red flannel pantry

creative pursuits in the kitchen, garden, library and sewing room

Archive for the category “gifts”

hand-me-down UFOs and Sunbonnet Sue

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Last week my husband spent several days with his sisters helping their parents downsize and move into an independent living community. Many of our friends have gone through this process with their parents, and a key bit of advice they shared was, when offered something, accept it graciously. . . and decide later what to do with it. In the end, my husband didn’t return home with much beyond these two sacks of knitting and crocheting that belonged to my mother-in-law. I know how much angst can be wrapped up in these unfinished projects, so I’m glad my husband knew to take them off her hands. I’ll see if any of my knitting friends (or maybe my knitting newbie daughter) are interested in these supplies. Otherwise, I’ll give them to Goodwill. I hope someday someone will gently part my UFOs from me–and that there will be so few that they will fit in two small plastic bags!

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Inside one of the bags I found this Kansas City Star article published in April 1998. It tells the story of a deviant Sunbonnet Sue quilt named “The Sun Sets on Sunbonnet Sue”. In 1979, the quilt’s creators, members of the Seamsters Union Local 500 in Lawrence, Kansas, created blocks in which they depicted various ways of killing off smarmy Sunbonnet Sue. The needlework judges at the Sunflower State Expo in Topeka, Kansas deemed the quilt “unacceptable” and would only allow it to be displayed face down on a table so visitors couldn’t see the various dastardly ways the quilters had depicted Sue being done in.

I knew I had to see this quilt–a quick Google search revealed it to be at the Great Lakes Quilt Center in the Michigan State University Museum. You can see it here. In looking through the close-ups of the blocks, I learned that Barbara Brackman, a well-respected quilt author, was part of the Seamsters and made two of the blocks–a fun fact.

There’s more to the story. In 1997, another group of Lawrence, Kansas quilters (Seamsters Union Local 925) decided to create a spin-off Sunbonnet Sue murder quilt: “Death Becomes Her.” You can see it and read about it here. The quilt was exhibited at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum. While there, it too was found offensive and removed from display (read about it here)–geez louise.

My mother-in-law has a small doll-size Sunbonnet Sue quilt, so a friend must have clipped the article for her knowing she’d get a kick out of all of the fuss–and I did too!

lunch bag–oilcloth vs laminated cotton

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Daughter #2 has been hinting the past few weeks that she’d really like a new lunch bag. Her old one, which I made 6 or 7 years ago, had become beaten up, with the edges peeling off.

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I looked back through my files for the original tutorial from 2007, found some oilcloth in my stash, and made this one. Cute as can be but  . . .

. . . something made me look up oilcloth, and I learned that it contains phthalates (scary, scary stuff) and is now considered not food safe–yikes. This information was not available when I made the first one–sigh. So after doing more research, I decided to make yet another lunch bag, this time from laminated cotton, which is PVC free, BPA free, lead free, and Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) compliant. You can read how oilcloth and laminated cotton compare here.

Since the edges of laminated cotton, like those of oilcloth, do not fray, I opted to use the same lunch bag pattern. There are lots of clever designs for lunch bags out there. I showed several to D#2, but she insisted on the same exact one (but no Velcro please!).

I found some pretty Amy Butler laminated cotton at the fabric store. Laminated cotton has a soft drape compared to oilcloth. I put Insul-Brite batting between the layers to provide insulation and add some structure to the bag.

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Clover Wonder clips, which weren’t around when I made her first lunch bag back in 2007, hold layers together tightly without creating holes like pins would.

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When making both bags, I found that after I sewed the first side panel to the main panel, I was left with exactly 1 inch extra at the top. (Is the pattern for the main panel off an inch or are my sewing abilities at fault?–a mystery.) I carefully cut it off using a ruler and rotary cutter and then sewed the other side panel in place, which fit just fine.

There’s a helpful post at Pink Chalk Studio about sewing with laminated cotton, and Debbie at A Quilter’s Table has a post about oilcloth pillows and then offers a bunch of links related to laminated cotton and oilcloth sewing tips and projects. I used a regular walking foot and regular needle to make both bags, although I should have probably used a denim needle when sewing the oilcloth. I also used a slightly longer stitch length. If I were to sew with this stuff regularly, I would consider investing in a Teflon foot. When sewing, I found the laminated cotton less “sticky” than the oilcloth.

Now, what should I do with the rest of my oilcloth? I like this bunting idea and this one. I enjoyed sewing with the laminated cotton–I could see using it for chair cushions, a double-sided picnic blanket, or tote bags.

suet success!

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I had a first taker for the suet I made: a female red-bellied woodpecker. Based on others’ observations and insights, I’ve temporarily removed the peanut feeder, and that seems to have eliminated starling visits, at least for now. I’ve read that although starlings can’t hang upside down to eat like woodpeckers, they will do their best hummingbird imitations in their attempts to reach suet in this type of feeder–that’s something I’d like to see! Nuthatches, woodpeckers and chickadees can feed from below, so I’m looking forward to other visitors stopping by.

getting a grip

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Lori Kennedy, of The Inbox Jaunt, is presenting a quilt notebook series to offer help in taking control of unfinished projects. I’m guilty of starting more projects than I finish, so in channeling Lori’s message, I set my most recent unfinished projects on my sewing table and have begun knocking them out.

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I had meant to make a pile of these suitcase handle wraps as stocking stuffers, but I succeeded in getting only one finished in time for Christmas as a gift for my daughter. That’s what happens when I dish too much on my pre-holiday gifts-to-make plate.

I thought today I’d sew the rest that I had cut out. I always feel silly when the task I put off takes so little time to complete–and indeed, this batch took me less than an hour to finish up.

Now that I have a feel-good mini-finish, it’s on to the next.

making suet

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I’ve been thinking about making suet for a while. I researched it online (lard vs bacon grease?), ripped recipes out of Birds & Blooms and saved plastic suet containers. Then last week out of the blue my friend Sally handed me a suet recipe she had gotten from Roy and Charlotte Lukes, long-time Door County Wisconsin naturalists–it was a sign to get cooking!

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Daughter #2 helped me. Photobomber Bud was thinking we were whipping up an afternoon snack for him.

You can find the Lukes’ recipe here. I thought it would be difficult to find lard at the grocery store, but there it was, in the refrigerated section by the hams. I followed the microwave method of melting the lard and peanut butter, and then I dumped the rest of the ingredients on top and stirred to combine. I also added a box of currants that were past their prime.

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I scooped the mixture into the 9-oz suet containers I had saved and a couple of grapefruit halves (thanks, Kate and Ken!) and put them in the refrigerator to solidify.

I’ll let you know in a couple of days what the birds have to say about my new avian catering business.

birthday blankets

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For a couple of Daughter #2’s friends turning another year older, I made lanyards and fleece blankets.

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What better way to celebrate than with high tea?! Happy Birthday girls!

happiness is a warm blanket

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The wife of a colleague of my husband’s has been ill, and it’s been a trying and scary time for their family. A few days ago the staff put the word out that they’d be providing dinner for the family this week and would welcome dinner/side dish/dessert contributions. Instead of contributing food, I decided to make a blanket for the family.

I was given the directions to make this blanket by a local fabric shop several years ago. As you can see from the simple design, it is very easy to make. It can be assembled in an afternoon–just be prepared to deal with a lot of fluff while cutting and sewing! After I sewed the first one for my family, it quickly became the sought-after favorite blanket (meaning tussles over exclusive use!), so over time I’ve made one for every family member and then more to give to family friends.

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The blanket is made from fleeced-backed suede–I wait for a good sale/coupon to buy the material. Its soft texture and heft make it comforting to lie beneath. It’s large enough to fit a snuggly group.

Sewn in place are prayers for healing, love and comfort.

finished dimensions: 57″ x 75″
wash in cold water; dry on low

star table runner with bonus blocks

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I started making this table runner with the idea that it would be a host gift for Daughter #1’s home-stay family, but as it came together, she and I decided it was a bit too Christmas-y for a post-Christmas gift. So now I am ahead on Christmas gifts for 2014!

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For the star blocks, I used Allison Harris’ (Cluck Cluck Sew) star block tutorial to make the three star blocks. (I used this same tutorial to make a quilt top you can see here.) I added a 1-inch blue border and then a 1 1/2-inch red pine needle border.

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On the back I used a red stripe ticking fabric, which makes the runner reversible and versatile: Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Memorial Day, Fourth of July–you get the idea. (Finished dimensions: 16″ x 36 1/2″)

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When making the star points in the star blocks, I sewed another 1/4 inch away from the corner-to-corner seam and then cut the corners off between the two seams, leaving a narrow 1/8-inch seam allowance. I ended up with a bunch of little 2 1/2-inch blocks . . .

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. . . half of them half-square triangles (HSTs) and half of them the funky layout on the left.

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Playing around with the funky squares, I came up with this 4 1/2-inch block, with a perfect mini 1 3/8-inch square in the middle of the pinwheel. I couldn’t have pieced  this precise a block on purpose if I had tried!

I am sure this windmill-variation block exists out there with its own special name, but I can’t locate it. I looked through The Quilter’s Album of Patchwork Patterns by Jinny Beyer but couldn’t find it. Does anyone know its name?

love and wabi-sabi

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When Daughter #1 and I were discussing gift ideas for her family-stay hosts, she thought she’d like to also bring a gift for the program director. Mervyn has coordinated this program with her college for many years. He lives in Northern Ireland, and every year he journeys to her college to meet with the students a couple of times before the study-abroad semester begins. He’ll be working closely with the students while they’re on the program.

At first I thought, well, I’ll make him a table runner too. But then I remembered a mini-quilt tutorial and knew it’d be the ideal gift. You see, Mervyn’s last name is Love, as in Dr. Love–isn’t that the perfect name for a professor of peace studies and conflict resolution?! So I located this true love mini-quilt tutorial by kelbysews on Sew Mama Sew and got to work.

It’s a paper-pieced project, and I had never paper-pieced before. My visual-spatial abilities are sorely lacking (to my architect-husband’s bemusement), so working in reverse is hard for my mind to grasp. I learned quickly to generously overcut each piece to allow for error (and I made a couple). Once I got the hang of it, I managed. If you’ve never paper-pieced before, this tutorial is a great first project.

I made the mini-quilt full size (finished dimensions: 15″ x 20″).

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As well as embracing the challenge of a paper-pieced quilt, I also stretched myself on the quilting. My impulse, given the time crunch, was to do a quick overall pattern. But I saw another love mini-quilt, admired its pebble quilting and thought, I can do that! So I did. I straight-line quilted the letters at 1/4-inch intervals.

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In my stash, I found the best fabric for the back. I bought it at least 4 years ago–snips of it continue to find their way into my quilts. The words embrace the nature of the study-abroad program–and the term wabi-sabi defines my creative approach.

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I pinned a hanging sleeve in place on the back before I sewed the binding in place on the other side. Then when I sewed the binding, the top edge of the sleeve was sewn in place too–one less thing to hand-sew.  I am all about easy.

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If it weren’t for the binding and the hanging sleeve, I think the entire piece would be camouflaged in the snow!

hometown gifts for out-of-town hosts

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Daughter #1 will be staying with a family during her Northern Ireland semester, so she wanted to bring along some gifts for them. We thought a table runner would be a good idea: easy to pack, useful and decorative. Of course, I meant to make it before Christmas–oops. Her departure date is fast approaching, so I needed to get a move on. I have an apothecary jar filled with 2 1/2-inch squares, so my design began there. I sewed five rows, seven squares each, and then cut six 14 1/2-inch x 5-inch solid panels and pieced as pictured above–easy as could be (finished dimensions: 14″ x 37″). The runner could be made longer by adding additional rows/panels and deeper by adding additional squares to the rows and adjusting the size of the solid panels accordingly.

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Despite my attempts at gently shooing, Hobbes insisted on being in the pictures (note tail above).

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For the back I found this great bit of nuts fabric in the stash.

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I quilted it with organic lines using the walking foot–again, easy and looks lovely.

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Because I wasn’t sure if I’d get a gift made in time, I bought a back-up: this cool dishtowel from catstudio. It comes in its own decorative fabric envelope, perfect for gift giving.

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You can get them for every state–so here’s our home state, Missouri. Although the design is printed, the cross-stitching is sewn.

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And here’s an unexpected bonus: this wonderful card with a quotation from Nelson Mandela. Since D#1 will be studying international conflict resolution and mediation, it couldn’t be more perfect.

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