Thursday, January 31, 2008

Can't leave well enough alone

After sleeping on it, I decided to go ahead and try to improve some on the windowseat cushion. It didn't look quite as awful to me this morning. So much less awful that I'll even post some pictures:

The most poorly constructed parts are the corners. I would have to rip and re-sew to try and fix those. But I was just not motivated to do that. But, I did think it would benefit from wrapping the foam with batting-- to help hide the piecing (which was very visible when my husband sat down on it) and to help fluff it out a little and make it appear smoother on top and bottom.

Clearly my calling lies in foam and batting, because it seems like I can at least do that pretty well:

With the cover back on, I think the improvement is visible. Notice how the fabric is much smoother on top:

Though it is far from perfect, I am much happier with the final product. Thank goodness, because I was feeling like poop there for awhile.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A learning experience...

You know how I was feeling so proud of my foam? Well, I completed my windowseat cushion, and it kind of sucks. It's passable (meaning I'll use it rather than try and re-do it at this point) since it is going into a room that is off-the-beaten-path (the front piano room) and, really, it's more for the cats than any human (because a 14" wide bench is a little skimpy for most adults). Here it is, in situ:

I think I cut my top and bottom correctly; I made the welting correctly; the zipper was all good. My downfall: the 3" between the top and bottom. My measurements were off. My seam allowance was off (I accounted for 1/2" but because of the zipper foot and needle position I ended up doing a 5/8"... sigh). And then I did a pretty horrible job of attaching the band to the top and bottom pieces. It's a little lot wonkabilly.

Because I pieced the foam, I was going to wrap it in batting to help keep it all together and create a more uniform surface. But, after completing the cover, I realized there wouldn't be room. The foam just barely fit in there.

Ah, well. My next cushion-oriented project will be better as I have learned a few things from this experience. Learning is good.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Well, I decided to jump in and start the window seat cushion. I took the measurements last week and thought I didn't have enough foam. But, I had an epiphany the other night (after waking to give the boy some 4 a.m. comfort)-- I had enough to piece it together!

Fortunately, my mom gave us an electric knife for Christmas two years ago (which up to this point, I still hadn't used). This made the cutting of the 3" foam much less painful than it could have been. The biggest challenge was the measuring
. High density foam is not cheap (thus my desire to use what I have rather than buy another piece), so I really wanted/needed to be careful not to make serious errors.

My piece was 24" wide x 43.75" long. I needed a piece 13.75" wide x 65.25" long. So I cut a long 10.25" strip along the length, leaving me a slab 13.75" wide x 48.75" long. I then took the 10.25" strip and cut it into three 13.75" pieces. Next, I used the trusty foam adhesive (and my fingers are still rather sticky... ewww) and stuck those onto the ends of the main slab to make one long piece. Then I trimmed down to the correct length and cut out the back corners. Voila!

I made registration marks across the various pieces, so I would know what to stick to what. Notice my trusty electric knife in the upper right of the picture (thanks, mom!). And don't pay any attention to the messy craft room.

Next on the agenda: buy batting to wrap the foam, and cut my fabric.

And the Journey continues...

I just completed Block 3 of A Journey to Light. I think I've solved the snow issue. I'm backing the main snow pieces (the hills, ground), and then not backing the others. I think this fits well with the feel of the first block, and I'm pretty happy with the final look.

So now the question is, Block 4 or window seat cushion? I'm pretty motivated to do the fourth block at the moment, but it would be nice to finally get rid of that big ol' slab of foam. The boy is napping, so I've got a little bit of time. Hmmmm...

Monday, January 28, 2008

Snow is my nemesis!

I've completed Block two of A Journey to Light now. Sooooo much smoother than the first. Firstly, there was no snow to deal with. Secondly, I learned from some of my mistakes in the first block, and positioned my pieces on my own (as opposed to on top of the given placement guide). Again, I still need to complete the embroidery component (just the cardinal's beak)-- but other than that, it's done! Yay!

A Journey to Light Block 2
Then I moved on to block number three. Back to the snow. Agggghhh! In the first block, I discovered that my snow was rather sheer. Because I fused everything together before sticking it all on the background, my only fix could be made to the main snow bank. I just fused another piece of snow behind the main bank to give it more opacity. However, the layers of snow that sat atop that main bank still showed "shadows" of the fabrics behind them. At first, I was thinking I would just need to do it over. But then I decided I kind of liked that look.

For block three, I had the sudden vision of backing all my snow with muslin, thereby providing perfect opacity. Then I realized that would a.) look kind of strange next to a block where I didn't use that technique, and b.) the pieces would be pretty thick and heavy. As a result, I scrapped that plan for all but the main snowbank. Unfortunately, I had already cut out all of those backed pieces (this is in large part how I came to my determination that the two layers together were just too heavy). Sigh. So then I re-traced, and re-fused. Such time/energy/effort wasted. But, it's all about the learning process, right?

Speaking of snow... we got about four inches here this morning. It was beautiful, but it kept me from going out and about. Gah! Snow truly is my nemesis!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Birthday fiesta

Today we celebrated the boy's first birthday. It was just family (the four grandparents, aunt, and us), but it was a lot of fun. I made four recipes from Rick Bayless's Mexican Everyday. The book was a birthday gift to me last year (thanks, Mikki!!!) and I absolutely love it. Every recipe I've tried so far has been a winner. And, even more awesome, is that they really are "everyday" kinds of recipes. I don't know if you've ever checked out any of Bayless's other books, but the ones I've looked at tend to include pretty hard core, cook-all-day types of recipes. This one, on the other hand, features recipes that are really do-able in a reasonable amount of time (most in less than 40 minutes to an hour). And they are freakin' good!

Today we had Red Chile Enchiladas, a romaine salad with Creamy Avocado Dressing, Chipotle Meatballs, and Cowboy Beans. The enchiladas and beans I had made previously (so I knew I had at least two things that would be edible). The other two were what I like to term, "experimental"-- meaning something that I haven't cooked before.

The Creamy Avocado Dressing was fabulous. Very creamy, not too spicy, full of flavor, and a beautiful green color. And it was simple to make. A few ingredients (1/2 an avocado, mayo, oil, garlic, cilantro, salt) + blender = YUM! And, just as the book suggests, it was indeed excellent with just a salad of crisp romaine.

The Chipotle Meatballs were also quite good. The preparation was a little more extensive and time consuming, but the end product was worth it. The secret ingredient in these: mint. It really made a nice contrast to have the cool, refreshing mint flavor in the meatball paired with the slightly spicy red sauce.

The enchiladas and beans were very good (mmmm... Cowboy Beans....). Though the enchiladas are a more in depth process (heat the dried chiles, puree, strain, cook, simmer, add broth, simmer some more), there is just something really gratifying about knowing that I made the sauce myself (as opposed to just opening a can o' sauce).

To top off the festivities: birthday cupcakes! I used the Yellow Cupcake recipe from Baking Illustrated. Because the butter frosting offered in that book included eggs, I instead went with a Butter Frosting from an old Better Homes & Garden baking book-- confectioners' sugar, butter, milk, and vanilla. So simple, but oh, so sweet and good. They paired perfectly together.

It was a lot of fun watching the boy as he ate his very first cupcake. It was, of course, very messy-- but he clearly enjoyed it, and all of us had a lot of fun watching him! He ate almost the entire cupcake, too! Can't blame him... they were pretty tasty. :)

Friday, January 25, 2008

Maybe not so deceptive...

...but pretty tasty ("delicious" might be stretching a bit). Thus far, I have made three recipes from Jessica Seinfeld's cookbook, Deceptively Delicious.

The Chicken Nuggets were not at all deceptive. I used broccoli puree, and the nuggets were pretty much green. But-- they were very tender, and I did like the flavor (nothing special flavor-wise, but it was good). They were even tender enough for me to give some to my year old son. His first chicken nuggets! And he actually seemed to like them, too!

Next up was the Spaghetti Pie. Again, broccoli puree, but also carrot. The end result was very tasty. But it looked nothing at all like the picture in the book. The pie was juicy and saucy, and there was no "crunchy crust" as the book claims. So I was a little disappointed in that, but still pleased with the flavor. And my husband thought it was great.

Finally, I tried the Gingerbread Spice Cake. This one was actually a little deceptive-- there was broccoli and carrot puree ("Enough with the broccoli puree!" was my husband's response), but with all of the spices, neither flavor stood out. Mainly, I think they just helped to make the cake moist. Not my favorite spice cake, by any stretch; in fact, it was not particularly cake-like (more bread-like in texture... denser, heavier than cake). But I do like how healthy it is. The only fats: 1/4 cup of canola oil and 1 egg. And it included a mix of whole wheat and all-purpose flour (so a little bit of whole-grain goodness there). Of course, then we topped it with ice cream and caramel sauce. So much for "healthy"...

Happy Birthday, Little Boy!

It's hard to believe that you're already the big "O"... One year old! Crazy! I'm so lucky to have such a wonderful and special little boy in my life. And it is such a privilege to watch you grow and develop.

I love you super duper much, LB. Happy first birthday!!!!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Quilting mojo!

Finally! My quilting mojo (that is, my desire, motivation, and inspiration quotients as related to quilting) has returned. It's been awhile. I only managed to complete two quilts last year. Something to do with having a baby, maybe? But, the fire is in me now!

My first project: A Journey to Light, a quilt designed by McKenna Ryan of PineNeedles Designs. I've almost completed block 1 (only have the hand stitching left to do... berries and bunny faces and such) and am excited to start work on the second. I'm planning on doing the entire quilt (as opposed to individual art quilts), and my goal is to complete it by Christmas. I think that's a pretty reasonable goal. We shall see.

I purchased the patterns for this quilt at the 2004 International Quilt Festival in Houston. I've been collecting batik fabrics since then. Of course, that didn't stop me from running to Keepsake Cottage Fabrics on Tuesday to pick up some more fabric (I just didn't have the perfect snow... now I do. Along with some wolf grey, bear black, and mountain purple.) But I think I really am set at this point, and my stash will suffice.

Block 1 isn't perfect, but I think it's good enough. And I've learned some things that will make my future blocks better. The main one: when the pattern says, "Do not use this guide for tracing and cutting pieces," it also means, "Do not use this as a guide for direct piece placement." I literally stuck my applique pressing sheet on top of the placement guide and placed my pieces according to the lines. But the lines aren't exactly to scale. So my snow banks don't go all the way to the edge of the background, and my stuff isn't quite right. But really, no one will be able to tell once it's in the quilt. Secondly: my snow is pretty sheer. So you can see the pieces behind the snow. Again, this isn't too bad, and I think once quilted, it will be barely noticeable. But now I know to either trim carefully any pieces behind the snow and/or use two layers of snow to provide more opacity.