Monday, February 24, 2014

Butternut Squash Slow Cooker Soup

Today's recipe in my little crockette is a nice butternut squash soup. I used the following:
2 cups of peeled and chopped fresh butternut squash
1 cup of chicken broth (you can use vegetable broth for a vegan version)
1 small apple, cored and chopped
1/2 chopped white onion.

I added 1 TBSP of unsalted butter to the bottom of the slow cooker and dumped the other ingredients in on top. I also added the following seasonings:
1 tsp. of dried marjoram
1/2 tsp freshly ground black, pink and green pepper corns
a dash of red pepper flakes
several shakes of nutmeg, cinnamon and some pumpkin pie spice.

It cooks for 2-3 hours on high, and then I reduce it to low setting until ready to serve. About 10 minutes before serving I will add 4 oz of cream cheese and a touch of heavy cream and blend it until creamy. It will get served with some crunchy croutons as our first course tonight. I can't wait.

Quilting for Others

Recently, I have been working on a customer quilt. Its a very large sampler quilt with many open areas. I don't believe the customer has every worked with a long arm quilter before and I hope to make this experience a good one for her. Since the quilt is a sampler quilt, I emailed her a set of sample patterns to select from to finish her quilt. Much to my surprise, she picked 4 of them and asked me to use all of them.

I found that two of the patterns worked very well in the borders of the quilt, one was perfect for the outermost border and the second one, worked well as a double row in the inner border. These two patterns were very simple in nature and they look nice in the borders. The background fabric is primarily white and the backing is a light lime green. I took the liberty of quilting the entire quilt with a very pale lemon lime cotton thread. It was the right choice. It makes the quilting on the back blend in well and it shows on the front, but not so much that its obvious that its not a white thread. Each of the blocks has different piecing or applique patterns to it that are common in sampler quilts and the quiltmaker did an excellent job in her block construction and putting the blocks together. The quilt is flat, straight and easy to work on.

However, once I had started to quilt the center of the quilt, the area where the block are located, I realized that the one pattern (random fans) wasn't going to work well with the other patterns. So I selected another pattern that I thought was a better choice and used it instead. I alternated the circuit path pattern with the new one on the five rows and I am pleased with the results. The Rounded Modern Panto was a much better fit with the look and feel of the quilt and other patterns used to quilt it.

I finished the quilting yesterday and now I just need to apply the binding which I made on Saturday and get the quilt back to the customer.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Snow again! 52 week Challenge - February

It has snowed here in Northern NJ so many times I've lost count. This has helped me finish some projects because I am not one to go out and drive in inclement weather. It's been so cold here that the snow from the first storm never really melted completely. The snow from the second storm iced over and created this beautiful shiny glaze on everything. With the almost full moon this week, the night time was magical, glistening and brighter than normal. It also makes it more difficult to walk my dear little dog because her legs are pretty short had she doesn't like it when the snow freezes up her tiny feet. The bigger dog doesn't mind the snow at all, but he gets chilled easily and has to wear a warm coat to go out for walks. He does love his sweaters and is happy to let me dress him anytime. However, I did find a remedy to cold doggie feet, its called Musher's Secret and it works. Essentially its a food grade wax that you apply to their paws, pads and toes. It prevents the ice and snow from sticking to them. It took a few tries to get the pups used to me handling and massaging it into their feet, but now they like it and may I tell you that their pads have never been softer?

When it snows it's unlikely that Mike will stop in to see me as much during the day. He stays busy helping out the neighbors and elderly with clearing their walks and driveways. On sunny post storm days like today, he runs around spreading salt and calcium down to melt any overnight freezing to prevent slips and falls for many. Living by an elementary school means I get a lot of foot traffic and I am so grateful that he prioritizes snow and ice control for my humble abode first.

I've been busy the last couple of weeks, finishing up more challenge quilts in between customer quilts. I decided that even though these two tops are 'out of season', there was no reason, not to finish them now when I had the chance in between quilting jobs.

The first quilt is my skull quilt. Its done in Hawaiian Applique method, and the pattern is called Hawaiian Halloween. I used freezer paper applique done on the machine with the mock hand applique method. I teach this machine class a couple of times a year and I enjoy the idea of being able to do applique faster by machine than by hand with very similar results. The binding and label are still to be finished.

I then tackled a couple of customer quilts that were in the queue and managed to snap a quick photo of each to share with you. These quilts were crafted by the fine hands of Sally Ragone and were made for her granddaughters to enjoy. Her piecing is impeccable and her quilts are a joy to quilt upon.

I really had so much fun with the Witches' Hat quilt, I decided I needed to finish another Hawaiian Halloween Applique top next. I was waiting for an answer from the next customer in the queue and this is the result. I love the little dancing ghosts. This one still needs be bound and labeled.

I am still waiting for an answer on another quilt from the owner, and will be moving on to the third of the Hawaiian Applique quilts...

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The 52 Weekly Quilt Challenge - January update

Over the year end holidays, I took an inventory of all of the UFO projects I had and realized, much to my surprise that I was in possession of more than 50 quilt tops that needed quilting. While this may surprise many, I have enjoyed surfing the web and found many beautiful vintage and antique quilt tops for sale over the years. I love to peruse ebay and see what may be close to auction end at a reasonable price. It is somewhat thrilling to place a bid and find out you are the winner! Many of the tops I have purchased are in beautiful condition when they arrive from all parts of the continent. Others are really ugly and in need of repair of seams or patches to replace fabrics that have either not held up over time or have stretched beyond repair. There is some what of a story behind each of these quilt tops treasures, and I try to find out any details I can about them from the seller whenever possible.

But I digress. So over the last 16 years or so, I have managed to collect a large assortment of quilt tops. Some are tops that I have made myself and just never gotten around to quilting. Others are quilt tops that I have purchased at auction, yard sales, in thrift shops or quilt shows. I decided that 2014 was going to be my year of finishes. I set myself a rather lofty goal to try and finish one of those UFO quilt tops each week. That would be 52 quilts in a year....

I had wanted to do this for years. I had even stocked up on good batting varieties and backing fabrics when they were on sale at shops around the mid-atlantic area. I loved finding a great partial bolt of fabric to be able to use it as backing for one of these treasures. I had even in some cases, gone ahead and pieced the backings and ironed them to ready for quilting when I had the time.

So let's step back in time by about 6 weeks. First week of January, 2014, the new year. I put the first of the 52 Weeks of Quilt on the machine, loaded the backing, batting (wool in this case) and the top. I chose a variegated cotton thread to use as well as an all over pantograph pattern that would be fast and easy, and look appropriate for this solid, geometric quilt top. It took me two afternoons to finish the quilting, remove it from the machine and trim it up ready for binding. I decided that a machine applied and finished binding was in order and I created a label. Day 3 and Week #1 quilt was done.

I then proceeded to quilt a customer quilt for her because she needed it to take to FLA for her home in the south. That quilt took a very long time to finish, as it was large and there was a lot of play in it which needed to be worked into the quilt. It turned out beautiful and the customer and her friends seemed pleased with the final result. I especially liked the custom borders I did on that quilt with large seashells in the corners and a custom designed wave pattern framing the borders nicely. I managed to not get a photo of the quilt before it was returned to the customer.

I then decided that I needed to load weekly challenge quilt #2 on the machine. It is a vintage, 1930's cotton feed sack spinning stars quilt. The fabrics are both prints and solids, joined together with unbleached muslin. The top was filthy, stained and yellowed. It needed a few minor repairs and fixes before I could quilt it. I did those in about an hour and decided 100% cotton batting and an unbleached muslin backing would be the appropriate finish with a cream colored cotton thread. I looked through my box of pantograph patterns and found one that I felt would enhance the quilt without overwhelming it. I set her up and started quilting. I finished quilting this beauty in a few hours. I pulled her off the machine, trimmed the borders and loaded #3.

Quilt #3 was a sister quilt to #2, purchased from the same place and probably made by the same quilter in the 1930s as well. There are two fabrics that are shared in these tops. The hand piecing was clearly done by the same hand. I decided to finish #3 in the same fashion as #2, cotton batting and thread, unbleached muslin backing, and a simple all over pantograph pattern. I had a fun pantograph that was a watery background with a jumping salmon fish that I thought would look fun with the sailboat quilt top. I loaded and locked it down, stitched it up a couple of hours and then set to adding the binding.

I decided the binding should be a simple bias binding made from the same muslin as the backgrounds. I created enough for both quilts and applied them the front of each quilt by machine. I spent the next two evenings stitching the binding down to the back and adding labels which document these two vintage beauties.

Once they were completed, I decided they were both badly in need of a thorough cleaning to remove dirt, age spots, mildew stains, etc.

I filled the washing machine full of very warm water, mixed in Orvis paste soap, Restoration powder, a half cup of washing soda and 3/4 cup of Clorox two. I ensured these were well dissolved, added in the quilts and agitated them for 5 minutes. Then I turned off the machine and allowed them to soak in the soapy solution for the next 6 hours. I did add a dye catcher sheet, just in case any of the fabrics decided to run. Periodically throughout the day, I turned the machine on and allowed them to agitate some more. Three rinses later, the quilts were ready to dry. I used three rinses to ensure the quilts were free of chemicals and soap and clean.

35 minutes in a medium dryer and I was pleased to see my new, vintage quilts. They were so clean and they had a beautiful softness to them that only vintage linens can provide. The cotton fabrics, batting and thread made them delicious to the touch. Mike and I have been enjoying them on the couch every evening. In fact, I am composing this blog under my own sailboat quilt.

Quilt #4 was a simple rectangular quilt top made from decorator samples. I needed to restitch the horizontal rows before I quilted it, but it was small and that went quickly. I chose a modern pattern to quilt it, as the fabrics are very busy in this little gem. My dogs have adopted it as their napping quilt on the couch and who can blame them? Its been a really cold, snowy January.

Stay tuned for more 52 week challenge quilts in upcoming posts.