure continued progress of life without untimely interruption - er, death.  

I hope this video works ... here's a pretty valiant effort at eating the Longevity Noodle by one andywangduck found on youtube:

Well, our most recent potluck theme was Birthday, in honor of the half-birthday of yours truly.  A and T were kind enough to honor my request for the birthday noodle and produced a tamer Virginia version of the Chinese Longevity Noodle (and no, I didn't make it through without breaking the noodle.  Sorry, fate.  I promise I'm not trying to tempt you).  

A big thanks and shout-out to such great friends, and all the others who made my half-birthday celebration so much fun.  And most of all, I hope this post inspires YOU to connect two things that have nothing to do with each other, throw the word "birthday" in there, and write me a children's book.


Wonky Log Cabin Tutorial #4

Two of five class members were away this week, so it was somewhat of a catchup/mishmash week as those of us who were left were at very different stages of quiltedness.  So, what I'm going to post is what we were scheduled to do this week, which two of the three got to.

Review from last week: finish adding fabric strips to each of the four squares and trim them to exactly 20"x20".  Sew them together - 2x2 - and iron seams.  This is your quilt top, and it is now complete!

This week: Press your batting.  The supply list calls for 1/2 yard of 90"-wide batting - a long, narrow strip.  Our trick is to cut the batting in half lengthwise and place the two halves next to each other to form a large 45"x45" square.  If the edges you line up are not straight, trim them so they are.

Using a zig-zag stitch set to the widest stitch width you can, stitch the batting together along the middle.  Do not overlap the batting, as it will create extra bulk in the finished quilt - just slide the batting pieces up next to each other and feed them through the machine.  Also, take care to evenly feed it through the machine - uneven feeding can cause gaps or bubbles.  If it does bubble, try steam-ironing the seam after sewing to see if it will press out.  And ... tada!  You're done with batting.

The next step is basting the quilt, which does NOT mean marinating it in its own juices during the course of cooking.  It DOES mean putting the back, batting, and top of the quilt together and securing it with pins or adhesive spray.  I've heard this called a "quilt sandwich" ... think of the basting as the toothpick in the sandwich.  (wait, can you tell that I'm getting hungry?  A giant BLT sandwich on toasted sourdough sounds incredible right now.  Toothpick required). 

Press the fabric you're going to use for your backing.  Depending on the size of your quilt, you may have to sew together some pieces to use for the backing.  For this tutorial, you want a square of fabric approximately 45"x45" - bigger than your quilt top by at least 2" on each side.  Most fabric on the bolt is 44 or 45" wide, so you should be just fine and not have to piece anything.  (As you'll see in the pictures below, I am making my demo quilt bigger than 2x2, so don't be thrown off and think you were supposed to be doing twelve squares when really it's just four.)  Because of the size of mine, I had to piece together some green and white fabric for the backing. 

Lay this backing fabric right side DOWN on a flat surface (floor or large tables work great).  Line your batting up about 1" in from the top right corner of the backing, and spread it out evenly over the backing fabric.  Use your hands to spread out any creases or folds or bubbles in the backing or batting. 

You may have some extra batting hanging over the edge of your backing - not a big deal.  It's good to have extra in case things shift.  And you'll always go back at the end and trim things up.  So, just leave it.

One more step to make your quilt sandwich - lay your quilt top, right side UP, on top of your batting about 1" in from the batting.  Smooth it out with your hands, working from the top right corner.  Make sure there are no creases, bubbles, folds, or other funny things going on. 

Now to baste the quilt (which I did not get any pictures of, sorry.)  You can use straight pins, curved quilting safety pins, or adhesive basting spray (all of which are sold at some Wal-marts and all sewing supply stores).  If you're using pins, secure a pin about every 10" in a grid on the quilt.  Make sure you're pinning through all three layers.  Also, you will probably have to adjust both the backing and the top a couple of times during the process, as you want both to be tight and without any slack (this is why it's good to have a little extra wiggle room with the batting and backing fabric).  If you are using the basting spray, follow the manufacturer's directions.

Alright ... see you next week for quilting!


Busy little bee

I have been sewing and quilting like mad, trying to make it through a bunch of projects that I had put off until summer.  There are three different projects below.  The first one - Red and White Whirlygiggle - was the very first quilt I saw on crazymomquilts in early 2009, and I've been wanting to make one ever since!  I quilted it in a window pane pattern - just about 1/4" from either side of each seam - and I am absolutely in love with it.  It measures about 40"x50", so it's not too big but would make a nice picnic blanket for two!  I thought about putting it up for sale in the shop, but I can't part with it.  I love it too much.


Detail of front with window pane quilting


The second quilt is one that my friend Dixie asked me to make for her.  She requested "purples" and "masculine" (she's so kind to her husband!) so I hope it delivers!  I really like the gray and the dark indigo.  The yellow on the back lightens the quilt up a little bit, but isn't too bright or feminine in my opinion.  It measures about 45"x45".



Quilt number three is another commissioned one - a baby boy quilt in blues and greens!  I was inspired by, of all things, a diaper bag (don't be weirded out, Allison!).  From the front, you can't see the quilting but I followed the lines of the center panel.  It shows up better on the back, and I am in love with this little softie!  Final size is approximately 42"x42".



I'm a busy little bee!  I've got three more commissions I'm working on ... one top is completely pieced.  The other two are in varying stages of planning.  I'll keep you posted!


The Blacksburg Wives

The Back Story: for Easter 2009 (yes, over a year ago), my group of friends decided to have a special potluck where we would all bring the best holiday dishes we knew.  It was a raging success, and the idea of a cookbook was born because, well, we all love food so much, and we all loved each others' food so much too.

Fastforward to November 2010: my friend Katie was deemed the one in charge of collecting the recipes, and she gave us a deadline for submitting them - by the time her daughter was born.  She was at least 35 weeks pregnant when she gave us the ultimatum, so we all worked pretty quickly to get at least five recipes apiece emailed to her.  The baby came near her due date, but we didn't know that was how it would be, and we didn't want to cross the pregnant lady.

Fastforward again to May 2010: Katie's baby is a bouncy, gurgly, (almost) sitting 5 month old.  Katie (and others) have put in hours of work organizing the cookbook and working on design.  Mary the graphic designer has contributed some very talented photography for the cover and dividers.  Rebecca the writer has composed such a lovely introduction to the cookbook that it makes me tear up.  Cindi and Katie plan a beautiful Cookbook Release Party complete with games, namecards, and decorations.  And each of the contributing authors has prepared a dish from the cookbook for dinner.  So, finally, after a mere 15 months, the Blacksburg Wives Cookbook is revealed:

cover of cookbook

yummy dinner!  pretty flowers!

the girliness is so overwhelming, it's like it's hanging from the trees in the yard!

the fantastic party planning committee

All I have to say is, if you decide you want to make a cookbook, collect some pretty amazing friends beforehand.  I love all you girls!

Wonky Log Cabin Tutorial #3

You are reading a blog post by what may be the world's worst blogger.  I forgot the camera at class AGAIN.  I don't have it with me today either, to take staged "class" photos.  I read so many blogs that are just incredible, with all the guest postings, and professional-looking photos, and fancy schmancy things like frequent posts, that it makes me feel inadequate.  But really, I don't care too much.  Alright, I'm over it now.

For class #3, we continued sewing the fabric strips around the wonky square.  Depending on the width of the fabric strips you're working with, you may end up with between four and seven "layers" around the middle square.  For this particular project, I worked all the measurements out to (hopefully) end up with a 40" square quilt, which means each block needs to be at least 20"x20".  So, for each of the blocks, add a strip to the top, then the right, then the bottom, then the left of the middle square, ironing each piece down before sewing the next one on.  When you've completed a full round (four strips around the block), "square off" the block by trimming the uneven edges with a straight ruler and rotary cutter.  You can continue to make it very wonky by tilting the ruler when cutting, or not.  It's up to you.  Play around with the angles you cut and how much you cut off - it's fun to see the block shape up and get more interesting with each layer.  

Keep doing that until a block measures a little bigger than 20"x20".  Iron well.  Repeat for each block.

Trim each block to exactly 20"x20" square, or, if you're wanting to make smaller blocks, whatever size you want.  A good rule of thumb is that a baby blanket should be at least 36"x36".  This is the time when the phrase "square off the block" actually does mean make it square.  I promise I'm not trying to confuse you.

OK, you're done for this week! 


Yogurt update

I have two updates to the yogurt recipe from a few posts ago.  First try was super runny - the consistency of olive oil - when I made it.  It still tasted good, though, so I tried again.  This time, instead of stirring the yogurt starter into 2 c. room temperature water + 2 c. milk powder, I brought 2 c. of whole milk (pasteurized but not homogenized) to room temperature, stirred in the milk powder and yogurt starter (2 Tbsp. of the previous batch), and then added hot water to that.  I'm happy to say that I now have thicker yogurt!  It rounds up on a spoon a little better, though it is still runnier than commercial yogurt.  I'd say this batch is more like ... applesauce, maybe?  Or something else that would stay on a spoon but slide off it the spoon is tilted.  You get the idea, right?

So I said I had two updates.  That was the first.  The second is this: we got ultrasound pictures of our baby yesterday, and it turns out that it is looking somewhat humanish!  It's got four limbs and a head so far.  It's also allowing me to eat more vegetables and meats than it did a few weeks back, for which I am extremely thankful.  This means that I'm not consuming a half-gallon of yogurt every two days ...

Joy, joy!


Wonky Log Cabin Tutorial #2

Yesterday was Class #2 with the 5 guinea pigs friends who are letting me teach this wonky log cabin quilting class.  So fun! 
Last week we cut wonky center blocks (approx. 2.5"ish by 2.5"ish) and fabric strips (from 1.5" to 3.5" wide).  We also discussed the basics of making a Log Cabin block, which means adding strips of fabric around a center square in the order of Top, Right, Bottom, Left.

(the "Top" I'm referring to is actually on the right in this image, so in this picture the order of adding is Right Bottom Left Top.  But don't tell my class that it can be any other way than TRBL, because I say it at least every ten minutes that a log cabin quilt should be pieced Top Right Bottom Left.)

This week's agenda: piece log cabin squares and then add some wonkiness!

Start with a center block (the large white one).  Lay a strip of fabric on one side of the block and trim it to equal length.  Sew right sides together (you don't have to backstitch!).  Iron seams to one side (away from the middle block, towards the outer fabric).  This is your "Top:"

Choose another strip of fabric, either the same width as your Top strip, or a different width.  Lay it on the Right side of the block, and trim to length.  With right sides together, sew the fabric strip to the block.  Iron seams away from the middle block.  This is your "Right:"

Continue to do the same process two more times, on the "Bottom" and "Left" sides of the block, ironing after each seam.

This is the part of the blog where I apologize for my picture quality.  Oh well, I'm inside under fluorescent lights.  What can I say?  If you want stellar photography, look somewhere else.

Alright, back to the block - now one whole round of block-making is completed!  The next step is to "square off" the block, which doesn't actually mean making it a square at all.  It means hacking off the uneven ends, and making the block a little more wonky - but with straight edges.  So, line up your ruler along one side (doesn't matter, as you'll be doing this on all four sides) and tilt it a little, so that it's not running parallel to the middle block.  If you look closely, you can see that mine is off by about 1/2 inch.  It's a WONKY log cabin square, people.  This is how you make it wonky - don't give into your urge to make things match up and be straight.  Just tilt and cut with a rotary cutter to make a straight edge!

Trim all four sides.

In class yesterday, we made four of these blocks.  Then time ran out ...
Hint/preview of next week: make the blocks bigger by (do you want to guess?) adding more fabric strips to the TOP RIGHT BOTTOM LEFT and then square off!


Minty Fruit Salad with Fresh Lime Syrup

To make fruit salad:
Chop desired fruits (apples, oranges, bananas, berries, and watermelon were my most recent combination) and stir in 1 Tbsp. minced fresh mint.  Refrigerate.

To make lime syrup:
In medium saucepan, whisk together 1/2 c. sugar and 3 Tbsp. water.  Stir in the juice of one medium-sized lime and 1/4 tsp. grated lime peel.  Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, and continue to boil for 1 minute.  Cool completely.

Combine fruit and syrup and chill for 1-3 hours before serving.

Yes, I'm still on the fruit kick!  Over the weekend I ate this salad (the syrup was inspired by one that I had at my friend Chantry's house), watermelon popsicles, fresh watermelon, and a ton of apples.  That's about all I've been doing in the kitchen. 

I think you could probably make the syrup more lime-y by adding the juice of another lime in there, or maybe some more peel.  I liked that the subtlety of this syrup didn't overwhelm the flavors of the fruit, but it could be nice to add a little zing to fruit if you wanted that.