Sunday, February 28, 2010

Another Opportunity to Cook for Friends

We invited our neighbors, John and Charlene Wasilczyk, to dinner Friday night -- a cool, crisp evening with the promise of rain -- perfect for an oven meal! I had already removed the backbone from a chicken, pressed it flat and put it in a roasting pan in a 400 degree oven. The kitchen was already smelling pretty good when I cut red potatoes and a winter squash into pieces and tossed them with salt, pepper and my favorite, Lemon Olive Oil from Pasolivo.

The chicken was seasoned with a little salt and one of the Mrs. Dash seasoning blends and had been in the oven for about 20 minutes when I took out the roasting pan and added the potatoes and squash. They then roasted together for approximately 45 more minutes; I took them out and stirred the vegetables a couple of times so they would brown evenly.

Dessert was "in the box" as I had gone to Double "D" Cupcakes that afternoon and bought eight -- I wonder why there are only six in the couldn't be that Dan and I each had one the minute we got home, could it?

Here's a close-up -- triple chocolate on the left, red velvet in the center and white with fresh strawberries on the right.

See how yummy -- just can't resist them! Fortunately, we were able to twist John and Charlene's arms so that they took the final two home with them!   (See my post on those famous cupcakes HERE!!)

Carved chicken on th table, minus a few parts that we just had moved to our plates...

The vegetables, again the picture was taken after serving ourselves -- we were hungry! And actually we shouldn't have been -- we had already tried two kinds of cheese with two different bottles of wines and an assortment of crackers. We also served the wines with dinner; they were both from Justin Vineyards in Paso Robles CA. The white was a Viognier, the red a Tempranillo. Both were great with the cheeses and with the food.

We also had a green vegetable blend from Trader Joes -- they call it a green blend, but it also contains cauliflower along with green beans and some other green veggies all in a creamy garlic sauce.

After dinner, we took our coffee into the family room to watch one of the few remaining days of the Olympics. We didn't agree with the referee that Apolo Ohno deserved to be DQ'd in that race, what did you think?

Friday, February 26, 2010

Double "D" Cupcakes -- Lancaster CA

Company coming for dinner tonight -- yeah, I could bake something, but....then I remembered the letter from my friend Marilyn Norris who owns Double "D" Cupcakes. Marilyn's been baking and selling her treasures for a while now, but the letter said that she had opened a retail store. Did this mean that I could actually get cupcakes at a moment's whim and a ten minute drive rather than calling and placing an order for later in the week?
Seems so!

Here's Marilyn in the entrance to the shop; the table holds a nice display of pictures from various events where she has catered the cupcakes as well as a book with beautiful pictures of all the goodies!

The kitchen is gorgeous -- look at all that space! And those ovens! And those big tables (I know, we just want to throw cutting mats on them and start setting up sewing machines, right?)! That's Cassie with her back to us, frosting a cake for a special order for delivery later this afternoon.

Recognized the big container, but this one holds frosting -- in my house, it would be full of rising bread dough...looks remarkably similar!

Big machines for mixing up the cake batters and frostings....

Oh, my -- and the pantry!!

Double "D" sells two sizes of cupcakes: standard size, known as "Baby D's" and the larger "Double D's", which are twice the size for less than twice the price. I can easily scarf down one of the babies in one coffee break -- whoops, I just did!

I've only done that once with a Double D -- it was chocolate peanut butter (my favorite flavor and absolutely to die for!), I ate it at about 3:30pm with a cup of coffee and couldn't eat dinner that night! Now we cut them in quarters and share...

If you live locally or are making a trip here, Double "D" is located at 620 W. Ave. L in "Sweet" 103 in Lancaster; phone is 661-510-0480. They aren't shipping cupcakes yet, but probably will be soon, so you can keep posted on that by either going to the website, or by becoming a fan on their Facebook page.

An advantage of the Facebook thing is that the available flavors are posted each day, so if you do want to go in you can call ahead of time, tell them what you want and it will be all ready for you when I (oops, I mean YOU) get there!

So I'm just finishing up my coffee break and now I have to get out a brush and clean the red velvet cupcake crumbs out of the keyboard -- hate it when that happens!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Creativity Is Not a Pretty Sight!

This is actually the neat side of the table! I spent most of the day today talking with stores and working online booking hotels and flights for my next couple of trips that are coming up in April and May. But when I had those all set up, I had no excuse for avoiding the absolute pigsty that my workroom had turned into.

So when something becomes inevitable, one might as well enjoy it, right? I selected Santana on my Pandora Radio app and started in....

Messier side, although I did take this picture part-way through the cleanup -- it was a lot worse! I had already stowed a stack of books and magazines, a sewing machine and about 16 yards of fabrics that I had purchased but not yet found a home for. You can actually see that there's a tabletop here!

Half-way through.....and look at the windowsill -- docking station instead of boom box and big mess of wires!

Ah.....much better! And for those inquiring minds, the big rolls hung up over the cupboards are 90" Warm & Natural batting, one in each color.

Now I have to take that itty bitty pile in the middle, which consists of two fabrics to be sewn together for backing for a customer quilt and the stencil that is to be used on that quilt, and get started on some work!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Mountain Quilters Cottage -- Skyforest CA

One of the two stores that I visited last weekend in the Lake Arrowhead area was Mountain Quilters Cottage. I couldn't find a website, but you might want to call or visit if you are up on the mountain -- the store is located at 935 Kuffel Canyon in Skyforest (phone: 909-337-1521). There was only one person working the store on Saturday, Jan Chapman, who is also program chairman for two guilds up in that area -- so she pretty much knows everything quilt-like going on thereabouts!

Of course, I liked the sparkley little lights in the fireplace! The quilt above it is made from one pack of the Hoffman Bali Pops, the batik jelly rolls made up of 40 2-1/2" strips -- there was a big basket of them on the table along with books and patterns to use these handy fabric collections.

Lots of flannels in great PJ prints -- it gets cold up here!

These pastels promised that spring was coming...

...and there was a whole shelf of neutrals. When I worked on Alex Anderson's "Neutral Essentials" book, she taught me to have a good variety of them on hand.

Because I am such a Bernina Girl, first I noticed the machines, but then the books, and then the 30s quilt above the machines, and then.....and then....too much good stuff to look at!

Jan took me on a tour of the classroom; there weren't very many people in it and the room is huge -- as you can see, there was plenty of space to spread out. I told her that I was planning to bring some friends up in the fall for a retreat and she said that if the classroom wasn't in use, we were welcome to play in it! From what she was telling me, it seems like retreats are a pretty common occurrence around here.

What I bought: The print on the left looked like it would make a really good lengthwise-cut border, so 3 yards of that went home with me, along with 1-1/2 yards of a neutral that I didn't have.

I get to go up to the Lake Arrowhead house whenever we have a free weekend (if someone else in the family hasn't put dibs on it first!), so I'll be sure to re-visit this shop soon!

Drumroll, Please -- MY THREAD STASH!

Like any quilter, I own a LOT of thread! I'm fortunate in that I have the space to store the actual store-size fixtures in my sewing room -- the one on the left is Sulky rayon, 850 yd. spools; the one on the right is Mettler Silk Finish, which is a 50 wt. 100% cotton thread.

The Sulky is often threaded in the top of my machine when I am machine quilting; I really like the sheen of it, it is very durable and easy to work with. I drop (go to a lower number) my top tension .5-1.0 tension settings when sewing with it.

Mettler is the thread I most often use in the bobbin when I am machine quilting; I also use it for piecing sometimes, although I also like Aurifil and MasterPiece. I have every color of MasterPiece, but it is not nice and organized like my other threads, so no picture....

Two of these cases are filled with 84 colors of Sulky Blendables, a variegated that I like because it changes color pretty quickly. I use the 30 wt.; it also comes in 12 wt., which would be great for bobbin work. The back case has various embroidery threads in it for when I do machine embroidery. I also have machine embroidery threads on cones, but they are all over the sewing room and therefore not findable for a picture!

Patrick Grant of Unique Sewing Furniture makes a thread cabinet that has drawers just tall enough to accommodate all of the embroidery cone threads. I just might have to get one of those in here to get things a little more presentable -- you know, in case one of you guys decides to visit!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Weekend Away -- Lake Arrowhead CA....

Driving up to Lake Arrowhead for the weekend is always a treat; there's a lot to do if you want to go out and run around or you can light a big fire in the fireplace and sit back and watch the TV coverage of the Olympics. We did a little bit of everything...

Dan and I drove up to the cabin -- actually a three-bedroom house with a really big family room and kitchen -- Friday afternoon and had dinner in. My mother-in-law, Leslie, had made a big pot of spaghetti, I made a salad and we settled in with a fire to watch the slalom skiing and ice dancing.

Close-up of the sign so I know I'm at the right house! The cabin has a wonderful big deck all covered with snow right now with a forest view all around. Leslie has graciously offered it to me if I want to bring up some friends for a sewing retreat some weekend!

She and I decided we wanted to do some shopping today, so first we went to the candle shop in Blue Jay and then went to a couple of quilt shops in Sky Forest. I love this candle and gift shop and make a point of going in every time I'm "up the hill".

There was a pretty display of spring colors with a lot of candles -- some all sparkly with crystals glued all over the entire outside -- and tabletop accessories, such as platters and cups. Behind that are a couple of the varied candle displays.

In the back, there are robes and nightgowns on the left and numerous brands of bath gel, lotions, soaps and other yummy indulgences.

A front window display of beverage glasses and candles. I bought a couple of WoodWick candles -- I just love these; they come in wonderful fragrances and make crackling sounds like a fireplace as they burn. I bought Honeysuckle, but my favorite is Pumpkin Spice, hard to find this time of year.

So I guess I'll just have to come back in the fall for the Pumpkin Spice!

Friday, February 19, 2010

"Linner" With the In-Laws

My in-laws, Leslie and Len Reid, are two of my favorite people on the planet! I've known Len for a long time, ever since I met and fell in love with his son in 1987. He and Leslie will celebrate their first anniversary in April of this year -- so they're still newlyweds!

Dan and I invited them to brunch on Valentine's Day, but they had some other family things to do first, so we ate around 3 pm. So is that meal called Linner?

Made caprese for the first course -- I'm so happy we have a Trader Joe's here for the Roma tomatoes, basil and fresh mozzarella. Doused it with lemon olive oil from Pasolivos and a bit of balsamic vinegar.

Asparagus ready to go into the oven for ten minutes at 450 degrees F. First drizzled over that same lemon olive oil and a little salt and pepper. There is already a chicken and potatoes roasting in the oven, so as the chicken comes out to rest a bit, the asparagus goes in while the potatoes continue to cook.

The potatoes are little bitty ones that we got from Abundant Harvest Organics, the food co-op that we belong to. Cut up a little rosemary, sprinkled with salt, pepper and more of that yummy lemon olive oil.

Pasolivo is located in Paso Robles CA; it's about a 3-1/2 hour drive from here and we have to make a trip when we start running low on their olive oils. They have a really nice tasting room and are constantly coming up with new and interesting ways to use their products. Of course, I have to taste everything and always end up buying more than just what's on my list.

If you are in the Central Coast area of California, Pasolivo is definitely worth a stop; if you are interested, I know some very good wineries in the area as well!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

And How Do You Store All Those Stencils?

Because I have quilted for many people over the 17 years I have had a machine quilting business, there are probably over 1000 stencils in my collection. I have three huge binders containing the details of each quilt I have stitched.

The job sheet for each quilt includes the exact designs and threads used (that comes in handy if a quilt is damaged and a customer needs to tell the restorer what thread was used). I keep really good records to make sure that my customers have a variety of designs on their quilts -- even if all of their quilts have the same block or border measurements.

As stencils began to accumulate in the sewing room, the biggest problem was storing them so that A) they were out of the way and B) it was easy for me to find the exact one I wanted. That was how hanging them on the wall originated. They are on rings and arranged by size. In other words, if a quilt has a 6" border, I grab a ring of 5" border stencils. In an ideal world, that ring would be located between the 4.5" and the 6" border stencils.

As detailed in my last post, I buy most of my stencils from The Stencil Company, but I am also on the prowl for them at quilt shows and shops when traveling. Sometimes I even cut my own out of template plastic with a fine tip stencil burner if I can't find exactly what I have in mind.

The possibilities are endless!

Way Excited -- 2010 Stencil Company Catalog!

I get most of the stencils I use in my work from The Stencil Company in Cheektowaga NY. I saw the owner, Cindy Turnbow, briefly at Road to California and requested that she send me 100 of her newsprint retail catalogs -- 32 pages of stencils, marking tools, and pre-printed wholecloth minis and quilts. When I teach at guilds and shops locally, I bring the catalogs and pass them out to the students; out of town shops order them directly from Cindy for their customers.

The big heavy box arrived a couple of weeks ago and I just didn't have a chance to take a good look at the contents. But with a class coming up in a couple of weeks, it was time to browse through and see what was new and what was missing from my collection!

This page was pretty exciting -- I love all of the African fabrics and often stop and take pictures of those types of quilts. Here was a half page of designs from Africa; also on this page were Antique Designs by Roberta Benvin.

There are block designs in a number of sizes, borders, and stencils for wholecloth minis. There is a whole page of background designs, my favorite to use instead of stippling or meandering to fill larger areas.

Here are a couple of pages of pre-printed quilts, from pillow (18"x18") to queen (90"x108"). What a great way to perfect your free motion stitching!

I'm even looking at the pre-printed mini wholecloth quilts as good practice pieces in my free motion boot camp workshop. What a creative way to daydream on a beautiful, sunny Thursday morning!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

How Do You Use Your iPod Touch?

Dan gave me a 36GB iPod Touch this morning for Valentine's Day with the very cool hot pink cover! I've never used an iPod before (will probably need coaching from Destiny, the electronics queen!), but I can see possibilities with the amazing number of apps available for it.

Of course, I'll use the Starbucks app and some of the business travel apps, but have some questions for those of you who own either this or the iPhone. What apps do you find most useful? Should I buy a docking station if I want it to stream music from Pandora into my sewing room? Please share your thoughts on how I can integrate this into my sewing and travelling life.

Thank you! And big hugs (and hearts) to all of you on Valentine's Day!

Tinkerbell Quilt -- Piecing the Blocks

Here are 96 half-square triangles that sew up 1" finished -- I think I don't do small really well, but here goes!

Got 'em done -- here's the block layout, all on the mat that I can just take to the machine.

One finished block -- seven to go!

The pin marks the place where the diagonals don't match up; with a strong color like the yellow solid contrasting with the darker blue print, these "misses" really show up.

Obviously, just pinning where I think the seams will match up isn't working! I'm thinking that basting the seam first, then adjusting, then sewing might work. What have you tried to get your diagonals accurate? Do you have advice for me on piecing this type of seam?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Tinkerbell Quilt -- Getting Started

First, as with any activity, one must get in the mood! So a cup of tea in my Tinkerbell cup should do that quite nicely....

I laid out the seven fabrics used in the pieced blocks to see how everything was playing together and I wasn't crazy about the fabric on the right. It reads as a solid and so does the yellow that's going to be right next to it, so I swapped a batik out of my stash for the solid.

For several reasons, I like to use EZ International's EZ Angle tool* when I make half square triangles (HSTs). I get really accurate finished HSTs with a minimum of matching things up because they are cut just as you are going to sew them; in other words, from strips of each fabric facing right sides together on your cutting board.

When sewing HSTs from squares cut diagonally in half, we are used to adding 7/8" to the desired finished size, but when you use the EZ Angle, the strips are cut the desired finished size plus 1/2"; so for 2" finished HSTs, I cut my strips 2-1/2" and put them, right sides together, on my board.

I trim off the selvage edge and position my EZ Angle, notched edge of the tool to the top of the strips, to make my first cut.

Then I flip the tool over and align it so that the colored tip is on the bottom edge of the fabric to make my second cut.

Two units cut....

As I do the cutting, I toss them in piles of 10 (so I don't have to keep counting) on a fairly small (12"x18") mat. Once they are all cut, I use the mat to ferry them to the sewing machine.

We all know that when we are "chain piecing", the first piece is the one that gets all mangled in the feed dogs. To prevent this, I like to use a "leader", a small piece of fabric that is fed into the machine before the actual piecing. This helps the piecing feed freely and minimizes the chances of the pointy end of my HST getting caught. The leader above is just a couple of layers of selvage that had been trimmed off of my strips.

Here's one of the finished HSTs after pressing. Because of the notched side of the EZ Angle tool, there is only one little dog ear to remove from the square.

A square of yellow was sewn diagonally to the batik side of the HSTs, the excess trimmed off and the squares pressed.

Because these will be sewn to each other, I pressed half of them in one direction and half in the other so they will nest neatly when sewn.

I have a second small mat that I use to build my blocks on. As I finish each of the piecing elements, I stack them in their place on this mat. When all of the block components are finished, I take the mat to the sewing machine to start assembling the blocks.

There are a few things missing here -- namely 96 HSTs that measure 1" finished. They are yellow and blue and go all around the center square. Once I get those on the mat, I'll be ready to piece the blocks.

*For EZ International's official instructions on how to use this tool, click here. I noticed that they position the ruler a little differently than I do -- so I guess I've been getting great results while doing it wrong all these years!
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