Friday, December 31, 2010

Best Audio of 2010

Last year I posted a list of my favorite books and audio books I'd read through 2009 right here. That was a great year for awesome books read by even better narrators.

Personally I find listening to an audio book or music the best way to chill out and relax while free motion quilting. A lot of quilters ask me how to get past the quilt-clenching-shoulders-lifted-to-your-ears tension that free motion quilting can cause, especially when you're just starting out.

My reply is always the same: listen to something the will distract your brain from thinking too much, from criticizing your first stitches, and from reminding you of all the things you SHOULD be doing like washing the dishes. A glass of white wine also helps with that fear tension too!

So here's my list of the best audio books for 2010:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - This whole series is awesome, but I think this first book is the best. It's a graphic mystery type novel written by Steig Larsson, an amazing Swedish author and journalist. The cultural and societal differences are intriguing all by themselves, but add a 40 year old murder-mystery and you've got a recipe for a book that will keep you on the edge of your seat!

Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert - This is another memoir from the author of Eat, Love, Pray. This book focuses on Elizabeth's quest to come to terms with marriage in time for her own second marriage to the wonderful Brazilian man she met in her last book.

I personally enjoyed learning about the long, interesting history of marriage, an institution that is quite difficult to define as it is always changing depending on the need and love that binds it together.

The Upside of Irrationality by Dan Ariely - I loved Dan's first book Predictably Irrational which is a wonderful study of how we make irrational judgments (which we also irrationally justify) on a daily, if not hourly basis.

This book focuses on the upsides of our irrationality and how we can take advantage of our sometimes lopsided view of life. It's a book that always makes me ask questions which usually lead to a happier, more contented day.

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell - This is also a non-fiction book about how ideas or businesses or fashions tip. They go from being rather obscure to being what everyone is talking about or wearing or buying. It's a really interesting book and a great read for any business owner!

The Puppet Masters by Robert Heinlein - I mentioned this book in my Sinkhole Journey post. It's a really neat book with almost the same idea in The Host (parascitic aliens inhabiting human bodies), though these "slugs" are entirely malevolent. The story is intriguing and will keep you on the very edge of your seat!

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy - This really shouldn't me called an audio book, it's really an audio MARRATHON! 38 hours of some of the best narration and dialog I've ever heard. I'm barely 1/4 of the way into this book and I absolutely love it. Please don't tell me how it ends! It will probably be February before I finish it!

Of course, there have been many books I've read such as I Know I'm in There Somewhere by Helen Brenner and Truth Heals by Deborah King that I've actually read rather than listened too. A hard copy is great for dog-earing the pages and writing in the margins and these two books have been extremely helpful to me this year.

So that's the list for this year! I really hope we have some more good fiction come out in 2011. Maybe The Help's Kathryn Stockett will come out with a new book? I sure hope so!

Let's go quilt (and listen to great books!)

Leah Day

Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Years Party Meal

Now it's time for Recipe Thursday! Josh and I are both tag teaming this post as I wanted to share a bit of my plan for New Years and the new traditions we started just last year.

First off, thank you all so much for your supportive, loving comments to yesterday's post. I feel so enormously blessed that I have this avenue to express myself and this wonderful bunch of people to share my life with.

Reading through some of the comments, and remembering what my massage therapist said once about the power of burning negative thoughts, I've decided to hold a very special New Years Eve celebration.

My absolute favorite thing to do on this special night of the year is to go on a date with Josh - at home! We don't leave the house, we just wait until James is in bed, then we make a fantastic dinner together, chatting and enjoying ourselves more than we would be able to in a restaurant.

This year I asked Josh to make sure we have wood for a fire as well. After dinner I plan to write out all 12 dark rings onto paper, then burn each of them to let them go forever.

So that's my plan for New Years Eve, so what about New Years Day?

That's where Josh comes in...

Josh here. For New Years day we like to serve this meal along with something green, like collards or spinach. This year my mom is making some really good brussell sprouts with bacon and Leah is going to throw together a spinach leaf salad.

It's a really simple meal and there's no need to go overboard on this. Just throw it together in the morning for an excellent New Years lunch.

Hoppin' John

Recipe courtesy Emeril Lagasse.

Prep Time: 15 min
Inactive Prep Time: --
Cook Time: 50 min
Level: Easy
Serves: 10 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large ham hock
  • 1 cup onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup celery, chopped
  • 1/2 cup green pepper, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 1 pound black-eyed peas, soaked overnight and rinsed
  • 1 quart chicken stock
  • Bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon dry thyme leaves
  • Salt, black pepper, and cayenne
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped green onion
  • 3 cups steamed white rice

Directions

Heat oil in a large soup pot, add the ham hock and sear on all sides for 4 minutes. Add the onion, celery, green pepper, and garlic cook for 4 minutes. Add the black-eyed peas, stock, bay leaves, thyme, and seasonings. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 40 minutes, or until the peas are creamy and tender, stir occasionally. If the liquid evaporates, add more water or stock. Adjust seasonings, and garnish with green onions. Serve over rice.

Wishing you all a very Happy New Year!

Leah and Josh Day

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Sinkhole Journey

Today is What's Leah Working on Wednesday and I'd like to share a few shots and a bit of the journey into Sinkhole, the quilt I'm working on during my favorite week of the year:

Why is this my favorite week of the year? Because it is the LAST week and whatever is finished this week is added as a bonus to all the other finished projects of the past year.

It's a week of time off, of relaxed schedule, and short dark days that are much more cozy in the warmth and comfort of the sewing room.

I never realized the potential of this special time until 2008 when I was working, and rather stuck, on The Duchess. That project had stalled, but the day of Christmas I was downstairs basting and by New Years Day, the entire center had been quilted and the new year was looking bright indeed.

Last year I used the week to blast through 9 blocks of Winter Wonderland, which was both fun and meditative as the blocks were all gray snowflakes perfectly matching the weather outside.

And this year I'm working with shades of gray again in Sinkhole. Warning - this is a deeply personal post with some explicit language. Read only if you wish to go there with me.


To say that quilting this quilt is difficult is an understatement.

It is not technically difficult. The quilt is moving over the table just as smoothly and evenly as usual. I've been quilting a lot of new designs this month so my arms aren't too sore moving the bulk of the quilt around.

No, it is WHAT I am quilting that is difficult. I decided back in September that the only way to quilt this quilt, to truly make it symbolize my dark past in every respect, was to quilt it with the harsh, negative words of my past.

Words like "You are so selfish" and "You are so ugly. No one will ever love you if you look like that."

They were the lies I was told or inferred from the situation I was raised in, but because I was a child when I heard them, I didn't know they were not true. I believed these lies. I truly thought I was an unlovable person and expected to be treated badly because I thought I deserved it.

While that might seem incredible to believe, I now think that most people are carrying around words like these. You may not even know it, you may not even realize you're consciously doing it, but when I dug down to the roots of my horrible Inner Negative Voice (INV) I found only these lies, these relics of my childhood that were so obviously not true.

It is only now, after 27 years of living with them tattooed on my skin, pumping through my veins, bouncing around in my head, that I'm finally asking the question:

What is really true? What is MY truth?

Facing these words, actually writing them down, marking them on the quilt - that was a hard couple of days. I've been on this journey for a long time, I've had many breakthroughs, especially with this past year with Shadow Self and My Cup Runneth Over, but I have never, ever experienced anything like this.

Because for the first time I'm facing the lie. Looking it in the face. Staring at it and honestly accepting the fact that I have believed horrible things about myself. I have hated myself because at the root of my being, I believed the lies for years and years.

Writing down these harsh, cruel words - actually stitching them into this dark quilt is absolutely essential. I can pretend to get better every day for the rest of my life, but the lies would have stayed at the root of my being, always ready to undermine my actions and thoughts.

Many people tried to talk me out of quilting the words on. Why add to the negativity? Why say the words again, let alone several times? Why stitch that dark shit on a dark quilt only to make something that you will never be able to hang on the wall?

I can only say this: if I had any doubt that this was what I needed to do, I wouldn't have done it. The idea came during the piecing of Sinkhole and I knew it was the only way to quilt this quilt.

With Shadow Self inference and symbolism worked. With Sinkhole, I need to make myself perfectly clear. These are the lies and this is the truth, any questions?

Last week I mentioned that I was planning on only quilting the lies into this quilt. While marking it however, I quickly found that I could not write the lies on the quilt unless I had the truth follow it.

I've kept a journal with me the last few months and whenever I remembered a scene or got a particularly harsh thought, I would write it down. By last week I had a page full and I began marking the rings.

I knew I'd hit a dark ring on the head when it would make me faintly nauseous. It does make me slightly physically sick to face these words, not because they are bad, but because I believed them so completely. They literally made up the seams of my personality. What negative junk!

Writing the light rings were no walk in the park either. I'm not content to write "Believe in yourself" on a quilt and call that positive. That's a band-aid. That's a statement like "Wash your hands," but has less effect because it's not something we can do by turning on the faucet.

For the light rings I've searched for the words that are true, and also the words that should have been said. "We all make mistakes, we all fuck up, but there is nothing you can ever do to stop me from loving you."

I know I've found a solid light ring when I tear up. Here are the words that touch my heart, that flow purely from my mind into my soul. Here is the self love I've never been able to find before.

I've heard it said before that with every child you have, your heart expands a bit more, swelling with more overwhelming love for this new being. I have personally found this true because it was only after having James and feeling that enormous tidal wave of love that I began to ask why I could feel it for him and not for myself.

During the marking of this quilt, I felt my heart swell slightly with each lighter ring. It's expanding into the space it was always built to fill I guess. It kinda hurts, but it's a good hurt.

So now I'm in the trenches of quilting the dark rings. I decided to quilt these rings with a light silver thread. Yes, the words show up clearly, but I couldn't stand to write the dark words in dark thread. I've gotta shine a little light on this shit.

For the light rings, I'm planning to stitch them in red thread. Red for love. Red because they're words coming straight from my heart. Red because I want these words in my body, flowing in my blood, pumping in my veins. Red because I never, ever want to forget them.

So far I've quilted 6 dark rings. I've found I can only quilt one or two at a time, then I need to get up and walk away.

For a few days I didn't understand the need for distance. It didn't make much sense. I have a quilt ready to go, so quilt it!

Then I realized that trying to force myself to quilt another ring was making me very upset. I needed more time than it took to quilt them to think about the words, to remember them for the lie they were, and finally let them go as a lie. Sometimes I feel a tug on my heart as well. It's expending a lot of love and light to get rid of all this negativity.

After the 3rd ring, I've started to feel kinda weird. It's a good weird, but weird nonetheless.

I've just finished listening to The Puppet Masters by Robert Heinlein, which is a Sci-fi book about aliens that invade earth and attach themselves to humans like parasites and control everything the human does and thinks.

This weird feeling can only be described as the feeling you must feel when you lose your alien. I feel as though my thoughts and emotions have been controlled for years, and only now am I able to clearly think for myself.

To simplify it: I feel free.

So that is what I'm working on this Wednesday. Yesterday I took a break and didn't stitch any lines. Today I may stitch one or two.

There is no need to rush this type of work. I have decided that I would like to have the dark rings finished by New Years Eve. I like the idea of leaving these lies in 2010 where they belong and only taking the truth with me from now on.

Maybe that is silly, it's only the difference of one day, but to me starting the year completely free of this weight, this alien, this monster of lies in my mind, seems to be the best possible start of a new year.

And here I must stop and thank you. Thank you for reading through this to the end. Thank you for being willing to share this journey with me because it's not easy to write and I bet it's not very easy to read.

Thank you for sharing this year with me. It was a year of hurdles to jump, lessons to learn, and pain to overcome, but ultimately it has also been a year of deep seeking and learning.

Occasionally I will ask myself "why am I doing this? Why dig it all up? Why work so hard?" and I only have one answer:

If I content myself to remain as the limited, unhappy person that I have been for most of my life, I will be doomed to repeat my parents mistakes. I will find myself one day older, but no wiser and unable to find contentment even when faced with overwhelming abundance.

I have only to look into my son's face to know exactly why I make these quilts, why I challenge myself to face myself honestly. I need to love myself as an example. I will love him no matter what, even filled with self loathing, but I need to teach him how to love himself to break this cycle.

I also believe that to hold such self hate within is like holding a ticking bomb. One day it would go off and manifest itself physically as cancer, physical pain, or another chronic illness.

After believing that I wasn't worthy of living the life I have, that I really shouldn't plan for anything after the age of 22, I now see my life stretching on in an endless series of days, months, and years. I don't want to miss a single minute.

Looking back at my post from last year on Looking Back and Letting Go, I can see just how much things have changed in the last year. I even wrote in that post:
"I really feel like 2009 was my year to evolve and 2010 will be the year to bloom"
Well, it turns out 2010 was my year to clean out my closets, pull everything out of my cabinets, and give it all a good hard look. I've aired myself out and slowly put back only the things I wanted to keep.

This means that I have also lost a few things this year as well. My mother, a sister, and my dog. Two from necessary choice and one from a totally unexpected illness. Losing Jinjo was perhaps the most painful because I feel that she had a lesson to teach me about unconditional love that I failed to grasp until after she was gone.

But overwhelmingly I can look back and say that this was a good year, a year of lasting change. As I wrote last year:

Sometimes you have to make the harder choice and give up peace of mind and sanity for awhile and just see where it will take you.

Here's to the journey. May your year be filled with light and love and the strength to overcome whatever obstacles stand in your path.

With love,

Leah

Day 242 - Heart Flow

Move over Christmas, it's time for Valentine's Day! Once I actually went to Walmart immediately after Christmas to look for candy canes and couldn't find a single one. The whole holiday isle had been already filled with Valentine's Day candy. Talk about moving fast!

So just in case you've got a Valentine's Day quilt in the works for your special sweetie, let's learn how to quilt it with this awesome heart design called Heart Flow:

I admit, this is probably going to go down in the books as one of my favorite designs. It works a bit like McTavishing because it's a branching design, but the open heart shapes can be as big as you like, taking up loads of space and finishing up your quilt quite quickly.

Looking at the list of heart shaped designs, I'm thinking I should do a bit more organizing on the project. We have a pretty good system set up now so you can easily find designs based on difficulty or design type, but we don't have pages where they are organized into similar shapes like triangles, circles, spirals, and hearts.

That will have to go on my list as something to work on in 2011!


Inspiration - I love tracing the inspiration for a design back to it's roots! This design was originally inspired by McTavishing because that's what I was thinking of when I created Swirling Water.

From Swirling Water, I then tried opening up the center of the swirl to create Poseidon's Eye. This worked so well, I decided to try it with other shapes like these hearts. Next I want to play with filling the shapes with other designs. I have a feeling there will be a lot more branching designs in this project's future!

Difficulty Level - Intermediate. This design is intermediate because of the amount of echo quilting involved in it. When I first started free motion quilting, I found it really difficult to echo consistently. One line with be 1/8 inch from another and then the next would be 1/4.

There are many ways to learn how to consistently echo a certain distance away, but really the best way is to stitch it! Take this design and quilt it over a whole quilt, full or queen sized is best, and I promise by the time you finish the whole quilt, you will be able to echo perfectly.

Design Family - Branching. All branching designs work by branching out with your line, then echoing back. It's a very simple design type that works with a nice rhythm. I love all of these designs because they allow you to get into a really nice groove which makes the time spent quilting just melt away.

Directional Texture - All Directions. This design can change a bit, depending on how big or small you quilt the hearts. If you keep all the hearts small, you will get a very flowing, echoing design. If you stitch the hearts big, the heart shapes will dominate the texture because they leave such big open spaces.

If you don't like how the open hearts look, feel free to fill them with circles, more lines, or another design. The possibilities are endless!

Suggestions for Use - I'd love to see how this design looks when stitched over a whole quilt. It has a beautiful texture that would look wonderful on red fabric with white thread or black fabric with red thread.

If you prefer not to contrast, this would still look great if stitched on a light quilt (darker fabrics don't tend to show matching thread texture as well as light fabrics). Maybe a pink and red quilt with swirling white Heart Flow? Sounds like a gorgeous combination!

Back of Heart Flow
Feel free to use this free motion quilting design in your quilts

Let's go Quilt!

Leah Day

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Day 241 - Globes of Matrix

So here's the score: 2 awesome days of festivities, 1 busted water heater, 6 inches of snow, 1 super fun family snowball fight, and 4 uninterrupted hours to quilt - add it all together and you've got one terrific weekend, despite the ups and downs of having no hot water!

But after it's all over, I'm really ready for life to return to normal, or as normal as it can while I'm working on a quilt like Sinkhole. So let's get back into the groove of the project with some new funky filler designs!

This is another variation of Matrix, one of my favorite designs from very early in the project. This time it's fitted into large circles to look like Globes of Matrix:

With this design it's best if you can keep the circles very large because the texture doesn't appear as nice when the circles are small. Of course, you may occasionally have to quilt a small circle to fill in, but generally aim to keep all circles about the size of a quarter or bigger.


Difficulty Level - Advanced. This design isn't super difficult, but it does require a lot of precise stitching, especially traveling and echoing, to keep the lines consistent and the circles defined.

With a design like this, take your time stitching the starting circle, then you should be able to speed up a bit stitching the wavy lines inside, but slow down while travel stitching along the outside edges because you don't want to stitch outside the lines!

Design Family - Stacking. To move and expand this design, all you have to do is add another circle! Try to keep the circles large for the best effect, but also understand that you may have to occasionally fill the weird spaces with smaller circles to fill in all the gaps consistently.

Directional Texture - No Direction. Matrix is a very flat, directionless design, perfect for backgrounds and areas of your quilt you wish to recede. When stitched in these large globes, the effect is pretty much the same, but the globes really attract some attention, so make sure to place them somewhere they can really show off.

Suggestions for Use - This funky filler reminds me a lot of some weird Sci-fi movies I've seen lately like Tron, The Fountain, and the season finale of Dr. Who Season 4. If you're working on a super cool Sci-fi quilt, I don't think you'll find a better fit!

Back of Globes of Matrix
Feel free to use this free motion quilting design in your quilts

Let's go Quilt!

Leah Day

Friday, December 24, 2010

Seasons Greetings

From our family to yours, have a safe and happy month of festivities!

We wish you a Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, Happy Boxing Day, Happy Kwanzaa, and Merry New Years Eve too!

Don't forget in all the craziness of the next few days to take a bit of time for yourself. December is a time of loving and giving, and that includes YOU too!

Let's go quilt,

Leah Day

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Day 240 - Wormholes

Let's move on to a new design on the project. Recently I looked back at Fossil Bed and realized that this design had loads of potential variations just waiting to be stitched!

First I played with starting with a closed spiral and quilting off with a tail of stacked half-moon shapes. After looking at the resulting texture, I realized that this looks a lot like the wormholes from Dr. Who:


As you can see in the photo above when you stack half-moon shapes together they really give off a very interesting texture!

In fact, Diane Gaudynsky has created an entire stitch called Bananas just stacking these shapes together. If you're interested in learning more about it, please check out her book Quilt Savvy: Gaudynsky's Machine Quilting Guidebook.

There are also two possible variations of this design. You can easily swap out the half-moon shapes for Overlapping Petals or stitch it with a square spiral and Boomerang to create Spiral Boomerangs for an even more interesting design!


Click Here if the Video Does Not Appear

Difficulty Level - Intermediate. This is a really fun design to stitch! First start with a circle and closed spiral. I found it fun to experiment with both closed and open spirals and eventually found that closed spirals (spirals you stitch into and travel stitch back out of) look the best for this design.

Filler Design Type - Stacking. Wormholes is really created by stacking shapes together. First stitch the circle and go inside with the spiral. Then stack a line of half-moon shapes to the back. When you get bored stitching half moon shapes, just stitch another circle, and the design will continue to build quickly and easily!

Directional Texture - All Directions. This is going to be a very eye-catching design because of the thread play created by stacking the Wormhole shapes together.

Suggestions for Use - Personally I think this design will be easier to quilt on a smaller scale because it keeps the half-moon shapes short and easy to curve smoothly.

I also think this texture is so amazing, you should give it some room to really show off, so I'm planning to use it over some large expanses of the background of Sinkhole. Wormholes and Sinkholes - match made in heaven!

Back of Wormholes
Feel free to use this free motion quilting design in your quilts
and send in a picture to show it off!

Let's go Quilt!

Leah Day

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Diving Back into Sinkhole

I mentioned yesterday that I was pretty sick of seeing Sinkhole on my dining room wall. The truth is, I'm tired of looking at it unfinished.

I started this quilt in the fall and if you want to read the back story, feel free to click the links to read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4. WARNING: This is pretty heavy depressing stuff. Read with caution.

So why have I waited this long to finish this quilt?

The quickest and easiest answer is I needed space and time. I also needed to look at the quilt for awhile to figure out how it should be quilted and ultimately what more it needed before it could be called "finished."

It's now been on the wall since October where I could see it every morning as we ate breakfast, every afternoon as we ate lunch, and every evening as we ate dinner, and anytime I cooked as well.

Living with a quilt top on the wall is a terrific way to figure out how to quilt it, or if anything needs to be changed. There have been many quilts that have ended up with different borders and / or quilting designs simply from looking at it on the wall for a few weeks. There's something about looking - really looking - at the design every day for a few weeks or months can be very helpful for figuring out the next step.

In Sinkhole's case, I already knew what the next step would be: quilting the rings of the hole with all the words of my past, literally the negative phrases that I heard as a child that I allowed to define me and sew up the seams of my personality and psyche for way, way too long.

Looking at this quilt would make me really angry sometimes, other times it makes me very sad, but lately every time I see this quilt I just see what remains to be done. But I continued to wait and wait and just stare at it wishing I could finish it, get these awful words out, and get on with my life.

Finally I realized last week that I was just waiting around for the "right" time.

Usually for me this is the week after Christmas, the last 7 golden days of the year that, for the last 2 years, has been some of the most glorious quilting time of my life. Quilting Sinkhole during Christmas? That just seemed wrong...

But what is a "good" or "right" time for this kinda of thing? The quilt needs to be finished, and I'm ready to work on it now.

So what is left to be done?

Well, the very first step was to figure out the next step with the design. What in the world is going in the background of the Sinkhole?

For that I decided I needed to see the new movie Tron. I'd seen previews for this movie as far back as August and I knew that I wanted to incorporate some of the imagery and design into this quilt.

Yesterday I finally went to see this movie and had high expectations for the design inspiration I would find there. I was not disappointed (note: I said "design inspiration" not "deep and thoughtful plot" or "well rounded, 3 dimensional characters").

I came home finally ready to design the background, but as soon as I looked at the quilt top, I knew I had a problem.

Most of Tron is very dark in shades of black and gray that match perfectly with Sinkhole, but there were also sudden electric bursts of white, silver, or neon orange that stand out boldly from the rest of the colors.

When piecing the quilt top, I had major issues finding decent gray fabrics in a variety of shades. I pretty much had to make do with what I could find and unfortunately, what I could find was just not good enough.

Looking at the quilt last night, I finally accepted the limitations of what I could find in fabrics.

And this got me thinking. What if piecing the colors was the wrong approach? Haven't I been saying over and over for the last year that thread can do more than just stitch the layers of a quilt together? What if the thread can provide the color that the fabric cannot?

So I've decided to start over, almost entirely from scratch.

Well...

Not completely from scratch. I do love my double sided quilts, and since I already have this whole thing created, why can't it just be used as the back?

Yet even as the back, it's still not right. The lighter rings are too light, even some of the dark rings are too light. This is a hole of all my darkness and it needs to look the part.

So today as the quilt comes down off the wall, it's going straight onto my tables to be painted, darkened, and (hopefully) completely changed.

Originally I was going to carefully paint each ring with Shiva Paintstiks or colored pencils, making sure to stay in the lines and keep everything neat and tidy.

But I'm not feeling neat or tidy anymore.

There is another type of paint I use occasionally for landscape quilts called Setacolor. The translucent paints can range from very dark to very light, depending on how much water you dilute them with.

You can do some really cool things with this paint, like salt effects and sun printing. I've used these paints before on Torn Tree, so I know I can get the effect that I want. The nice thing is that if I totally screw it up, I can always soak it in water and get all the color out. Water based paints rock!

This is most definitely not a dry medium like paintstiks or colored pencils. The whole surface will get very, very wet, so I've protect my tables with a plastic shower curtain. This is Sinkhole with the first layer of paint:

Once the paint dries, I can heat set it to make it permanent, though painted fabrics will never hold color as perfectly as dyed fabrics. For this reason, this is one quilt that will never get wet again after it has been quilted and bound.

So that's what I'm up to today. I wasn't planning to get back into Sinkhole until after the holidays were over, but when it's time, it's time. This quilt is ready to be finished and I'm ready to be done with it for good.

Let's go quilt (or paint!),

Leah Day

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Day 239 - Flame Ray Flower

For the last 3 months, we have lived with Sinkhole on our dining room wall. While beautiful in an unfinished / super dark quilt kinda way, I have to admit to being rather sick of looking at it over every meal.

So in its place I've hung Shadow Self, and it's amazing just how bright and cheerful the dining room has already started to feel. Part of that effect is due to the quilting design of huge flame rays radiating out from the center.

Looking at those rays, I decided it was time to try to quilt them into a new filler design:


While this design doesn't shout "FLOWER!" at you at first glance, it certainly could if you changed it a bit. I've quilted it into this block to fill the block completely.

If you'd like the rays to look more like flower petals, simply bring the rays into a point at the ends, rather than continuing to expand them.


Difficulty Level - Intermediate. As you're quilting the first half of your flame ray, think of Sharp Stippling because that's exactly how it works! I find it always helps to have an idea like that in your head so the shapes of the design stay consistent throughout.

Design Family - Center Fill. Flame Ray Flower starts in the center of your quilting space and radiates out. Because of the way it's created, this is a design that is much easier to quilt in the large, open spaces of your quilt rather than in the tiny, complex areas.

Directional Texture - Center Focused. If you'd like to draw even more attention into the center of this design, consider starting with a smaller circle, and travel stitch a bit in this area to build up the thread. This will create heavier stitching in the center which will draw your eyes right in!

Suggestions for Use - This design has a lot of possibilities. You could use it as a flower in an applique quilt, or to fill in a whole block in large scale on a bed quilt.

While you're quilting it, think of the many possible variations! I was thinking of Sharp Stippling as I created the rays, but what if you swapped it out for Alien Fingers? What kind of texture could be created with that design instead?

Back of Flame Ray Flower
Feel free to use this free motion filler designs in your quilts,
and make sure to tell your friends where you learned it.

Click here to support the project by visiting our online quilt shop.

Let's go Quilt!

Leah Day

Monday, December 20, 2010

Day 238 - Whirlpools

Let's get back to some new filler designs today! This is one that is quickly becoming one of my favorites because it's easy to stitch and just look at that gorgeous texture:

If you want to play with the texture of this design a bit, try making the closed spiral circles bigger. This will focus more attention on them and create an even more interesting effect on the surface of your quilts.


Inspiration - Ocean Current remains one of the most popular foundational designs because it's so pretty, but after playing with it a bit, I realized that it would be easier to quilt if the spirals were contained in circles. The end result is easier to stitch and just as beautiful!

Difficulty Level - Intermediate. This design is actually a lot easier to quilt than it looks. First start with a wiggly line, then circle and go inside with a closed spiral. Travel your way back out again and continue your wiggly line. Once you finish this foundation, all you need to do is echo it to fill in your whole quilting space!

Design Family - Foundational. These designs are so interesting because they don't really work like any other design type. I admit I haven't had time to really play with these designs and see all that they can do. That's definitely something I'm putting on my list for next year!

Directional Texture - All directions. I love to make people guess how I quilt something and Whirlpools and most other foundational lines do just that! Once the design is fully quilted and filled, it's almost impossible to see the foundational line and this adds to the beautiful, flowing textures these designs create.

Suggestions for Use - I've had an idea bouncing around in my head for a very simple small quilt to be quilted with a foundational design. The size would be around a baby blanket, and this quilt could be functional, or it could be hung on the wall as art. It's definitely something I'm going to stop thinking about and start quilting soon!

Back of Whirlpools
Feel free to use this free motion quilting design in your quilts

Let's go Quilt!

Leah Day

Friday, December 17, 2010

Refusal to Be Crazy

So it's the holiday season. 8 days until Christmas. Normally, every year before this year, by the time I reach this week I'm a stressed out ball of tension and anxiety.

Because usually I place an overwhelming expectation of presents, cards, parties, dinners, packages to far away relatives, and extreme cookie making all on my shoulders, which inevitably collapse in a big, giant mess that effectively ruins my enjoyment of this holiday.

Last year I found myself in tears, baking monster cookies at 1 am in my still-unfinished kitchen, and because I couldn't find my spatulas in the renovation nightmare, I removed the hot cookies from the metal tray with a meat cleaver.

I can remember being so jealous of Josh, chilling on the couch, not a care in the world about the holiday, and certainly on feeling the weight of expectation and stress that it brings me. I think I asked him something along the lines of "Why do I do this to myself every year?!"

And his reply, in typical Josh manner: "I don't know why you bother. It's not like anyone really cares about perfect cookies. But I DO mind you turning into a crazy woman for 3 weeks out of the year, so it'd be nice if you stopped."

You might not find this funny, in fact, hearing a retort like this from your husband might make you very angry, but for me, that was a very illuminating statement. It made me start thinking about WHY I felt the need to do it all.

And when I honestly answered that question, I didn't really like the answer.

I felt the need to do it all not because it felt good or was fun (both of which it was decidedly NOT), but because it was what all other women I knew were doing. I was going through the motions of holiday rituals I didn't even like only to keep up appearances of being a normal, happy family. (For the record, we are definitely happy - just not very "normal")

The manic cookie making was the worst. I learned that one from my mother, who would make dozens of no less than 6 different types of cookies, even though it turned her into an evil tyrant for 2 weeks in which "DON'T EAT THE PRETTY ONES!!!" was yelled anytime you approached the cookie trays.

So I grew up eating only ugly cookies and found myself doing the exact same thing to my family as an adult.

This last year has been a turning point in so many ways. No more crazy holiday schedule. No more parties unless I actually feel like going. No more manic creation of presents at the last minute. And no more cookie making.

What a relief that has been! James and I made one batch of chocolate cookies and had a great time with it. There was no obsessive-compulsive crazy behavior because there was no expectation behind it. These were made by us for us to enjoy and they didn't have to look good, just taste good because that's what really matters.

Because my time hasn't been wasted running around like a chicken with its head cut off, I've been spending more time in my studio: quilting new designs, and piecing a really cool new quilt:

This year Josh created the gift spices, but has yet to actually mail them out. He wants to finish editing and burning a DVD of videos we've taken of James over the last year. Instead of laying awake at night in a cold sweat, calculating delivery times and shipping costs, harranging my husband to "get it together" or manically trying to throw it all together myself, I'm just not.

It's like my Crazy Button has been pushed and I can feel the weight of the season, but I'm no longer on Autopilot, mindlessly doing doing doing for the sake of appearances or expectations.

So when the urge to be crazy starts up, as it did the other day when I tried to force James into a smock to protect his clothes while we finger painted ornaments for the tree, it's like Manual Overdrive kicks in to remind me of what I really want.

Do I want my child remembering me being a crazy, stressed out, crying psycho, or do I want him to remember me being fun, laughing, and relaxed during this time of the year?

Of course, many women find great joy in going overboard for the season, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that!

I've just found that less is more when it comes to the holidays. I refuse to go crazy, not even for the sake of pretty cookies.

Let's go quilt,

Leah Day

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Christmastime caJun ScRunCh!

This is Josh today for our recipe, and this is a fun one.

caJun ScRuNcH seasoning

I make up a batch of this stuff every year for little Christmas presents. You can use the spice on almost anything--fries, stews, beans, chicken. It's not too hot but adds enough heat to spice up any dish.

caJun ScRuNcH

2.5 parts paprika (ie 2.5 tablespoons if using tablespoons, or 2.5 cups if using cups)
1.5 part garlic powder
1 part dried oregano
1 part dried thyme
1 part black pepper
1 part onion powder
1 part cayenne pepper
.5 part garlic salt

Mix everything together and store in spice bottles.

If using tablespoons as the ratio, this will make approximately 4 ounces, perfect for one spice bottle.

Josh

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Midnight Sewing Lesson

I love this hobby, I really do. In no other hobby can you make mistakes like this and still be able to fix it!

This is the product of trying to rush through a project and piece more than half of it after 1 am. My midnight sewing lesson only served to teach me one thing - to go to bed!

The funny thing about it is, I didn't even see the mistake until after the whole thing was pieced. The shadows only really start to work and create the dimension after the background is completely together, so it was only after I pinned it to the design wall and stepped back that I saw my shadows weren't all going in the right directions.

According to Casting Shadows, a book on creating dimensional quilts, you really want to keep all the shadows angling in one direction. Otherwise it appears like shadows are being cast all over the place and it ruins the effect.

So a bit of seam ripping was in order to fix this mistake and once the pieces were ripped apart they could be stitched back together again the right way.

Looking at the finished center of this quilt which I've decided to name it Australian Shadows, I'm stunned at how awesome the fabrics look. Really the fabrics don't even need to match at all. These are all M&S Textiles Aboriginal prints, but they don't have to be. I could mix in other prints and it'd look just fine.

Which is great because I didn't buy enough fabric for the borders I designed. Instead that will have to be pieced using this batik fabric:

Really I love this little quilt already and I'm planning to make a really huge one for my king sized bed. I still haven't gotten around to making a quilt that will actually fit the whole bed and I'm looking forward to the challenge of quilting on a large scale for a change.

This small quilt, however, will probably end up being a wall hanging and I may end up showing it just for fun. It's going to be interesting to pick out filler designs that work in the shadow and background areas. The fabric areas are too complex for the quilting to really matter much, but the rest of the areas should be fun to play with.

So that's it for this What's Leah Working on Wednesday! Since I was up so late last night, I'm feeling the need for a little nap, and then I'll get back to this little quilt and finish up the borders this evening.

Let's go quilt!

Leah Day

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Day 237 - Spiral Boomerangs

I've been having loads of fun looking back at early designs from the project this week, and two in particular have caught my eye.

Fossil Bed was one of the first designs created by combining two existing designs. It created a really neat texture and recently I started wondering if I could do the same thing with straight lines and sharp angles. What did I end up with? Spiral Boomerangs!

Really if you break this design down, it's really a combination of Square Spiral and Boomerangs. Both designs are fairly easy to quilt and can be expanded to take up lots of space, or shrunk down to fit into tiny areas.

Combined, I think both designs look even better! The Square Spirals really stand out of the crowd and show off beautifully against the more complex Boomerang designs. Definitely play with changing the size of the spirals - the bigger they get, the more they will show off and change the design.


Difficulty Level - Advanced. The biggest thing to keep in mind with this design is to keep your lines straight. I've found if my Boomerangs get too long, my lines start to curve and wiggle because it's hard to keep them perfectly straight.

So instead keep the boomerangs short by changing direction often and the design will stay under control and looking good throughout.

Design Family - Stacking. Spiral Boomerangs is created by stacking shapes together, so really this design can go anywhere in your quilt and on any scale.

Directional Texture - All Directions. Straight line designs generally have a flatter, less flowing texture than curvy designs. One thing to keep in mind is how much this design builds up thread on the surface of your quilt. If you contrast your thread color with the color of the quilt top, this design will really stand out!

Suggestions for Use - What if you stitched this design in different colors? I haven't really done a lot of this, mostly because I hate breaking thread often and having to hide a million loose threads, but for this design, I think I'd make an exception.

Try stitching the spirals first in red thread and then break thread and fill in around them with boomerangs in green for a funky festive quilt. The design won't flow as easily as in the video, but the effect will definitely be very interesting!

Back of Spiral Boomerangs
Feel free to use this free motion quilting design in your quilts

Let's go Quilt!

Leah Day

Monday, December 13, 2010

Day 236 - Josh's Ladders

Before I started the project, I spent a bit of time talking about the idea with friends and family. Some people thought it was a great idea, some thought I was crazy, and a few thought I was doomed to eternal failure and misery (note: this is a good reason NOT to talk about new ideas with everyone you know!)

As strange as it seems now, my husband Josh was one of the doom and gloomers at the beginning. He just couldn't wrap his head around the idea of the project or how I could turn it into a business. Frankly, I don't blame him because I didn't even know what would happen, but I still like to pick on him about it occasionally!

Since the beginning, however, Josh has certainly come around and last week asked if he could contribute his own design. This is Josh's Ladders:

I guess I'm in a rather reminiscent mood today because all weekend I've been looking back at the earliest designs from the project.

Unfortunately at the beginning of this challenge, I really didn't know how to film my quilting clearly and certainly didn't realize that fabric and thread choice was essential for having the stitches show up clearly.

Here's a selection of early designs all stitched on light fabrics with dark threads. They show up, but I don't think they look as good as they could:

This weekend I've been going back through and re-quilting many of them onto darker fabrics with white thread so they show up better.

I must say, it was fun stitching back through those early designs! A lot has changed between then and now and it was really interesting to see how much my quilting has improved in the last 14 months.

One design in particular is giving me fits. Sea Anemone is one challenging little bugger. Finally I broke out pencil and paper to find a better way to quilt it and hopefully I'll be able to get that one finished this afternoon.

Now let's get back to learning this new design!


Difficulty Level - Advanced. This design can be fairly challenging because of how the ladders fit together. There is a lot of travel stitching involved and space estimation.

Fitting the ladders together so randomly might be what made it tricky for me to stitch a few times. If you like, fit the ladders together in a more grid-like arrangement and that might be easier to stitch.

Design Family - Stacking. I didn't realize just how many stacking designs we had until I created the pages organizing everything! These are the designs that can fit into most areas of your quilt. You can easily expand this design to fit into large areas, or shrink it to fill in small spaces.

Directional Texture - No Direction. Straight lines and sharp angles usually make for a very flat, directionless design. While this might not seem very useful, flat designs make for terrific background filler designs because they recede into the background when stitched densely on your quilts.

Suggestions for Use - Since Josh designed this design, I'm thinking about using it in a quilt for James. Right now James loves everything about robots, space, and cars, which would make for a really interesting quilt when combined all together! Maybe if I connect everything with Josh's Ladders it will make sense? It'll be fun to try at least!

Back of Josh's Ladders

Feel free to use this free motion quilting design in your quilts

Let's go Quilt!

Leah Day

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Best Egg Nog - Ever!

I decided to kick Josh off his normal post as recipe man today so I could share one of my absolute favorite recipes for Egg Nog.

When I was a little girl, I had a great aunt named Ruth who came from Germany who lived across the street from my grandparents. During the holidays we would walk over and eat really good cookies and she would always make egg nog for the adults.

I never quite understood why I couldn't drink this drink that just looked like milk with sprinkles on top. I do remember that it, and really her whole house, smelled wonderful of cinnamon and nutmeg and ginger.

Fast forward 15 years and I finally decided to try out an Egg Nog recipe on my own. Yeah, there is the store bought stuff, but I wouldn't drink that if you paid me. It's way too sugary and sweet, not to mention pasteurized which takes all the flavor out of the eggs (if they even use eggs).

I just happened to be watching Alton Brown's Good Eats on Food Network at the time and he has a wonderful episode just on making egg nog. What I like the best is he teaches you how to make it with raw eggs (back off food police!) and for those squeamish about that kind of thing, he also teaches you how to cook the egg nog so there's absolutely no risk what so ever.

Keep in mind that Josh and I only make egg nog with super fresh, farm raised eggs. Since our chickens are currently in "off" mode as far as production goes, we're using fresh eggs from our neighborhood farm lady.

Fresh eggs are super important to this recipe so if you don't currently have a supplier, take a look around your area and see what's available. It can be very surprising what is available as far as fresh eggs, milk, cheese, and butter and the quality is absolutely amazing.

So here's part 1 of Alton's School of Hard Nogs recipe:


And here's part 2:


Hmmm...This really is the best egg not recipe ever. And the best holiday combination? Egg nog and chocolate cookies!

Let's go quilt,

Leah

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Flowers and Shadows

Today is "What's Leah Working on Wednesday" and I've finally made it back into the studio after the weekend trip. Despite a washing machine drain that has clogged AGAIN, I have managed to prewash all of the new Australian prints I picked up in Boone at The Quilt Shop.

While the fabrics were in the wash, I've been playing with a couple different ideas for the quilt I want to make with them. My original inspiration was the beautiful quilt in the shop which used basic shadow techniques to highlight the beautiful fabrics.

Creating shadows either from piecing, applique, or paint is actually very easy! I've been wanting to play with it ever since I picked up the book Casting Shadows by Colleen Wise.

But the more I've played with my design, the bigger the quilt has gotten! I wanted to keep the fabrics in big pieces, around 12" x 24", so the unique Aboriginal design doesn't get lost by cutting them up into small pieces.

Right now my sketch would create a huge 125" x 100" king sized quilt, which is perfect because I still haven't gotten around to making a quilt for my new bed. The only problem with this is I didn't buy enough fabric!

That's a really important lesson that I still get reminded of on occasion. I purchased 1/2 yards because I was getting so many different prints, thinking that that would be enough. Normally that would be plenty even for a queen sized quilt, but king really eats up the fabric quickly.

So that dilemma has stalled this quilt for a bit. I'm debating buying more fabric, or simply changing the design to use the fabric I already purchased more effectively.

When I haven't been playing with graph paper trying to figure out this quilt design, I've been working on my first Flower Power wall hanging!

The weather has finally turned cold, so I've been wanting a simple hand work project to work on while curled up in front of the fireplace.

I know this quilt doesn't look like much right now, but that's because it's only half finished! The vase and stems have been hand appliqued in place. The next step is to baste this little quilt top and quilt the flowers through all three layers in free motion. The hardest part is picking which flower designs to use!

I'm heading back into the studio to start working on this little quilt, then upstairs to mix up some egg nog. hmmmm....egg nog and chocolate cookies - what could be better than that!?

Let's go quilt,

Leah Day

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Day 235 - Heart Ripples

Stippling really is a spectacular design. It can be used alone to create a very flat background filler design, or it can be used to connect shapes together.

I've used Stippling to connect circles together in Pumpkin Patch, and Pebbling together in Frog Eggs, but what about hearts? To add a little extra twist to a simple design, I decided to echo the hearts a few times just to see the effect it would have, and so we end up with Heart Ripples!

The cool thing about this design is you can easily expand the heart shapes so they cover large spaces of your quilt. Or you could keep the hearts small and allow the stippling to be the main focus of the design. There are really a lot of possibilities with this design so just have fun with it!


Difficulty Level - Beginner. This design is really easy! Start with a bit of stippling and then create your heart shape. Echo around the heart, hitting both the tip of the heart and the little dip that creates the heart shape. This will build up your thread slightly in these two areas, adding a little extra texture to the design.

Design Family - Independent. These designs are formed independently of everything around them. This makes them a great choice for covering a whole quilt or for filling small, complex areas.

Directional Texture - No Direction. Stippling has a very flat texture when you quilt it densely, but the hearts will have a more flowing, fluid texture. Depending on which one you allow to be bigger (either the connecting stippling line or the hearts) this design could have either a very flat or a very moving texture.

Suggestions for Use - Looking at this design, I'm reminded of a red and white 9 patch quilt I have on the UFO shelf. This design, stitched in bright red thread, would be a wonderful way to finish that quilt because it will be fast and easy, but add a nice new heart design over the red and white fabrics.

Back of Heart Ripples
Feel free to use this free motion quilting design in your quilts

Let's go Quilt!

Leah Day

Monday, December 6, 2010

Day 234 - Spinning Daisy

Between our Thanksgiving sale and losing our dog Jinjo last week, things have been pretty weird around the house lately. I'm looking forward to getting things back to normal and especially getting the project back on track!

So let's move on with another awesome flower design:

Spinning Daisy was inspired by Super Daisy, one of my favorite designs. I started wondering what would happen if the daisy was twisted, or spun around, elongating the petals and making them swirl around the center.

Finally I realized that that was basically turning the petal shapes into feathers, so really you can look at this design as another feathering design too!


Difficulty Level - Intermediate. This isn't an extremely difficult design, but it can be tricky to line up the ending petals with the beginning petals so the design swirls seamlessly. In a pinch, mark the starting and ending lines so that way the whole design comes together easily.

Design Family - Center Fill. Spinning Daisy is created by starting in the center of your quilting space and quilting out to the edges. You can keep this design in a circular shape if you're just creating the flower, or you can travel stitch and fill in with more petals until the entire quilting space is filled.

Difficulty Level - Center Focused. This design has a very clear center focused texture which makes it a wonderful eye-catching design. Definitely use it somewhere you want to attract attention!

Suggestions for Use - I think this design would look terrific stitched into the center of a quilt. By building up the petals as feathers, you could easily take this one design and cover an entire quilt with it in the All Over Quilting style!

Back of Spinning Daisy
Feel free to use this free motion filler designs in your quilts,
and make sure to tell your friends where you learned it.

Click here to support the project by visiting our online quilt shop.

Let's go Quilt!

Leah Day

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Nice Trip Away

I apologize for being MIA for a few days, but losing Jinjo threw me for a bigger loop than I ever expected, and after the events of last week, we all needed to get out of the house and out of town for awhile.

So we headed up to Linville Caverns, but it turns out the caves are closed in the winter and only open on Saturday and Sunday. That was a bit disappointing, but we quickly changed plans and decided to head further north to Grandfather Mountain and Boone, NC.

Here are some pics from Grandfather Mountain on Friday. It was SUPER windy and cold. We all had 3 layers on at least and James was actually wearing a hat, but we were still cold.

James wasn't too into the heights or wind either. We made it halfway across the swinging bridge before he declared "I wanna go home!" and that this was way "too much!"

But we did have a good time in the nature area and James loved the animal habitat despite the fact that no animals actually showed up. In his almost-4 year old's mind, the best thing in the whole world is running, running, running and the ramps and pathways allowed a lot of that!

Of course, when planning any trip, I always do a bit of googling before we leave to see if there are any quilt shops within a reasonable drive of our destination.

After a bit of searching I found two quilt shops in Boone, NC, so we set our sites on that college city after our windy trip to Grandfather Mountain.

I vacationed in Boone about 10 years ago and it's amazing how much it has changed. Much more traffic, a ton of road construction, and for some reason I just could not get oriented in this city.

I pride myself on having a really good sense of direction and an excellent mental "map" of where I'm going, but in Boone, I got turned around more in one day than I usually do in 1 year! I swore the roads were jumping up and switching places with one another when my back was turned.

Anyway, after a bit of turning around, we finally found a hotel and I left in search of my quilt shops. I ended up at just one of the two because of lack of time and because the one I stopped at was just so awesome.

The Quilt Shop is a small shop located in the New Market Center. The first thing you see walking into this shop is this gorgeous quilt created by one of the owners:

I love everything about this quilt! The fabrics are all Australian prints created by M&S Textiles. This is just one of the many beautiful collections of fabric carried by The Quilt Shop.

It's the shadow effect is what really makes this quilt pop and shows off those fabrics so spectacularly. If you'd like to learn how to create a quilt like this, definitely check out Casting Shadows by Colleen Wise. This book is all about creating visual dimension with simple piecing or applique techniques.

Seeing this quilt in the quilt shop reminded me again of the lecture with The Singing Quilter, Cathy Miller and her beautiful Australian shadow fabric quilt. I think this shadow technique is awesome for highlighting beautiful fabrics that might be tricky to work with in another way.

I decided on the spot that I wanted to piece one for myself and picked up some gorgeous prints and a dark brown shadow fabric.

Now that I'm home I'm already prewashing the Aussie prints to get ready to piece my top and getting ready to start the new design. It's always nice to start a new project, and playing with the shadow techniques will be a fun and interesting challenge.

Speaking of challenge, I got loads of inspiration for more filler designs from inside Linville Caverns. On our way back home, we stopped in for a 30 minute tour and I took many pictures of these interesting rock formations:

Does this one remind you of anything? It's a bit like Brain Coral which was inspired by corals in Josh's fish tanks, but this is actually Cave Coral. I'm going to have to play with this texture and see what happens!

Overall it was a great trip, we all had a good time, and coming home today the weight of losing Jinjo wasn't quite so heavy. Now I'm off to distract myself further by slicing and piecing the new fabrics!

Let's go quilt,

Leah Day
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