Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Tutorial: Extending the Life of Old Towels

Towels are so expensive! Has anyone else noticed? I have towels that are years old that look ratty and nasty....strings hanging off the edges that grab at you after you shower....or they're been washed so many times that the selvedge edge (the tight, decorative stitching on the ends) has permanently crumpled up. Here's how to save your towels and extend their lives.

First of all, lay out your towels and trim off anything ugly - strings, frayed ends, selvedges, fuzzies, hems. At this point, you can also slice your towel in half if you have a need for hand/face towels. I've also been known to sew two towels together to make a super long towel.

Now, sort through your donate pile and find an old t-shirt with not too many holes. We're going to chop it up.

Match the shirt hems and fold it so that it fits your cutting surface. Then chop off the hems and slice the shirt into long strips about 2 1/4" wide. Cut to 2 1/2" if you're not confident that you can follow a narrow edge with your sewing machine.

Cut one side of the strip open.. If there are side seams, go ahead and cut one off, but leave the other. Why make more work?

Match the edges of the strips and sew a diagonal line across the ends. Don't worry about using a stretch stitch. It won't matter anyways. If you have trouble getting the first join to sew flat, run a leader through first. Just wing it on this step - accuracy makes no difference in final product. Eyeball it.

Trim the strip and press in half, wrong sides together. You've just made double fold binding. (Google it for a more detailed tute.) When pressing, the edges will curl, so be sure you hit them with some steam. Also, take care to not stretch the knit or you won't have binding; you'll have t-shirt yarn.

Start sewing the binding onto the towel somewhere along an edge and about an inch or two from the end of the binding. Please learn from my mistake and switch to your walking foot before you start this step. If you have no walking foot, just ease the binding under the presser foot using a pin. You'll get tiny pleats, but it's no big deal - they won't show on the right side. And if they do, who cares? It's a towel, not a showpiece.

Miter the corners if you like, or just wing it. When you get back to the start, just trim the end and tuck into the starting piece. Do not try to make the binding continuous (unless you're one of Those people) - it's a knit and won't fray anyways. Just keep it quick and simple.

Now, simply flip the towel and fold the binding to the other side. Sew in a continuous line right around the towel. This a a technique known and "machine binding." You can google that, too, if you need clearer instructions. As long as the folded edge of the binding covers the previously sewn line, you're good to go. Stretch to cover if necessary - another reason to use a soft, comfy old t-shirt.

And this is your final result! We do most of our towels this way and it extends their life sometimes by several years!

You can make mismatched towels into a set by binding them all in the same colour. You can buy new-to-you towels at second hand stores and give them new life for cheap. If you have towels that are worn in the middle, sandwich them together and run random lines down the length and width (especially around the really worn spots or holes) to "quilt" them together before binding (use wider binding for this). These double towels are super absorbent and soft - the men in my family have a preference for these thicker towels.

Today I'm linking up to Frugally Sustainable - they've got many more awesome ideas that you should check out, too.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Eyeballing my Stash

Before I get to the meat of this post, please comment favourably on my latest quilt finish: The Pixie's Circle quilt!

I was at the fabric store 20 minutes after it opened and picked up the missing thread (and a small piece of fabric - couldn't help myself).  I had the quilting finished by noon and the binding went on like a dream, thanks to being premade over the weekend. I'm absolutely loving machine binding quilts! Luckily, the Pixie was sleeping on the couch when I put the last stitch in; then Husband and I quickly photographed and hid the quilt. I'm hoping that out of sight = out of mind, at least until the Big Day.

Here's the back:

Now about my stash. My pathetically small fabric stash. My embarrassingly tiny fabric stash.

As it turns out, my stash is not all quality. It's all excellent quilting cottons - don't get me wrong. Nothing cheap in this collection.

But I just don't LOVE all of it. Quality to me is stuff I cannot wait to use - or love so much I never want to cut (can I get an amen?). I started quilting 11 years ago and one of my then-current relatives needed an idea for something to get me for the family Christmas gift swap. She figured it would be great to get me a quilting book and some cuts of fabric that she loved....and I do not love. I've held onto these fabrics for over a decade, waiting for my tastes to change, waiting until these fabrics would make it into the "beloved fabrics" pile.

And I conclude that 10 years is long enough to hold a grudge against a colour. I recently "met" a lovely quilty lady online and offered her these fabrics in exchange for some brighter scraps from her stash. She said yes! I'm so excited!

This is as close to true colour that I could bribe my camera to give me. And, Anna, I was wrong about the size. They're not fat quarters. They're half meter cuts. Enjoy!

But what to exchange? Do I want batik scraps? Children's prints? Random close-your-eyes-and-pray scraps?

These are pictures of stuff that has very recently made it into a place of honour in my stash. I cannot resist bright colours, stripes of any kind, anything spotty and dotty, batiks are good, stuff with words or music is better.
I bought these black and white prints with two specific projects in mind, and still need a few more meters before I can start designing. I'm also big into monochromatics, solids, unusual neutrals like gray, green and red. I select fabrics to enhance design possibilities; I do not buy fabric and then design a top to enhance the fabric. (No enormous Kaffe florals for me.)

I'm hoping this gives the whole world an idea of what my stash loves. Although I've been working on Christmas projects, they haven't been exciting me. I really just want to grab fabric and a rotary cutter and go nuts! My favorite method of designing quilts looks a lot like "winging it." January has so much potential!

In fact, most of my life looks like I wing it. And I do, of course.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Not There Yet

I was cruising along at top speed yesterday, quilting the Pixie's circle quilt, when the worst possible thing happened: I ran out of thread. I only have 3 1/2 more circles to quilt, but no more pink variegated 40wt King Tut thread. Tut, tut.

My LQS opens again tomorrow, and you can guess that I'll be among the first customers of the day.

Of course, I don't really need another entire 500 yards of thread (just one more bobbin will do!) but with the Pixie around, anything pink is an investment purchase.

So instead I chopped up some binding....

And then I got to work on a Boy quilt. See these colours? They are our house colours. Any guesses?

And since it's a lazy Sunday, I thought I'd add in some grandparent eye candy.

Here is my silly Punk...

She poses for the camera a lot.....she loves having pictures taken.

But she still doesn't tell me what the joke is:

And this Pixie seems to be going through a stage where she'd rather be a kitty. She meows a lot and begs for "kitty treats" (goldfish graham crackers). Here she is under my cutting table.

And this is usually the cats' favorite place to hide, but they never seem to be around when there are little girls nearby. They fear short people.

Lastly: This picture caught my eye because this is proof positive that the Pixie is my daughter. She looks exactly like I did at that age. Nanny, do you agree?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Good Ideas #1

I've spent the last few days furiously quilting in between wiping bums, warming Dora noodles, cuddling, and shopping. I even took the time on Thursday to visit my best friend and bring her some "medicinal" baking to help her get over her cold.

Here is the good idea of the day, and it's one that I've used for years.

Obtain an ugly, used sheet.

And then Cover Your Work! I have three kitties and you can imagine how much hair flies around the house - and how much they looooove to "test" new quilts after the household has shut down for the night. My ugly sheet, used as a dropcloth, has saved many a project from fur infestation. I just go ahead and cover most of my machine, too.

I am loving the FMQ pattern I chose/designed for this quilt. I teaches me speed and shape control, and ensures that I am spatially aware of where my stitches are going. I'm so impressed with myself that I might even try quilting free motion feathers.

In a perfect world this would be bound and hidden by tonight, since the Pixie has figured out that it's gonna eventually belong to her. I want it out of sight before she wakes up tomorrow. Heck, she was already trying it out this afternoon - cuddling when I stepped away from the machine, and putting her favorite blanky onto it to check for colour and cuddle match. She loves it so much, I almost don't want to keep it from her until Christmas.

But I will. Tough Mommy Love has to rule here.

And since it's Saturday, here's the random secret confession of the week: I have a teeny, tiny fabric stash. As a quilter, it's almost embarrassing - only one basket and one bin full of quilting cotton, plus a cardboard box with flannelette and a sack of scraps. When I mentioned my minimal stash at my LQS on Friday, I was overwhelmed by the lady behind me bragging that her stash is so large she had to take over an entire room in her house just to store fabric!

To anyone who knows me - rest assured that I will never have a stash that large. I'm just too cheap. I prefer using what I collect.

Although at times (and like any obsessed quilter out there) I do stack fabric together just to look at and pet.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Paying My Debt

A friend of ours did a favour for us on Monday morning - about 1 o'clock on Monday morning. And to repay him, I put some flour and shortening in a bowl.....

.....And made this lovely pastry dough.

Then I took 5 pounds of Spartan apples....

.....And chopped them up to mix with some sugar and spice.

Then I put it all together in a very specific way, and added heat. Here is the result:

I'm going to feed one of these to my girls for supper and not feel guilty. Two go to repay my debt.

I also managed to piece together a backing for the Pixie's Circle quilt. After I was finished, I pointed out to myself that since both sides are flannelette, I have made the necessary parts of a reversible quilt. Good on me.

Basting tomorrow. Shopping Thursday.

Monday, November 21, 2011

(Almost) Still Life: Pixie on a Flimsy

I sewed and pressed the last two seams this morning, and this is the result:

I really don't like it. I could find any number of things that I could've done differently. I won't list them.

The point is: the Pixie loves it. And she doesn't yet know that it is for her Christmas present. She started crawling around on it the moment I spread it out for pictures.

"Look Mama! My blue jammies! My favorite; Bumbly-mees! I love pink! 'Mingos, Mama, look!"

(Is it just me or does "toddler-ese" have a lot of exclamation points?)

Knowing that she loves it so much makes up for me not liking it. And that's what you have to do for every gift you give this holiday season.

This was the final test: hide-ability.

Yup. It's plenty cozy.

It'll be quilted asap and bound in pink. Gimme till Wednesday or so. After that? Boy quilts.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Personal Evening

Today was just me and my babes; watching cartoons, cuddling at will, a quick visit in the cold to the library. Right now these sweet girls are over-tired and jumping on the couch. Hark! I hear the sound of someone having been bitten. No names.

The Pixie's latest favorite manipulation is blocking my path with her arms up and saying, "Get me up make feel better?" She plays the sympathy card so well. And she's over tired because she says she's too big for naps (even though her body says otherwise).

This is her quilt so far: I took this picture less than 4 minutes ago.

Also, because it's Saturday, you get a random secret confession for free. Ready?

I confess that sometimes famous gay men are more attractive than famous straight men.


Friday, November 18, 2011


Today the stacks of beautifully cut fabric were sorted....I love this tip! Sort before you sew, just to ensure an even distribution of prints and colours. I didn't want to get to the end of the project and have only green to piece with green, 'cause there's a lot of green on this quilt.

Then I wisely made a few test runs of this curve. No fearing these curves, People! Easy peasey....almost as easy as free-form curves. (Free form curves is a lesson for another day - also very fun.)

From there I started pinning and chain-piecing "for real."

And while I was pinning, I happened to notice a slight problem. A rookie error. An amateur mistake.

I did not check all four layers of flannelette before cutting, and as a result this one lonely piece was short changed.

Meh. Cut a new one and carry on.

This is another reason why quilters MUST buy so much fabric. It's a simple matter of our humanity - we fail at times. Extra fabric helps us us fix our fails.

And this is what 80 oversized drunkard's path blocks looks like after they've been chain-pieced. It's a thing of beauty, truly.

I'm so proud! But then I checked the standard twin mattress sizes....39"x74". And this quilt will finish at 70"x 56".

To embiggenate or not to embiggenate? That is the question.

Also keep in mind that the Pixie is pretty petite. She only uses the bottom half of her twin-sized bed. (She's decided that the foot end is more comfy for her head.)

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Yesterday I completed the Punk's denim quilt for her Christmas gift. And it won't be too soon... the powers that be have decided to wantonly murder a huge old (healthy) stand of cottonwoods that has protected the park where we live. Now our house is colder, and the noise from the nearby highway is much increased. On to the happy part: Ta Da!

I wrote a tiny label on the underside, along one of the edges. It says, "To P Love Mama Christmas 2011 Leduc Alberta." I expect this quilt to be well loved and well worn. It is made completely from salvaged, repurposed, and thrifted items (excepting the binding, which needed to be super strong).  I love this quote, "Our products are made of naturally seasoned denim treated with an unpatented multistep process. First sewn into pants and worn by actual human beings, the material is exposed to sweat, grime, sunlight, and hundreds of washes to achieve an authentic fade and uniquely comfortable feel. Then using only select portions of unpatched, seamless, and pocket-free fabric we handcraft our original [quilt] design."

Up next is this lovely pile of fabric that I teased you with last week. It has been washed and refolded, and rests next to the chosen template (a HUGE drunkard's path), and my newest tool; a 28mm rotary cutter.

A few words about this fabric. My dearest Mom helped me pick these out during a shopping spree to Marshall's this past spring. They were always intended for use in the Pixie's Christmas quilt. I bought enough to make two or three quilts but as any good quilter knows, you can never have enough fabric. Perhaps there is another little girl who needs one of these, or a girly rag quilt, or many cat quilts, or.....endless possibilities.

The green on the far left began it's life in Port Hardy, BC, where I used it to make a baby jumper for my Punk. The pink with cupcakes was housepants and purses for both girls two Easters ago. A few of these prints are re-purchases because I used to original lengths to make cozy nightgowns for short people. I also adore the print on the far right, and the Pixie has declared that the pink flamingos are her favorite. I have no idea where she learned about flamingos, but she's using correct terminology. Her genius scares me at times. She also spent some time reading the letters on the templates. She's not even three yet.

And then overnight the piles of fabric turned into neat piles of quilt pieces. The cutting was seriously fast. There is enough cut here for 80 seven inch blocks, to produce a quilt roughly 70"x56".

This is how my Pixie helps: she claims all the scraps and wraps them around her dolls for clothing. She's also available for glamour shots.

I'd better get sewing while I'm still motivated. I really wanna see this one complete.