Tuesday, November 17, 2015

10,000 hours

One of those irons I mentioned:
Ceci n'est pas un iron

My latest quilt crush, Maria Shell, is an amazing artist and a kickass machine quilter. I found her blog last year and liked her worked so much I blog stalked all the way through her archives (I'm not supposed to admit this in public, probably. Don't worry, no current restraining orders on me).

For years I've been meaning to learn how to machine quilt, but I never have even tried.

I have far too many of those someday things in my life. One day a couple months ago the muslin, batting scraps, and ugly fabric came out and I made a bunch of practice squares. I have several books, a whole internet of blogs and videos, and a set of class notes from Maria, which she very kindly sent out to all her blogstalkers readers, on request, a few months ago.

So I have been practicing. I try for at least some practice every day, although I don't always make that. I had a good run there but I've been flaky the last couple days (hey, I do my physical therapy exercises just about every day, too. I'm busy. I still don't understand at ALL how parents have time to do all the things they do.)

Yeah, I'm not very good. The top left of the first picture is the first free-motion square I ever tried. But it's kind of morale-deflating to see all these perfect bloggers everywhere with their perfect lives churning out perfect quilts, so you get to see some of my ugly I'm-just-learning stuff. Everyone's gotta start somewhere.

Yeah, someone's got some nasty tension problems

I put the U in uncoordinated. Yes, I actually trip over my own feet sometimes. You might say, "oh, but you knit so beautifully," to which I reply: knitting requires only two basic stitches, and now that I've done a few hundred thousand of them, yeah, I'm pretty good. Knitting is repetitive and once you get the essential needle clutch and yarn tensioning down, it doesn't require all that much hand-eye coordination. But dammit, if I spend enough time, I'll get this down eventually. Or I will finally find out whether I want to do it or not and get it out of my system.

Someone still has trouble with the whole "follow the lines" thing, but the freehand isn't all that bad in places

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Too many irons, not enough fire

One of my friends has a t-shirt I covet, with "It was on fire when I got here" written on the front.


The days have been sliding by again lately and now Fall is almost over and WTH happened? I need to email at least 3 people, submit FSA receipts & expense reports, check up on a bank thing, exercise more, clean up the studio, catch up on work, figure out dinner, and an endless list of shoulds and ought to's and no energy to cope with them all right now. So, blog post for the avoidance win!

I haven't finished the big star quilt. There was a newer shinier thing, and friend announced her first baby coming. The Big Star is waiting, sadly, until I get back to it. Hopefully some time this year, but that's not looking good.

This is trying to become a baby quilt

This might be a baby sweater if I can figure out what to do now I've run out of yarn. Humorously, it is named the "5 hour baby sweater". I laugh and laugh.

I have knit or started knitting about 20 different mittens. After the success of the Smittens, which turned out the beautifully, the perfect size, I cannot seem to hit anything else. I've tried a half dozen yarns by now.  One set will MAYBE fit a 2-year old (they were so cute I went and finished them anyway). The next full mitten was slightly too small.

Note the failure to cover the fingers of the hand

Two months and two pair to go.  The latest swatch was an utter failure. I guess it's good that I started Christmas knitting in June?

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Stars in stripes

But probably not the ones you are thinking of. This is what I got done this last weekend.

I've been working on a big quilting project for some time. It's a wedding quilt, a big green star, and I'm finally just about finished with the top. They requested a traditional design. I spent about 10 minutes fantasizing about a double wedding ring, then came to my senses. Even I have limits to the crazy.

I originally wanted a sawtooth border around the big star (sort of like this one). I've seen several historical quilts with that border and liked the look of the "floating" star.

I finished the middle, looked at my original design, looked at the amount of background fabric remaining, and then put the whole project aside while I figured out what to do. There wasn't enough background fabric left.

(An aside: I am terrifically bad at this behavior. I hit a place where I can't figure out what I want to go forward, and then put it away and have the regrettable tendency of not picking it back again for a long time (or ever). I wish I could find some way of working through these design blocks. I just get frustrated that it's not turning out like I wanted and despair that it ever will even look good. Then something new and shiny appears and I'm off to the next thing. Bah.

I would like to be the kind of person who actually FINISHES things. Also, when I have managed to work through the blockage (whether in the short or long term) I'm usually more pleased by the alternate design - the one I was forced to devise when constricted by supplies, or unhappiness with how things were turning out - than the original design. It's tied in with the stupid perfectionism that grows like stubborn blackberry vines in my head. I try to uproot it but it keeps coming back. /End aside.)

There was maybe enough of the background fabric to make a narrower border, but I didn't like a narrow border. I wanted something to balance out out the weight of the star. It's 86 inches square. It needs something hefty.

After scribbling a lot I thought maybe a diamond border but it reminded me too much of 80s dinner plate designs. Then more scribbling and maybe I could echo the big star with more stars in the border.

And that is how I got 24 stars and diamonds. I think I'm going to need more like 32 or 36 of them And yes, it's all green. Monochromatic quilts are hard. I've become a little tired of green.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015


Thank you all for your kind words about my succulent…interest (it's not a problem if it's just plants, right?)

I've been at knitting loose ends for a few months now, so besides a couple doilies (they're like popcorn, I swear), I haven't been feeling like much of anything. Now I've gone and found myself a new little obsession. The love monkey has dubbed these my smittens, because I can't seem to put them down.

These started as an extended swatch on some entirely different yarn. Well, more like a test mitten than a swatch, without the cuff. I needed to figure out what needle size to use and whether I liked the fabric and blah blah blah, which was about the amount of fun I was having knitting them. That is to say, not very much. It was probably a combination of me being out of practice with stranded knitting, and not really enjoying the colors, the yarn was a 2-ply and not particularly bouncy, and I never much enjoy swatches anyway.

Then I decided that no way would the test mitten fit a 9 year old and so I stopped the mitten swatch and picked out new colors for the 7-year-old instead. The 7-year-old likes gold. The 9-year-old is fond of kind of a turquoise-y blue. Except I think I was wrong and this is turning out plenty big to fit a 9-year-old.

I am very enamored of the dark, saturated blue against the gold (this picture is about the truest to color) . The gold has color prominence, by the way. I started out with the blue, but it contrasts so highly that some of the gold singletons were getting lost. The yarn is Madelinetosh super wash fingering (different bases, but it's close enough) and yes, I would have dyed my own except I didn't have anything on hand dyed up in those colors and I had store credit at a local yarn store and INSTANT GRATIFICATION. Also, I got to walk through the Castro on Pink Saturday for this yarn.

These are selbuvotter, and the pattern is from Norway (!) from a pattern booklet which was an impulse internet buy several years ago. #9 Barnevott, from Rauma LVS-5, Selbustrikk if you're interested. It came with an English translation, but honestly you don't really need much but the chart and a passing knowledge of mittens.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


If I ever become a queen, I want to be addressed as Your Succulence.
This is where I went on Saturday morning.

All the spiky, prickly, weird, moisture-retaining crazy plants you could hope for. I performed some retail therapy but I don't have any pictures of those yet.

This Haworthia seems pretty happy. This one was in the show. I was especially looking for houseplants so it was kind of a haworthia year.


Not a lot of agaves, but I did see this awesome one, also in the show. It's like that Far Side cartoon: How nature says "do not touch"

There was a whole table of blooming cactus for sale. ORANGE!

I have this theory that desert plants haven't been crossed and cultivated and groomed for thousands of years, like roses and hydrangeas and lilacs have, so they often still have these weird, misshapen forms that I am growing to enjoy.

Another fabulous Haworthia. This one reminds me of the castle in the Dark Crystal, while it was still eeeeeevil. (I, ahem, might have bought a much smaller version of this.) I'll take pictures of the medusoid euphorbia this weekend. It looks like a nest of baby snakes.

Saturday, June 06, 2015


I got all domestic today and did some canning.

Pickled Rainer cherries, ready for their closeup (the brine is pink! PINK!)

Actually, it was more of a case of finishing what I started, which apparently is not a natural talent of mine. And a case of the cherry season in Northern California being so very short this year and maybe me going a little nuts at the farmer's market?

I am so not accustomed to the fruit seasons here. So many years in the Pacific Northwest firmly imprinted the idea into my brain that July is cherry time . June for strawberries, July for cherries and raspberries, August for blackberries and peaches, September-October apple EXTRAVAGANZA. That's a simplification, of course, as many of those run for more than a month. But cherry season has always been a bit short, and out of season cherries are just… no.

Also, I might have bought a few more strawberries than I could handle this week. I pick them up from a market stall that's (very nicely) right on my way to work, Tuesday mornings. (Northern California strawberry season: February through November. Really, it's official . But I still kind of miss hoods). And then I gobble fresh strawberries at my desk most of the day because, duh, fresh strawberries. But I went for the double batch this time, and even I can't consume that many strawberries.

The top pan is Strawberry preserves, although I skipped the vanilla beans because I didn't have any, and used a Meyer lemon, because I did. And on the bottom and in the right picture is strawberry-balsamic vinegar jam from the same source. I haven't cracked open that one yet, but preliminary signs point to YUM.

(I have no idea what is up with all the foaming on the preserves. I've never had a jam recipe do that to me. I did do the maceration, and I did it for almost the 72 hours. (Ha, because that was planned, sure. More like I should know better than to think I'm going to cook jam on a weeknight.) So maybe it was the maceration + the extra sugar? Oh well, we'll see how it tastes).

I was googling about for something to do with the strawberries, and found those two recipes. And then the pickled cherries on the same site, which could be weird or maybe really good, so this is a test. Her site appeals to me because honestly, we don't really consume that much jam, and don't have a lot of extra space. I maybe get through two half-pint jars a year, and regular batch sizes are way more than I need. I still have Meyer lemon marmalade from last July. You want some marmalade? Email me. Should still be pretty tasty, but it won't be as good in a few months (it won't be bad, just not as good.) I do stick to jam and pickles because they're acidic enough that they won't grow botulinium. If you open a jar up and it smells bad, it means it IS bad. It's not just going to silently kill us all).

2 half pints of the balsamic-strawberry, 3 half pints of the preserves, and 3 pints of the pickled cherries. That should hold me for a few days.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Adventures in Dairy

Well hello there, May.

I made butter last week. It was surprisingly easy.

The Google can tell you a lot of ways to do this. What I did:

  1. Dump a pint of cream (pasteurized, not ultra-pasteurized) into the mixing bowl of a standing mixer.
  2. Use the whip attachment
  3. Whip on medium-high for awhile (8 minutes?)
Oh yeah, once it starts to butter-ize, it will start to get messy as the buttermilk starts sloshing around, so drape a kitchen towel over the mixer. I hear a handheld mixer works just as well, just requires a little longer. Or, you know, an hour of hand whipping.

Overwhipped cream

Starting to butter (see the moisture at the bottom?)

I took a Beginning Dairy class a few weeks ago (no, not really the name) where we made butter by passing around a sealed mason jar full of cream and everyone shakes it for a couple minutes. After about 20 minutes you get the same results. We also made ricotta and discussed yogurt, feta, and other young cheeses. Apparently I need a good cave to make aged cheeses. Bummer.

I really like very fresh butter that hasn't picked up any off flavors. I have a problem with most grocery store butter, as it so often tastes just that little bit funky. It's fine for cooking, but straight up, it tastes like whatever else happens to be near it. I admit to occasionally paying way too much for fresh farm butter from the farmers market, since it just tasted like butter, and nothing else (which I would use a tiny bit of, and freeze-hoard the rest, slowly thawing out pieces for myself). My butter tasted pretty close to this, which makes me happy.

Oh, to make it last longer, I did rinse it in several washes of ice water:

  1. Pour out the buttermilk into another container
  2. Pour ~a cup of ice water onto the butter
  3. Squish with rubber spatula
  4. Dump out the cloudy ice water
And repeat until the dumped ice water is no longer cloudy. 

I should have froze some of it, because it makes way more butter than I can eat in a few days. Although I did then have to go bake a loaf of oatmeal buttermilk sandwich bread, so I could a) use up the buttermilk, and b) have my butter on my bread. Yum.