August 30, 2013

Summer Journal: Trapeze Lesson

At the beginning of the summer, Caitlyn decided she was ready to check out the flying trapeze at circus class. She took three swings and declared herself ready for a full lesson.

Unfortunately, it took all summer for all the right pieces to fall into place for that lesson. And by the time it arrived, she'd gotten herself worked into a state of simultaneous fear and excitement: wanting so badly to fly and terrified to take that first step off the platform. (Not that I can blame her. As much fun as flying looks, I know I'd be scared silly up there. Not to mention I know I don't have the strength needed to do anything except squeak and fall inelegantly into the net.)

It took the full two hours of her class, but Caitlyn finally convinced herself to make the jump.
Caitlyn's flying!
She starts with her hands on the bar, then - while flying - swings her legs up to hang from her knees. Then it's back to her hands and a back tuck from the bar to the net.

Perhaps we're not there yet, but it won't be long before
She flies through the air with the greatest of ease,
that daring young Caitlyn on the flying trapeze!

August 26, 2013

Summer Journal: Wandering in Canada

Back in July, we took a two week road trip to break in Caitlyn's passport. I mean, Canada is right there. How is it that we hadn't gone yet???

So we raided the library, mixed up some gorp/trail mix, loaded the car and embarked on a trip that turned out to be mostly about boats, trees, and swimming in everything possible. Here are a few highlights:
Caitlyn sights CanadaCaitlyn sights Canada.

afternoon tea, Butchart GardensWe enjoyed an afternoon tea at Butchart Gardens. Food and setting were lovely. I felt underdressed (but then anything short of Lady Grantham would have left me feeling underdressed).

Caitlyn on water taxi to Newcastle IslandOur smallest non-human powered boat: the water taxi/ferry to Newcastle Island from Nanaimo.

shoreline, Newcastle IslandExploring the shore at Newcastle Island Provincial Park.

Little Qualicum FallsLittle Qualicum Falls on our way west to the Pacific.

fog and the Wild Pacific TrailMorning fog on the Wild Pacific Trail in Ucluelet on the Pacific Coast of Vancouver Island. The buoys and lighthouse fog horn called to each other incessantly, a bit like confused and lovesick seals.

bog trail panoramaThe Bog Trail in the Pacific Rim National Park between Ucluelet and Tofino. The trees are stunted and tiny but are actually quite old. Turns out, growing in salted, saturated soil is hard work.

Caitlyn thinks the Pacific isn't coldCaitlyn continues to think the Pacific Ocean isn't really all that cold.

The end of the road in Tofino
The end of the TransCanada Highway in Tofino. We stumbled on this while walking around town after some of the best burritos ever. Tacofino is hard to find but worth it!

Rainforest Trail, Pacific Rim National Park
The Rainforest Trail, also in Pacific Rim National Park. Old growth and layers upon layers of green. Walking here will either make you believe in wood elves or convince you that Myst is a real place.

Finding tiny crabsOn the way east again we stopped for lunch at a wide spot in the road by a bend in a river. We picnicked, Caitlyn found tadpoles, and she and Ian swam in the river (quite a bit upstream of a waterfall but I was completely panicked the whole time, nonetheless). It was declared the best fresh-water swimming of our trip.

Really tall Douglas FirOld growth Douglas fir in MacMillan Provincial Park. The tree is probably 800 or so years old. My favorite part was watching the other tourists' minds be blown by the size of the trees. I forget that most people haven't spent years with Coast Redwoods. Tall trees are awesome... and totally normal to me. I remember traveling to New York state as a teenager and thinking all the trees there were short!

strange animalWe kept spotting this strange little animal...

waiting for dinerWe caught a ferry from Comox and crossed over to Powell River and the Sunshine Coast. Dinner at Costa del Sol was fabulous: good food, excellent drinks, in an adorable flower covered building.

the end of the road, LundYou're at the end of the road, again. This time, it's in Lund, on the Sunshine Coast (the west coast of mainland British Columbia). Also, it's Highway 101, which runs along the whole West Coast (US and Canada).

Kayaking near LundIn Lund, we went on a kayak tour of the nearby coast. TerraCentric runs guided tours, something especially nice for people who have never seriously sat in a kayak. It's tempting to say, "How hard can it be?" and that's just the sort of attitude that will land you stuck in a boat, upside-down, underwater. Having a guide with us meant we could look at the scenery (Eagles! Seals! Millions of purple sea stars!) and not think about where we were, how far we'd gone, or whether we'd be able to paddle back. I especially appreciated knowing that if something did go wrong and we ended up in the water, there was someone on hand who knew what to do to get us back out again.

Poseidon with CaitlynCaitlyn was especially taken with this statue of Poseidon. He rests on a tidal island. Caitlyn was able to walk out to him at the beginning of our kayak adventure; when we returned the tide was in and the water level was up to the curve in his tail. (Previous two photos by our TerraCentric guide, Tony Waters. Thanks Tony!)

from the ferry sundeckWe worked our way south along the coast toward Vancouver, taking a lot of ferries. This is the view from the sundeck of the run to Earl's Cover from Saltery Bay.

South of Earl's Cove, near Madeira Park, we found Francis Point Provincial Park. It's a relatively new park, with minimal parking and no services. But there's a walk to a bay for the best salt water swimming of our trip. Quiet, peaceful, unexpectedly warm, and lots of sea urchins.

Canopy Walk, UBC Botanical GardenAnother ferry and we arrived in Vancouver. We stopped at UBC to check out their Botanical Garden. They have a canopy walk where you can get up in the trees and look down at the understory. Fun change in perspective and amazing "tree-hugging" technology - a system to hold the weight of the visitors without damaging the trees. Think really big Chinese Finger Puzzles.

MacLeod's BooksMacLeod's Books in Vancouver. This is the sort of bookstore people dream up to put in movies, where the books are piled on top of other piles of books and only the lone employee knows where everything is. But this is a real store, and it's really piles of books on piles of books. (See this post for more pictures.) I bet the Vancouver Fire Chief has nightmares about this place.

Up close with RosieAt the Bloedel Conservatory in Queen Elizabeth Park, we had a nice long chat with Rosie, the African Gray Parrot. Rosie's not supposed to get off her perch but she apparently likes to go for walks.

up close with RosieBoth Ian and Caitlyn were able to sketch Rosie, who seems to have not gotten the notice that the Conservatory asks that visitors not touch the birds. She would walk right up to you and tuck her head, presenting her neck and back fro scratches. So tempting!

From Vancouver we continued south toward home, bringing with us a few more books, a bundle of fat quarters, and a new belt. We've demonstrated that we can go north, cross a border, and then come home again. Caitlyn's been exposed to non-US currency, an extensive bilingual system (an official one, not just the "Oh, I suppose we should post that in Spanish, too" that we do here the States), and the metric system for measuring distance, gas and milk. We've confirmed that we travel well, as long as we spend enough money to be sure everyone sleeps well at night. (We've also had a conversation or two about renting an RV and doing a Really Big Road Trip Around the US... which is either a brilliant idea or an insane one.)

Here's to summer and travel!

August 20, 2013

Tutorial: Blackford's Beauty

Over at Stash last month, we held a little Christmas in July event. One of our activities was a Block Challenge: make a block (any block!) from any of our Christmas fabrics, bring it to the shop, and vote on your favorite of all the blocks on display. We announced our winner in early August.

'Course, none of us who work there were eligible to win, but that didn't stop us from making up some blocks of our own. And because I seem chronically unable to pick the simple project, I made up a complicated block called Blackford's Beauty. Had I ever made this one before? Was I using a clearly laid out pattern with easy measurements for the finished block size I needed? No and no.

Blackford's Beauty, finished
I did take a bazillion pictures and write a tutorial for Stash's site for the block, though. I'm reposting the tutorial here for archival purposes.


501 Quilt Blocks book
I found the block in this book, Better Homes and Gardens' 501 Quilt Blocks. I've had the book for years, but this may be the first time I've made a block from it. The blocks are all given in diagrams for 4 inch blocks, with minimal instructions. I ignored their instructions and adjusted the size for a 12.5 inch block (not really sure how that worked - I spent the entire time I was putting the block together sure I was going to end up too small!).

2 strips
Start with 2 fat quarters and cut (2) 2 inch strips from each. It's not super important how long they are. I cut mine the width of the fat quarter, so they were probably about 22 inches.

Sew a white strip to a red strip, lengthwise. Press your seams however you like. I ended up pressing one way and then re-pressing a different way as needed later.

Cut your joined strips
Cut 2 inch wide rectangles from your joined strip. They should be 2x3.5 inches. You'll need 8 of them.

2x3.5 inch rectangles x 8
(If you like precision cutting, you can cut 2x2 squares from your strips and piece those. This strip piecing method is less fiddly, which, for me, means I get a nicer block. Use whatever method gives you the results you like best.)

3.5 inch 4 patch units
Assemble 4 patch units from your 8 rectangles. This is one place where I went back and repressed some of the seams. I like to have my seams pressed in opposite directions when I'm lining things up, since that usually means my points are less likely to slide around.

2x3.5 rectangles in tree print
Set your 4 patch units aside for just a moment and cut a 2 inch strip from a new fabric. I used this tree print. From the strip, cut (8) 3.5 x 2 inch rectangles.

Adding trees to the 4 patches
Add a tree rectangle to one side of each of your 4 patch units. If you've got a directional print (like these trees), pay attention to your orientations!

From the remaining white strip from before, cut (8) 2 x 2 inch squares. Add a white square to one end of each of the remaining 4 tree rectangles. Press your seam as you wish, or be like me and obsessively check the seam on the 4 patch unit, forget which way it goes and check it again before pressing this new seam.

Check your trees!
Place your tree + white square rectangle units next to the 4 patch + tree units. Make sure your trees are all going in the right direction. It's much easier to change this now than later. Trust me on this. When you're sure you've got it right, sew the units together.

Completed 4 patch ++ units
Ta-da! You're more than halfway done, believe it or not. Set these aside for now.

more squares and rectangles
Next cut (4) 5 x 2 inch rectangles from the remaining white strip. Cut another 2 inch strip from the white fabric if you need to. Cut a 2 inch strip from a new fabric (I used these happy zig-zags). Then cut (16) 2 x 2 inch squares.

Draw a diagonal line, corner to corner, on the backs of all the squares.

Adding HSTs to a rectangle
Add 2 zig-zag squares to either end of a white rectangle. Make sure your diagonal lines are parallel. Stitch just a hair toward the outside of the line you drew (this helps keep things properly sized). Flip your resulting triangle open and press. Trim off the excess.

Zig-zag units
Don't get too carried away here! You'll want to make 4 units with the lines on the backs of the zig-zags pointing to the right and 4 more units with the lines pointing to the left. That way you'll get these "arrow" units when you stitch the resulting rectangles together.

Arrow units
Like this! I totally didn't pay any attention to the direction of my zig-zags for this step, but I bet you could get some fun effects if you did.

Putting these "arrow" units together is another place where I got fussy about my pressing. If the seam allowances for the triangles point in opposite directions, I find it's a lot easier to get the points to match up.

Once the units are assembled, press the center seam open. This will minimize bulk in the final block.

Almost done!
Cut one final piece, a 3.5 inch square for the center. Lay out all your units as above and assemble your block.

That wasn't so bad, was it? If I were going to make another one with this same fabric collection (Joy by Kate Spain for Moda), I think I'd drop the tree fabric and use a green instead. And I think I'd do the center square in red. But I'm just thinking out loud here...


Yeah, now that I think about it again, I'd use different colors for this. When you put several blocks together, it needs a little something:
Blackford's Beauty digital composite
This is too monochromatic, especially for all the little fiddly bits that go into a block like this. The tree print doesn't work, the white snowflake on the red is too big for the pieces used, and the zig-zag is all weird. Maybe if I'd used the zig-zag in place of the trees, used a red with a smaller print, and perhaps the holiday lights instead of the zig-zags? Maybe doing the "arrow" units with different triangles at either end so that the stars and diamonds appear in different fabrics when arranged? Clearly, some sketching ahead of time would have been a good plan!

August 16, 2013

Shattered Glass Blocks

I didn't really want to but I had to take a break from Sew.Quilt.Give. in July, despite the call for any star block I might want to make. I love star blocks and star fabric and stars in general. One secret ambition: to make a starry night quilt, something that's sort of a mash up of Van Gogh's painting and those deep space nebulae photos.

Yeah, someday...

Anyway, August blocks!
SQG blocks for August
These Shattered Glass blocks come from this tutorial from the Undercover Crafter. These are a lot like theses blocks I made for the Craftsy 2012 BOM (which I'm still working on...). I wasn't so sure that a whole quilt out of the Craftsy blocks would work, but those blocks are much more regular than these. Really looking forward to seeing how the full Shattered Glass quilt comes out!

(And yes, I'm probably over saturated on the colors, again. And I'm out of orange fat quarters.)

Speaking of finished quilts, the Sew.Quilt.Give. blocks from April (mine are here) are all quilted and assembled! Check out the finished quilt! For once, my blocks don't stick out like a bad sunburn.

And, yes, I'm working on the March SQG quilt. An update on that coming soon.

August 13, 2013

Pesto Time

pesto making time
I admit I have a tendency to over-stock. I routinely add extra fabric to whatever I think I'll need for a project. I like to have extra time to get from here to there. My idea of what is "enough" food to have on hand is frankly a bit ridiculous. I keep a pantry like I imagine someone might if they lived on a tiny forested island where the nearest grocery store was 100 miles and a boat ride away. If we ever have a real zombie apocalypse, I know of several people who plan to come camp at our house, since at least we'll have food for a few more days. Will a zombie hold off on eating your brain if you can keep it supplied with pasta? In a variety of sauces?

Pesto, however, seems to be one thing I don't over make. A dozen little jars in the freezer and we've got pesto for ravioli, pizza, spreading on focaccia, adding to minestrone, and more until next basil season. Three nice bunches of basil from Whistling Train Farm and I've got my collection of 1/2 cup jars all put away for the year.
pesto making time
Sorry, zombies, there's not enough pesto here for you. You'll have to make do with tomato sauce.

August 06, 2013

Beginnng the Harvest, or Free Onions!

This may be my best year ever for onions. Check out these fine things:
homegrown onions
I ordered my onion starts from Dixondale upon the recommendation of Erica over at Northwest Edible Life ('cause, as far as this urban homesteading thing is concerned, Erica is everything I only wish I could be). I've never grown onions this large (which is weird to say, since I think that was one of the pull quotes on the literature that came with the starts. I guess there's some truth in advertising after all!).

My Long Day Sampler of onions included white Ringmasters, red Redwings and these yellow Walla Wallas. According to Dixondale, the reds should have a storage life of almost 8 months, the whites about 4 months, and the yellows only about 1 month. While we use lots of onions, I doubt I can use up all the Walla Wallas before mid September. Local peeps: ping me if you need an onion or two. I've got lots!

August 01, 2013

Too Many Variables Can Spoil the Soup

Back in June, Stash featured some lovely large scale dahlia fabric. I thought the fabric might make a fun version of Amy Butler's Liverpool. I like to think I was mostly right.
Liverpool tunic
I made the tunic length (the pattern can work up as a shirt, a tunic, a short dress or a long dress), lengthening it 3/4 inch to put the waist at the right spot for me. I didn't make any other adjustments.

The pattern is well written, with detailed descriptions of each step. I'm a bit of a novice when it comes to shaping garments even though I'm not exactly a beginner seamstress (Caitlyn doesn't need much shaping yet and most of what I've made for me for me has been of the long and loose variety). While I didn't need all the details, I could imagine someone who has little sewing experience managing this pattern fairly easily. I found the dart instructions particularly helpful, much better than those from the Big 4, which have an annoying tendency to assume you know what you're doing. The only part I had any trouble with was the cuffs on the sleeves, but I think that had more to do with the lateness of the hour when I was working on them, not the pattern.
Liverpool Tunic in Dahlia
Speaking of cuffs, check out my covered buttons! These are crazy easy to do, at least if you get a covered button kit with the proper mold and pusher. I was skeptical about the buttons but I might look for other places to use covered buttons. That is, if they stay sewn on nicely. I'm just a little worried these will pop off and get lost.
Liverpool Tunic in Dahlia
"Sounds great," you say, "but why are you showing this tunic hanging in a tree and not on you?" Two reasons: first, I should have made a muslin. I did a paper fitting with the pattern tissue but perhaps either was not thorough enough or overlooked an issue as a peculiarity of the paper. The armholes are maybe 1/4 - 1/2 inch too high (as least, I think that's the problem), so I get pinched when I wear this and try to move. It'd probably be fine if I could wear it and pretend I was a statue, but that's just not practical for me.

Second, and most disappointingly, while I love this pattern in this fabric, I don't love it on me. A while back someone came into Stash and asked for guidelines about large prints on petite people. I told her I didn't think it was the person's physical size that mattered as much as their confidence and comfort level. Did she have the personality to wear a large print? Turns out, though I'm not petite, this is too much print for me, especially as a top. Caitlyn, of course, thinks it's awesome.

I still think a tunic might be an interesting addition to my wardrobe, though, so I may very well try again. I'll need to adjust the armhole on the pattern first... I assume that if I lower them, I'll need to increase the size of the sleeve somewhat? Have any recommendations for good resources on this topic? Then I think I'll make it up in a solid or near solid and see how the overall fit and shape work for me before trying another print. You'd think I'd know by now that I should change only one detail at a time...