Thinkin' About It Thursday

Hey, y'all.

When you read this I'll still be out of town for work, so I'm doing a little future-casting here. It might be more appropriately entitled "What I Think l'll Be Thinkin' About Next Thursday."

  • That I really do love my job.
  • That I've just about had enough of restaurant and cafeteria food by now, and am thinking fondly of the simplicity of my usual lunch salad at home. 
  • That I'm looking forward to sleeping in my own bed again.
  • And playing with my doggies.
  • And, of course, seeing my husband and daughter again--and maybe strongarming my son into stopping by for dinner shortly after I'm home.
  • But that I'll have fun doing a meet-up with a listener/#twilter in Shipshewana tomorrow on my drive home. (I hope. As of this writing, plans have just barely gotten in the works for a meet-up so fingers-crossed it works out!)
  • That by this time next week I'll be in a slower, quieter mode at work for at least a two or three weeks, and I may actually be rested up enough to be getting some quilting done. 
  • And that I'm really ready to be home and welcomed by this face again...

July Craftsy Class Update

I'm writing this early and scheduling it to post since I'll be out of town for the last week of July, when I'd normally be posting this. So it's possible I'm under-reporting my completions, but I doubt it. My last couple of weeks in town before my travel are jam-packed so progress on Craftsy stuff will be limited.

Just as a note: This month I found myself consulting the Peter Reinhart classes (Artisan Breadmaking and Perfect Pizza at Home) several times for reference. The focaccia I've made for a couple of events, based on the recipe and techniques he covers in both of those classes has become an oft-requested item in my husband's family! But it just proved to me how much I love the fact that there's no time limit on these classes. Once you've got 'em, you've got 'em!

New Completions

(+3)

Classes in Progress

(2)

My thread art class project in progress

My thread art class project in progress

  • Thread Art with Lola Jenkins. Very close to done--and having an absolute ball with it! Can't wait to get home and have the time to finish this project.
  • Building Flavorful Soups with Peter Berley (see "Classes added..." below).

Classes added this month

(+4--with only a little twinge of guilt because most of them were on big sale, and I've already finished one and am working on the other.)

It's been in my wish list for a long time, and came on sale at the same time as I was feeling pretty good about having finished so many classes...and so, now I own

  • Building Flavorful Soups with Peter Berley. I've started watching this one but may not get around to trying any of the techniques or recipes until later in August when I'm looking forward to the crisper evenings of fall and pots of soup simmering on the stove. I do, however, have some Parmesan rinds set aside for a very tasty-sounding broth he covers early on in the class.

Another that's been on my wish list for awhile and came on sale mid-month at 50% off (so how could I resist?):

Okay, so this one was brand new to me, but I've been talking with my husband that I feel like we should be including more fish in our diets and that I'd like to take a class in cooking fish just to see if I couldn't expand my repertoire a bit. When this class came on sale--and I was feeling particularly over-tired and self-indulgent--I bit. (Pun intended, ar ar ar.)

  • Fire up the Fish with David Bonom. We'll see if he can convince me I like more types of fish than I think I do. This is definitely a summer class for me, though, since it's about grilling. Our grill season is pretty limited here in Western NY. I'm sure I'll be able to adapt some of the concepts to my its-too-dang-snowy-to-fire-up-the-grill rest of the year indoor cooking.

And another photography class and another 50% off sale. This class doesn't depend on having a DSLR--it's all about composition and telling stories. Since I was two days away from leaving for a work event at which I knew I'd be primarily responsible for taking photos we'd use in future publicity, I went ahead and bought it, started watching the lessons the same day, and finished it before I left. Again, here's the link for my full review.

Classes To Be Completed

Current count:  17 (+1. This month was tough to keep track of because I had a couple that were sort of "in and out" classes.)

Completed Classes (all topics)

Current count: 29 (+3) (And I've alphabetized them!)

(Usual transparency statement: This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. Thanks for supporting this podcast and blog!

Craftsy Class Review: Creative Photography with George Lange

Welcome to Creative Photography: Capture Life Differently, with George Lange.

This one was a quick finish for me--I allowed myself to simply watch all the lessons to absorb what tips and tricks I could before heading out to my summer work events this weekend--events at which I tend to end up being the de facto "official photographer."

I had to think through how I was going to review this class. For me, I didn't actually get a whole lot of new information out of it. Most of it turned out to be things I already knew--which I suppose makes me feel better about what I apparently already do pretty well. I've been working on my composition and ability to tell a story through photos for a long time, and taking this class really just confirmed for me that I've learned a lot over the years!

But for someone who is just getting into photography or who would like to step it up in terms of composition and telling stories with photos, this would be an excellent class.

One of my all-time fave pics I took of DD when she was about 8. This photo exemplifies things Lange talks about in the class.

One of my all-time fave pics I took of DD when she was about 8. This photo exemplifies things Lange talks about in the class.

First off: This is a composition class, not a settings class. In other words, the techniques you learn are related to how to set up a shot, how to use ambient (natural) lighting, how to create a scene, how to capture a moment/mood/feeling, and so forth. It's not about which f-stop or shutter speed to use. In fact, he really only loosely references settings in a backhand way once in awhile. (For that kind of information, check out my review of Basics of Digital Photography with Rick Allred.) The point of this class is all about capturing the subject matter most effectively, and conveying a mood.

The good news is, that means you can get a lot out of this class even if you're taking pictures on your cell phone. The principles are the same regardless of how you're capturing your shot. (He even starts right out in the first lesson saying that!)

The second thing I appreciated about this class is that he discusses in one lesson issues around sharing photos on social media. He makes some very good points that I think it would behoove all of us to pay attention to. I've not seen that covered in other photography classes yet, and I liked the fact that he addressed it.

He does also have good examples of lighting and action shots, and talks about "between moments" (in other words, take lots of pictures without worrying yet about which one is the "hero shot," as he calls it). I'll probably be using my "sports" setting a lot more at my events next week, which makes my camera take several quick photos in succession when I click the shutter. What you think might be the best shot when you're taking them may change when you see all your pictures later.

DS when he was 3.  Another photo that exemplifies things Lange discusses in the Craftsy class. (Can you see the Easter egg?)

DS when he was 3.  Another photo that exemplifies things Lange discusses in the Craftsy class. (Can you see the Easter egg?)

I think what I found lacking in terms of my needs and what I was hoping to get out of this class was that most of his examples seemed to be based on things he could control: He set up shots, he put people in positions where the lighting would be best, he asked them to get into certain poses or do certain kinds of actions, and so forth. For me, I'm shooting completely candid shots in the middle of events where lighting is often quite iffy (I hate hotel conference centers!), I have no control over where people are sitting or standing, and I'm trying to be as unobtrusive (invisible) as possible. I was hoping he might address how to work in those situations a little more. Still, I have some new ideas about angles I might use or situations I might take better advantage of, and certainly many of his set-up shots are meant to mimic candids so I had some take-aways from that as well.

Again, I clearly walked into this class with a pretty solid foundation on composition, so there were only moments of newness for me. But for someone who hasn't spent as much time working on her photography as I have, there may well be a lot of new and useful information here.

Lange clearly loves his work and finds creative ways to make his points--certain phrases will definitely stick in my head. And I did love seeing his photos--great stuff. If you would like to see your photos more creatively composed, I do recommend this class.

The Basics:

  • 7 lessons, ranging from six minutes (intro lesson) to 25 minutes. Most are in the 10-15 minute range.
  • Lessons include "Do the Unexpected," "Create a Stage," "Be in the Moment," "Beyond Good Enough," "Capture All of Life," and "Social Sensitivity."
  • You do not need any particularly kind of camera to take this class. Again, it's all about composition, not settings or lenses or anything technical.
  • He spends a fair amount of time on photos of children, so those of you with kids, take heed!

Again, that's Creative Photography: Capture Life Differently with George Lange. (As of this posting, it's still 50% off!)

(Usual transparency statement: clicking on Craftsy links in this post helps support this blog and podcast. Thanks!)

Thinkin' About It Thursday

Well, some of you remarked how much you enjoyed this post and would like to see it as a series. So I'll do my best!

What I'm thinking about this Thursday:

  • How, even if the colors haven't been changed, freshly painted walls are still quite nice to look at.
  • That hosting a party for 70-plus people the same week as I have painters underfoot and my busiest, most stressful workweek is crazy talk.
  • That Rescue Remedy actually [sort of] works.
  • But that watching a clan of family and friends--some of whom haven't been in the same place for decades--having fun together and reconnecting is worth the sleepless nights.
  • But that next time I'll hire a dish washer.
  • That I have a great group of my own kids and my nieces and nephews, and that they've got a great group of friends. 
  • Who, even when they've crashed on my floor and gotten about four hours of sleep, are still willing workers on clean-up duty the next day. (They may have been walking like zombies, but they were cleaning zombies so I'm good with that!)
sam.jpg
  • That although it's not his favorite place to be, Sam is Sam and will make five days at the kennel work for him. (He made friends.)
 
spencer.jpg
  • That Spencer will take awhile to forgive me for that same five days at the kennel. (Hint: That's no smile on her face. That's pure hysteria.)
 
  • That pretty new thread can be almost as recuperative as chocolates.
 
  • And that this is a wonderful way to recover. 

(Tune in to this channel in a couple of weeks for a return to quilty talk.)

What Has Come to Live in My House

As I mentioned in my most recent podcast episode, I had fun with the "TRYME" special sale on the Superior Threads website. (The sale goes through the end of July, by the way.) Their Try-Me specials are always a little less expensive than buying the spools straight-up, and now they're on sale so you save even more. The only hitch is that you can't choose the colors. But doesn't that make it like a fun surprise party when you open the box?

In any case, because they were on special, I bought more than I normally would. Here's the list, from left to right in the picture above:

  • Fantastico #40 Poly, variegated yellow/orange/red
  • Magnifico #40 Poly, green
  • Art Studio Colors (Ricky Tims) #40 Poly, gray
  • King Tut #40 Cotton, variegated purples
  • Halo variegated purple/red/blue with metallic gold
  • Glitter (holographic) purple base with red/green/blue colors
  • Nature Colors (Hollis Chatelain) #40 Trilobal, cream/vanilla color
  • Masterpiece (Alex Anderson) #50 Cotton, green
  • Bottom Line (Libby Lehman) #60 Poly, navy
  • Nitelite Extra Glow, #40 Poly, pink

The only one I'm a hair bummed about is the pink Nitelite. I hadn't really noticed that Nitelite came in colors--I guess I was thinking it would be similar to monofilaments where there isn't really a color to the thread itself. My bad. I'd planned on using it in a project for Halloween with all black, grey, and orange fabrics. Pink just won't look right. I'll likely find some other project to try the pink on and see how it works, and maybe order a color that works better with the project later.

I'm watching the DVD as I write this. So far, I'm realizing that I knew more about thread than I thought I did. Still n' all, there is some helpful information (how they make metallic thread is really interesting!) and I'm only four chapters in so I'm sure it'll be good overall. Besides, I got the DVD free with my order. Can't go wrong!

Yes, I've gotten to the point where seeing a funky-cool thread immediately starts making me dream up projects I can use it on!

Thinkin' about It Thursday

I don't know if this will be a series or not--might be kind of fun to do. But here's what I find myself thinking about this week.

  • How much I'm beginning to loathe the smell of paint.
  • That Princess Doggie is going to give herself a cataclysmic health event of some kind. She's really got to learn some mellow from Doofus.
  • Whether or not I could challenge myself for a month to create something small and experimental from fabric each day.
  • That spinning yarn is very meditative.
  • That coloring is also meditative.
  • That 14 hours alone in a car can sound like the perfect couple of days, given the right circumstances.
  • That clouds are really a very pretty thing.
  •  

WIP Wednesday--String Star

I think I've only managed to connect to Freshly Pieced's WIP Wednesday once, but I've finally managed to time it right this time!

Last weekend I finally got the borders on my string star quilt, started in a class with Ami Simms at the AQS quilt show in Lancaster, PA, back in April. I took the class mostly because I've always wanted to take a class with Ami Simms--she's a hoot. (I have an interview with her on my podcast too--great fun!)  I used a collection of African fabric fat quarters I'd been gathering over the years--I'd never figured out the best way to use them and decided this class was as good an experiment as any. I was very unsure how everything would turn out, but I'm quite pleased!

The background fabric is from my LQS--I like the cross-hatch design on it (sort of "thatch-y"), and the light gray sets off the fabrics really well without being the more jarring contrast of a plain white.

The biggest challenge on this was the African fabrics themselves. There was a lot of variation in thread count and weave. Some were very stiff, others were really stretchy. That border caused me some grief. Besides, mitering string pieced borders isn't fun--seams ending up in all sorts of wrong places. But it worked out better than I worried it would, so it's all good.

As of this writing I'm still pondering quilt designs. I think I'll have awhile to do that--I'm unlikely to get back to this until August when my work travel is over for a few weeks.

This has already been designated for a recipient, but I've really fallen in love with it. I do have enough of the fabrics and even enough cut borders left to do a second quilt for myself. I haven't decided if I'm up for that yet--I'm not a huge fan of doing the same thing twice. We'll see.

Here's my traditional "Dog with Quilt" shot. He was apparently quite pleased to be included. Smiley guy. But he kept his tennis ball nearby just in case I put the camera down.

And yes, I dragged my portable quilt hanger out of the pool for the photo op. Because I'm just that kind of Mom.

Be sure to check out all the other WIP Wednesday bloggers at Freshly Pieced!

Craftsy Class Review: Finishing School--Edges and Bindings with Mimi Dietrich

Craftsy Logo

Here's another class review with no pictures...I really hate doing that. But once again, this is a class for techniques with no specific project. I picked up information for techniques I've been wanting to try, but don't yet have a project at the finishing stage where I can put any of this into practice in order get pretty pictures for you!

Now reviewing...Mimi Dietrich's Finishing School: Edges and Bindings. I watched this class over one weekend because it was clearly going to be reference material for me--things to keep in mind later in the summer when I get projects to finishing stages. (Nothing being finished this week, that's for sure!)

The first lesson in the class is pretty much how to make a (straight-grain) binding. I sped through this because I've done enough bindings in enough ways over the years that there didn't happen to be new information for me in this particular lesson. However, if you're a new quilter, or have only ever made bindings in one way, it would definitely be worth watching. If I hadn't had my Mom at my side teaching me how to do bindings, this class would've been a great way to learn!

Lessons 3, 4, and 5 demonstrate several fancier borders--adding corded piping, flat piping, rick-rack, round corners and scalloped edges (and shows how to make bias binding), Prairie Points, and ruffles. I've marked each of these for future reference when I decide to use any  of these techniques. I've especially been wanting to do something with piping or using one of my funky ribbons in a binding for awhile, so I'll definitely come back to this class when I find the right project. By the way, for those of you who are fans of Prairie Points, she demonstrates three different types of them--so it's a pretty thorough treatment of this technique.

Lesson 6 goes back to the basics: different types of sleeves and making a label.

The one downside to this class is that class materials are patterns for quilts, not information about supplies or instructions for any of the steps. If you take good notes during the class and read all the questions, you get the information about the supplies. However, she tends to keep referring people to her book, which is unusual for Craftsy teachers. She references in one response to someone's complaint about the lack of materials that it would've been hard for her to create materials for this class without infringing the copyright of the book itself. (The book was originally published in the late 80s but it's been redone in 2013--available on Amazon in paperback or Kindle.) So that's a bit of a lack--but the class is still great for talking you through what it looks like to do all of these things.

In terms of her teaching style, I kept feeling like she sounded like one of my elementary school teachers--and sure enough, she used to be an early education teacher. That does make her teaching style very easy to follow!

The Basics:

  • 6 lessons, ranging from 26 minutes to 53 minutes
  • She starts with the basics, goes into some fun variations, and goes back to basics again.

This class would be great for beginners and for people who haven't ventured into the world of binding variations and fancy furbelows before!

Again, that's Mimi Dietrich's Finishing School--Edges and Bindings.

(Wait for it.....Usual transparency statement: Clicking on links in this blog post help support this podcast and blog. Thanks!)

Sundry Catch-up Items

A few things I never really talked much about in recent podcasts or blogs...

I bought a couple of new 3M containers for my quilt studio/home office. Really. It's an addiction.

glassesholder.jpg

I have drugstore readers all over the house at this point. This pair was designated for my cutting table/sewing machine area. As you may guess, they often end up under piles of fabric scraps, buried under the quilt project at the machine, on the floor....

When I saw this little container, the perfect solution hit me. Now my readers live on the wall within easy reach of my cutting table. I'm pretty good about putting them back in there when I'm done with them, too!

Another problem that has arisen for me of late is spools of thread. I have good storage for thread that's not in use, but when I'm switching back and forth between projects, or switching threads mid-project and thinking I might go back to a previous one, the spools in circulation get in my way. I don't want to put them back on the rack or in the drawer because I don't want to lose track of which I'm using, but I get tired of moving them around or having them roll off surfaces while I'm working.

Bingo.

This container is for toiletries or some such--I think it had nail polish in it in the display. But it's exactly the right size to hold a few spools of thread and bobbins that are in a holding pattern. Immediately to my right, I can quickly drop a spool in or pull one back out. It's been extremely useful!


So those are my organizational tips for the month. I love these things.

The other catch-up item is my hand-spinning. I mentioned in my podcast that I had a two-part class this month: The first week we worked with drop spindles, and the second on a spinning wheel. I won't go into detail here since I did talk about it on my podcast. But here are some before-and-after-and-during pics.

First, here's a progression of my spindling. The ones at the top are earlier attempts, the ones at the bottom are more recent. I tossed a couple of very early ones because they got all tangled when I pulled them off the spindle. Still n' all, you can see my improvement in evenness and thinness in these samples. They don't all have to be thin, and they don't all have to be strictly even, but I'd like to learn the control so I can be thin and even when I want to be!

This picture is a two-ply yarn spun and plied completely on my drop spindle the first week of class. I believe it's alpaca, but don't quote me on that. It was called "cookies and cream" because the roving had brown and white together. Delicious. I'll buy more of this when I go to the fiber festival again in a couple of months. I'd like to treat it the way it deserves to be treated.

 

This picture is the two single yarns (another two-tone roving on the right--so much fun!) and then the ply of them together done on the spinning wheel the second week of class.

I struggled with the plying on that one because there was no lazy kate so the yarn balls were just flying around at my feet. Hard to get into a rhythm. But it was fun to try.


And last, here's what's on my spindle now. Still need to get a little more even but this is a different fiber and I'm just getting used to it. I think it's Louen wool...does that sound right?

Anyway...just some sundry stuff keeping my hands busy and out of trouble!


Craftsy Class Review: Basics of Digital Photography with Rick Allred

We're heading off down a different Craftsy path today. I've reviewed a whole lotta quilting classes and a few foodie classes, but only one photography class so far. 

But, oh, I've been hankering to do more photography classes on Craftsy. They have a lot of really good ones, but (1) they tend to be more expensive than the quilting classes and (2) I don't have a digital SLR (DSLR) camera, which is listed as required equipment for most classes. I do, however, have a camera that's basically only one step below the DSLR. I can't change out my lenses, but I can do most other things that DSLRs can do. So when Craftsy introduced a new photography class that lays the foundation, I bit: Basics of Digital Photography, with Rick Allred. (There was only one lesson specific to DSLRs, really, and that was a discussion of lenses. Otherwise I could do everything in all the lessons with my camera.)

Lesson on lighting--working with backlighting here

Lesson on lighting--working with backlighting here

I wanted to brush up on what I'd learned in my high school photography class (using a darkroom n' all). I used to have an SLR camera in college and a few years beyond, and knew all that about f-stops and shutter speeds and the whole kettle of fish, but in the years since, when it got faster and easier to just whip out a point-and-shoot, and then (who'd have imagined?) my cell phone, I got lazy about it. With a big trip overseas on the horizon, it was time to re-learn what it means to do real photography. 

Practicing shutter speed and aperture together

Practicing shutter speed and aperture together

He starts out talking about your settings. Yes, it's necessary to have your users manual open at your side, unless you really know all those ins-and-outs of your camera. I've owned mine for a couple of years and have spent time with my manual, and still learned a ton about what my camera could do during that first lesson. 

The next several lessons address the "exposure triangle"--ISO, aperture (f-stop), and shutter speed. His explanations are very easy to understand, and he has plenty of photographic examples to help you see the difference between settings. He gives homework suggestions in each lesson to give you some guidance about how to practice the techniques. 

Working on panning. They were moving faster than I could, but this is an entertaining "mistake" picture. 

Working on panning. They were moving faster than I could, but this is an entertaining "mistake" picture. 

After a lesson specific to lenses and filters (which I watched, even though it doesn't have immediate application--I hope to get a DSLR in the near future!), there are a couple of additional lessons, one on composition/creativity, that included some more settings to play with, and a final lesson on "putting it all together" which includes how to organize your photos, backing up, memory cards, comparing shots, and so forth. 

I really enjoyed this class. Rick Allred is a good teacher--he uses great metaphors to explain fairly technical things. Again, I knew most of this back in the day but it's been (ahem) awhile, so though I wasn't quite coming at it cold, it was pretty chilly. I'm back to feeling like I actually know photography again!

Lesson on aperture and depth of field

Lesson on aperture and depth of field

This class wouldn't be particularly useful if you have no ability to change settings on your camera. Although he does talk about composition, most of the lessons do require the ability to have manual control to a degree. However, you may want to pull out your camera manual--you may have more control than you think you do! If you're able to set your aperture (f-stops) and shutter speeds at all, you'd get something out of this class. If you have a camera with more settings, you'd definitely learn a lot, and if you have a DSLR and are still figuring it out, I'd highly recommend this class. 

Working with exposure compensation settings. And check out those quilts!

Working with exposure compensation settings. And check out those quilts!

The Basics:

  • 9 lessons, ranging from about 9 minutes to about 20 minutes
  • Lessons include: "Get to Know Your Camera," Light and exposure, shutter speed, aperature, ISO, shooting modes, lenses, composition and creativity, and the final lesson named "putting it all together." 
  • Downloadable materials provide very helpful quick-reference materials. I've checked them a few times when it wasn't convenient to boot up the Craftsy class again. 

Again, that's Basics of Digital Photography, with Rick Allred. Recommended!

(Transparency statement: Using the Craftsy links on this blog help support this blog and podcast. Thanks!)

Gift Project Complete

A friend commissioned me to make a gift for her daughter who graduated from high school a few weeks ago. Yes, "graduate-d." I missed the deadline a bit. But still, she hasn't started college yet so it's still good. Isn't that in the etiquette books somewhere?

In any case, it took me a long time to decide what to do. When I'd asked my friend whether she wanted me to hand-dye something or quilt something, she said, "Whatever you want to do!" So, as it turned out, I did both. This projects is done on my hand-dyed fabrics, and its quilted. To within an inch of its life, actually.

I decided to do a word quilt. I chose a Scripture that felt to me like it fit her daughter, who is a tremendous vocalist, planning on continuing music in college, and whose faith is very central to her life. Since I didn't have it in me to do a lot of words, I just cited the verse. I thought it might be a little intuitive, anyway, since it'll make people have to go look it up. I'm a teacher at heart, I guess. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

I started out by using a new product: Sticky Fabri-Solvy.

I. Love. This. Stuff.

This photo is from my test sample--I kicked up the contrast in the photo so you could see it well enough. You can run Sticky Fabri-Solvy right through your printer. So after I designed my lettering in some software or another, I just printed it right off on the stabilizer. I didn't have to reverse it or anything, because it has a paper backing that I peeled off and it adhered to the right side of my fabric. I then stitched around the design, and soaked  the stabilizer off the fabric. Easy Peasy.

I decided to do it that way after my chalk-stencil method was a big fat fail (the chalk wouldn't stay in place long enough for serious stitching); and this was just so much faster. And, to be honest, I wanted to play with the stabilizer to see how it worked. The test sample worked beautifully, so I went right to work on the real thing. After I soaked the stabilizer off, I put my quilt sandwich together and then just outline-stitched the lettering again. That also gave the letters two thicknesses of thread/outline, which helped set it off even more.

I did have a bit of a glitch at that point.

I'd practiced on a test sandwich to set my tension and everything--it was all working beautifully.

I started stitching away on the real thing and it all felt like it was going swimmingly. I'd flipped up the back and checked after the first half inch of stitches or so, and it looked fine.

I should've paid more attention to how the bobbin was sounding. Something got unhooked somewhere and chaos was breaking loose on the back. I didn't see it until I came to the end of the word. Out came my new electric seam ripper. And then the Havel. And then my traditional seam ripper. Eventually, between the three of them, I did get it all undone. (Each seam ripper has its special gifts!)

That being said, that was really the only major snafu in the whole project. Everything else went pretty well, given how many new-to-me techniques I was throwing in this thing.

Free-motion feathers, using techniques I learned from Ann Petersen.

Background quilting circles and straight lines--the straight lines particularly being a design thought I got from Cindy Needham.

Shiva Paint stick highlights--it's been awhile since I got to play with my paint sticks and I haven't used them on a quilt like this ever.

Metallic thread--which I haven't used in probably over 10 years.

And bling. I've never blinged before. What a hoot.

And so...the end result. (Drum roll please.....)

Psalm 98 quilt complete. Approx 14'x16".

Psalm 98 quilt complete. Approx 14'x16".

And, because it's hard to see the sparkle in that lighting...

(Actually, the picture above is also the result of what I've been learning in my Craftsy photography class. To try to get the sparkle to show, I worked with some settings I recently learned that I have on this camera. But more about that class in a different blog post.)

Can you see the metallic thread outlining the feathers in this picture?

It's subtle, but it's there.

I'll probably talk more about this in my podcast episode this week (which, as of this writing, hasn't been recorded yet). I'll talk about using that metallic thread, especially, and some other slight hiccups along the way, and what I did about them.

So, there it is. Of course, as I look at it, I see all the things I'd have liked to have done better. But it's done, and it's not bad, and I think both the mom and daughter will enjoy it. And I had fun doing new stuff. Though, admittedly, it'll be awhile before I'm ready to sit down and stitch little bitty circles and very-close-together lines again.

 

My 2014 Quilty Resolutions Second Quarter Check-In

If you're looking for the original resolutions check-in blog post with the Rafflecopter giveaway and Linky party, click here.

As promised, here's my own second quarter check-in!

My three quilted "monkeys on my back" were:

  1. Craftsy classes--My goal is to complete as many of the Craftsy classes I own as possible, without adding more than I'm finishing. I don't have specific numbers attached to this, but I want to end 2014 with far fewer classes in total than when 2014 began. A single-digit list would be nice.
  2. Stash--My plan was to stay focused on using stash whenever possible. I didn't set specific goals about yardage amounts--I just wanted to stay conscious of it. As with the Craftsy classes, I basically just wanted to end 2014 with less total yardage on my shelves than I began--more out than in.
  3. Machine quilting--I wanted to be more confident and competent in machine quilting in general by the end of 2014, as well as being more on the ball about sending stuff out to longarmers if (1) it was just too big for me want to tackle it on a domestic or (2) I just needed to get 'er done.

So, how have I done?

Carol Ann Waugh's Stupendous Stitching class

Carol Ann Waugh's Stupendous Stitching class

1. Craftsy classes--Woohoo! I'm going great guns on this one! Since January I've completed 13 classes altogether. I've only added three, but one of those I also immediately finished. So, in all, I'm seriously ahead of the game! And I'm not just blasting through watching the videos without paying attention, either. I've been taking video notes, intentionally asking a question or posting a comment in every class just to make sure I'm staying engaged, and usually doing the class project or practicing the techniques each lesson teaches. I feel really good about where I'm at with this, and looking forward to what I'll be learning next.

 
Building a stash of my hand-dyeds...

Building a stash of my hand-dyeds...

2. Stash--Without tracking on a spreadsheet I can't give exact figures. But I'm pretty confident that from one perspective I'm ahead on this one too. I've bought very little new commercial fabric--if any--since January, except for what I needed for borders, backing, or binding; even those I was able to often take straight from stash. The only fabric I've added to my stash other than that is all my own hand-dyes, which I don't entirely count because it's a whole different category, isn't it? I prefer to think so, anyway. I'm not buying a fabric I don't immediately need just because it's pretty anymore--I'm creating pretty fabric instead! Anyway, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

3. Machine quilting--See #1. Due to having now done several of my Craftsy classes on machine quilting, I'm feeling a whole lot more confident, if still not exactly competent. My quilting is still...ummm..whimsical, but I more easily sit down at the machine to try. I panic less about "ruining" my project with my quilting and am far more able to just get over myself and get on with it. And there are some designs I've gotten better at. It's just a matter of practicing even more. Given the number of machine quilting classes I still have left in my Craftsy account, I'll be getting plenty more practice!

So, there it is--my second quarter (halfway point!) check-in on my 2014 quilty resolutions. Be sure you check in with your own to enter my giveaway and linky party!

June Craftsy Class Update

If you're looking for the 2014 Quilty Resolutions Second Quarter Giveaway, click here.

Meanwhile...back to our regularly scheduled programming...

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I finally have a completion...or more...to report! Sheesh. It's been awhile.

 

New Completions

(+4--woo!)

(I actually finished a fifth class this month, but I'm holding off on doing the review of it for a little bit so I'll list it as a July finish instead...)

Classes in Progress

Current count: 2

  • Thread Art with Lola Jenkins. I may move this one back a couple of months--it'll be hard for me to focus on completing a project until sometime in August, I think. But I'm keeping it on this list because it really will be my next major class to work on.
  • Finishing School: Edges and Bindings with Mimi Dietrich--the one I'll be reviewing next month.

Classes added this month

Well, ahem {shuffling feet}.... (+1) But there were good reasons!

I've been looking at the photography classes for awhile thinking that I really needed to brush up on my skills. (Took photography in HS, used to be pretty good when I had a film SLR in college, have gotten lazy with digital point-and-shoots ever since.) Since I've got some pretty significant travel coming up, and since Craftsy had a great sale at the beginning of the month, I bit. I now own:

Classes To Be Completed

Current count: 16 (-4, even though I added a class. I'm finishing more than I'm adding--Woo!)

Completed Classes (all topics)

Current count: 26 (+4 from last month. Again with the woo!)

(Usual transparency statement: This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. Thanks for supporting this podcast and blog!

Second Quarter 2014 Quilty Resolutions Check-In

Holy cow, where did the last three months go? Suddenly, it's time for a check-in and I feel like we just finished the last one!

But, there it is. Time for the second quarter check-in on how you're doing on your 2014 Quilty Resolutions!

For those of you who gave me your resolutions through my blog, here's the spreadsheet with your resolutions to help you remember what all you'd thought you might get done. (As I mentioned before, I've removed email addresses!)

For those of you who didn't participate in my 2014 Quilty Resolutions giveaway, you can still play along now! Just report in on whatever quilty resolutions you did make.

I'll be drawing a name at random from the Rafflecopter widget below on Sunday, July 6. The winner will get these four lovely fat quarters!





 

For some of you, this will be a two-step process. For others, only one!

First step for everyone: Leave a comment on this blog post with your progress, and then make sure you enter the giveaway via the Rafflecopter widget immediately below. (I'll only see your name through Rafflecopter for the drawing, I won't be trying to count up names in the comments.)

NOTE: My first Rafflecopter giveaway ended a day earlier than I planned so I've done a new one to run on Saturday only. All prior entries are still preserved in the original Rafflecopter--this new one will simply be for people who have not already entered. I'll figure out how to choose the winner between the two!

Use this Rafflecopter widget on Saturday, July 5. I'll draw the winner on Sunday, July 6.


Second step for bloggers: If you've got a blog, write about your progress on your quilty resolutions and link up here! To enter the linky party, click on the link below reading "An InLinkz Link-Up." Follow the directions. (Remember, you still have to enter the Rafflecopter giveaway above. This linky party is just so others know about your blog and can come for a visit!) No fears--participating in the linky party does NOT earn bloggers an additional leg-up than non-bloggers in the giveaway. It's just for kicks n' giggles!

For everyone--click on the link to the linky party below to see who-all has linked up, and go read their blogs! It'll be good times!

The giveaway and linky party both close on Saturday night, July 5th, at midnight my time. I'll be doing my drawing on Sunday morning, July 6th. Again, I'll only draw from names entered in the Rafflecopter widget so be sure, after you've left a comment on this blog, that you go back into that Rafflecopter widget to say that you've left a comment!

I'll be posting my own progress in a separate blog post. Looking forward to seeing yours!

A Finish in a Furniture Form

Okay, that alliteration was a little more work. Ahem.

Cutting table from "front" (the side I stand on to cut)

Cutting table from "front" (the side I stand on to cut)

I finally got my cutting table done! Talking about it on this weekend's podcast episode renewed my motivation to tie up loose ends.

This is the table I decided to make based on Tanesha's (of CraftyGardenMom Podcast) description of doing one herself. It's all over Pinterest--just look for "book shelf cutting table" or "cutting table with Target bookshelves" or something like that.

In any case, I'd done most of the work over MLK Jr weekend (listen to the whole tale here, and a little more about it here). However, I'd lost steam before getting to the finishing touches and every time I pulled the stuff out to do it, I just got all-over-tired again. And, frankly, the table was working just fine for me and no one else sees the room so it's unfinished state wasn't all that bothersome.

Finally, Sunday...after putting 18 more scarves into dye baths (found a few more containers!), and also (finally!) getting my seasonal wardrobes sorted out into "keep, toss, donate, put away for winter" piles, I decided to keep the "Get 'Er Done" mode going and tackled the cutting table. It would be nice, after all, not to have the unfinished pressboard edges of the melanine top keep snagging my clothes when I leaned in to cut.

All I had to do was sand the edges and iron on the edging around the top...yes, you heard me right... iron on edging for a piece of furniture--and then use 3M strips to stabilize the cutting surface. It all took me maybe an hour, tops, and none of it was hard although I suspect my shoulders will be whining tomorrow from bending over at an awkward angle to hold what I now know to be a remarkably heavy iron against the edge of the table.

Cutting table from open end--looking towards where I stand to cut. You can also see what a fan I am of 3M strips and hooks here--that's how all my rulers and pictures are hung on the wall. Very handy!

Cutting table from open end--looking towards where I stand to cut. You can also see what a fan I am of 3M strips and hooks here--that's how all my rulers and pictures are hung on the wall. Very handy!

I'd also thought I might attach the bookshelves to one another with 3M strips but they didn't want to hold, so I bagged that. I don't exactly live in an earthquake zone and they seem to be standing just fine. The usual method is to bolt these puppies together with metal brackets but I wasn't sure I wouldn't just drill a screw through into an open shelf--felt way too risky for me to do something I don't really think is necessary in my setting. In any case, if I ever want to move them, I'd prefer to move individual bookshelves--once these are bolted together no one would be moving them anywhere. 

I did, however, use 3M strips between the tops of the bookshelves and the melanine top to keep the top from slipping. It's actually heavy enough that it hasn't slid on me much over the last several months anyway, but once in awhile if I leaned way in to square up a corner of a quilt or something, it would start to slip a little. Four of the long 3M strips, one near each corner, seems to be holding it just dandy, and I left the tabs hanging out a little so they'll be easy to remove if I ever have to move this thing. You can't see the tabs in the front which is the only part anyone else ever sees.

A tip here, if you make one yourself--I lined up the top so it's flush with the back edge and has a couple of inches overhang on the front edge, where I stand to cut. I figured that gave me a little bit of toe-kick room. It's very comfortable.

Because of the space in my room I wasn't able to leave all four sides open, but having three sides open gives me plenty of ways I can maneuver around if I'm basting or squaring up a quilt or anything that needs more elbow room. And it's so much more storage than I had before that I don't cry about losing the bookshelves that are facing the wall. The shelving on the back side has proven to be a great place to stash some office-related stuff I never had storage room for before, such as off-season storage for the little space heater I use at my feet in the winter, some extra power strips, hand weights that never get used but always live in hope...

Look at all that lovely surface space! That's a 36x24" cutting mat.

Look at all that lovely surface space! That's a 36x24" cutting mat.

Mostly, I just love how much room I now have on top. If I recall all the measurements, it's only a few inches larger than my old Joann's cutting table, but what a difference that few inches makes! You may be able to tell from the pictures that it faces my office desk: When I'm going to be in a long cutting session, I take my computer monitor from my desk and put it on the far side of my cutting table so I can watch Netflix, Craftsy classes, or The Quilt Show. It's big enough, of course, that I have to be careful not to let it get too stacked up with stuff. Every now and then I have to go through and sort out piles around the edges and get things put away. But still, I love that stuff can get stacked up and I *still* have plenty of room to work!

So, it may not be a quilt, but it's a finish. And it's a finish that feels like a gift that just keeps on giving...

 

Postcard Swap Reveal (and a Little More about Cindy Needham)

If you're looking for the original resolutions check-in blog post with the Rafflecopter giveaway and Linky party, click here.

...but life moves on...

Thanks so much, once again, to Sandi of Quilt Cabana Corner for hosting another seasonal postcard swap! This time around the theme was summer, and we were supposed to get them to our partners by June 21st, the first day of summer. Oops. Well, if I got my postcard *finished* on the first day of summer, that still counts, right? I got it in the mail on Monday, the 23rd, so I wasn't too far off. Sorry, partner!

My partner for this swap was @eileensideways (aka Sue). She sent me her postcard way in advance because she's in the midst of a move and was afraid she'd lose her supplies in boxes. Here's the card she sent me.

It definitely took me back to childhoods at our summer cottage on Lake Ontario. The bay our cottage was on was always filled with sailboats. We even had sailboats of our own periodically, although of the little "sunfish" variety, with all the requisite adventures and misadventures ensuing. This postcard breathes summer to me--thanks, Sue!

Great fabric choices, by the way--and I love the detail of the star on the sail. Altogether, a very fun postcard that I love having hanging on my wall!

For the postcard I was to make, I'd known immediately what design I was going to use as soon as I signed up for the swap. It just took me awhile to get around to doing it. Ain't that always the case?

If you've been following my blog for awhile, you might recall Chicken Butt. I ran a challenge about three years ago to do something based on children's artwork, using fabrics entirely from your stash. Chicken Butt is based on an art class project of my daughter's when she was in high school (original drawing pictured at left). Here's the blog with the backstory.

 

And here's the finished product. I just love this guy--he makes me grin every time I see him. Consequently, I've been wanting to do a series about the Adventures of Chicken Butt. And so, the summer postcard gave me the perfect opportunity.

 

 

Introducing: "Chicken Butt Takes a Dive."

It's all fusible applique, all with my own hand-dyes, except Chicken Butt himself, who was done with a tone-on-tone white I had in my scrap bin. I'd debated whether to do his feet and cockscomb as threadpainting, but ultimately ended up doing them as little-bitty-put-them-on-with-a-tweezer fused pieces because I didn't have a thread the right color. Really. Tweezers.

I made some quilting design choices based on Cindy Needham's Design It, Quilt It class on Craftsy (see my review here).  I'd outline-stitched Chicken Butt and the clouds, but he still wasn't standing out enough. Recalling what Cindy Needham had said about "sunshine and shadows", I used her scribble stitch throughout the sky to really make everything else pop. It worked beautifully. Then my swirls in the waves didn't turn out quite as well as I'd hoped, so again recalling Needham's lessons ("If you have an awkward moment, fill it with a distraction") I went back in and just did a few more whonked swirls and, overall, it doesn't look half bad. I did a fused binding again, a la Laura Wasilowski's Hand-Stitched Collage Quilts class on Craftsy. I find fused bindings the easiest for me to do on postcards. easy, stable, and a whole lot faster than satin-stitching those edges.

And so, Summer Postcard Swap complete. Thanks, Sandi--and thanks, Sue!

My daughter got a kick out of seeing how her past art lives on. I may have to do a larger version of Chicken Butt Takes a Dive to hang on my wall next to the original Chicken Butt.

Which begs the question: How many more times can I manage to say Chicken Butt in one blog post? Chicken butt chicken butt chicken butt...


Craftsy Class Review: Design It, Quilt It, with Cindy Needham

I wish I could figure out a way to do otherwise, but I have no pictures to go with this review. I used things I learned from this class on a project that is not able to be revealed yet. So you'll just have to wait!

NOTE: Perfectly timed! This class is on sale this weekend on Craftsy! Links below...

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Design It, Quilt It with Cindy Needham felt like, as it turned out, the logical next step to the machine quilting classes I've been taking this year. Wendy Butler Berns was very much a "Hey, rank beginners can do this with no sweat!"-type class; Ann Petersen's class took things a step further in terms of complexity, and Cindy Needham ties things up into a neat little bow. To a degree, I feel like I could just take these three classes and move myself light-years further in my machine quilting. That being said, I have a boatload of machine quilting classes left in my queue to work through so we'll see where I'm at next year!

Design It, Quilt It doesn't have a specific class project--it's all about choosing quilt designs, making stencils your own, and all sorts of helpful other things to know as you get further into machine quilting. She does start from the basics so if you've never machine quilted before, I do think you could start with this one. Just know that there may be some easier classes to start with!

In lesson two she describes her method for pin basting, which is pretty similar to mine, but I still picked up some good tips. Even if you are generally happy with your way of doing something there's always value in watching someone else's method--you may see a new tool or tweak to the process that you find helpful. And yes, I bought the basting clamps she mentioned in the materials. I talked about that in a recent podcast episode so I won't go into it here.

Lesson three is all about threads. Given that she's a national teacher for Superior Threads, you would expect that she'd have a lot of really great information here! And, although she does mention some specific Superior Threads and doesn't mention any other threads by name, you don't get the sense that you're just watching a Superior Threads commercial. It's just very helpful, general information that applies across the board. She also has a really helpful demonstration of tension that uses visual aids. If you're still a little confused about thread tension, this is definitely worth your attention!

Lesson four has some really helpful information about how to position your hands and arms (and fingertips) for quilting designs with various levels of detail. Different arm/hand positions allow for different level of detail. That's not something any other machine quilting teachers have dealt with so clearly--I really appreciated her discussion of that and found myself adjusting how I was positioning myself the next time I sat down to machine quilt.

She has a little different approach (more meticulous) to stabilizing than I've seen before, but she has good examples of why she prefers her method. There was some conversation on Twitter amongst several of us who had taken her class about how we felt about her approach. I think we came down on the side of most of us feeling like she was probably right, but most of us were unlikely to take the time to do it!

The remainder of the lessons go through a variety of ways to choose quilting designs, tools to use to create your designs, design principles, and some basic quilt designs themselves. I found that this class had a lot more really useful information about marking than other classes (in a variety of methods using a variety of tools)--most of the other machine quilting classes I've been taking have emphasized non-marking methods. I do like non-marked methods, of course, but every now and then you may want to do something a little more exact or complex that will require a little pre-planning and yes, even marking. I've marked quilts and used stencils in the past but I've always kept it fairly simple--this one gives me a little more confidence to try more complex things in the future.

I found her conversation about design particularly useful. One of my issues has always been trying to decide how to quilt something to the best effect. She walks through four main elements of design in terms of designing your quilting designs; her examples and descriptions really helped me think through some UFOs that are on deck. I'll definitely be going back and reviewing this information each time I pull one off the shelf to quilt.

She does, of course, talk about feathers. What's a quilting class without teaching a way to do feathers? Her method is a hair different in the particulars than Ann Petersen's. I really enjoy seeing how everyone approaches the same thing, so I can pick and choose what would work best for me. She also has some great background "filler" designs--some I've seen before, some I hadn't picked up on. I'll definitely be putting those into play.

And, finally, the last lesson is all about how to make borders fit. Some great information there!

This is a fantastic class to have for reference. I'd especially recommend watching this if you think you might want to use stencils in your quilt design--she's a big fan of stencils (she used to design them herself) and has great ideas for how to use them in creative ways. I'd recently taken all my stencils out of my sewing room and down to the dye studio to use for resists and the like instead--I had so rarely used them in my sewing it didn't seem worth the space. Now I'm thinking I might go rescue some of them and see what I can do!

So, another class highly recommended. Again, if you've never machine quilted before, you could probably still go ahead and start with this one. But I find myself wanting to suggest you start with a different one first and then come to this one when you're ready for more complexity.

To recap: That's Design It, Quilt It, with Cindy Needham--and it's on sale this weekend!

The basics:

  • 11 lessons, ranging from 10 minutes to 47 minutes long, most in the 20-30 minute range (you really get a lot of bang for your buck on this one!)
  • Lesson 1 is the usual introduction, though it's interesting to hear her backstory
  • Lesson 2: Pin Basting (with some information about batting); Lesson 3: Threads & Tension (loved this lesson!); Lesson 4: Techniques & Tools: Lesson 5: Stencils (she talks about stencils throughout, but this one really gets down to nitty gritty); Lesson 6: Medallions; Lesson 7: Design Basics; Lesson 8: The Basic Three (quilt designs that can be modified in a variety of ways); Lesson 9: Feathers; Lesson 10: Backgrounds (fillers--with great examples of the effects of each); Lesson 11: Making Borders Fit.

I took a ton of notes, but my favorite quote from the class was: "If you have an awkward moment, fill it with a distraction." LOL--but it's true! Had occasion to try it on my next project and it worked beautifully!

I highly recommend this class!

(Transparency statement: Clicking on links in this blog helps support this blog and podcast. Thanks!)

 

Craftsy Class Review: Perfect Pizza at Home with Peter Reinhart

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Yes, I got another class completed this month! I introduce you to... Perfect Pizza at Home with Peter Reinhart.

(Before you gluten-free folks out there think, "Pizza? I can't eat that, I'll stop reading this post right now...." Stick it out. You'll get rewarded at the end!)

This is a quick little freebie class--one of the freebies that Craftsy offers to rope you in...I mean, to introduce you to the Craftsy platform. I chose it because we're big fans of pizza in our house, especially grilled pizza, and because I really like Peter Reinhart as a teacher. (Click here to see my review of his Artisan Bread Making class.) He's really good at what he does! It's been waiting for me on my list of classes for a long time, only because making pizza from scratch takes time I don't often have these days. But I found myself with a little time available this past weekend so bumped it up to the head of the pack.

Fri PM pizza--using Reinhart's sauce recipe with my own dough recipe (for speed). Standard toppings: tomato sauce, sliced Roma tomatoes, fresh basil from my garden, shredded mozzarella.

Fri PM pizza--using Reinhart's sauce recipe with my own dough recipe (for speed). Standard toppings: tomato sauce, sliced Roma tomatoes, fresh basil from my garden, shredded mozzarella.

The lesson on pizza dough felt pretty familiar to me, having already done his bread class. Other than the process of making dough, however, he goes through four different recipes for dough, depending on what style of pizza you want, and talks about the slight difference in baking and results given the different doughs.

The catch here: These dough recipes all require refrigerating overnight, which I hadn't realized when I set out Friday afternoon to make pizza for Friday night dinner. So I stuck that dough in the fridge and then went back to my usual pizza dough recipe that only needs to rise about an hour or so. But I did use his sauce recipe for the Friday night version. The sauce recipe is very simple, requires no cooking, and was exactly the kind of sauce we like! Definitely a keeper.

After doughs, he talks about sauces and toppings--pesto, tomato sauce, herb oils, and then options for what goes on top of the sauce. Again, recipes are included in the class materials, and he does a nice job talking through considerations for ingredients, possible substitutions, and what each ingredient brings to the table. By the way, if you're a fan of cheese--he spends several minutes talking about different cheeses, fat contents, moisture contents, and flavor profiles, including a couple of cheeses I'd never even heard of!

Saturday Lunch pizza--his dough, his stretching method. It looks more pale in this picture than it was. I always brush olive oil with herbs and garlic on the crust right before and immediately following baking, so that's what you're seeing on the crust. This version: Parmesan cream sauce, caramelized onions, spinach, and goat cheese. Yum!

Saturday Lunch pizza--his dough, his stretching method. It looks more pale in this picture than it was. I always brush olive oil with herbs and garlic on the crust right before and immediately following baking, so that's what you're seeing on the crust. This version: Parmesan cream sauce, caramelized onions, spinach, and goat cheese. Yum!

The lesson on making and baking pizzas includes a demonstration of how to stretch the dough with your hands--not the tossing-in-the-air-and-spinning technique (and he explains why that wouldn't work with these dough recipes), but a gentle turning around your fists to make it stretch evenly and in a neat circle. I tried it for the first time making both pizzas and it worked well, but I had problems getting them round. Fortunately, geometry has no impact on flavor.

Finally, he walks through the making and baking process for each style of pizza, offering lots of great tips and what to watch for along the way. When the demo pizzas come out of the oven, he then discusses several options for finishing touches and presentation.

Focaccia prepared for second rise, doused in herb oil. I used an Italian seasoning blend with garlic powder and a little salt for the two that are green; the third is the same blend with some paprika added just for fun.

Focaccia prepared for second rise, doused in herb oil. I used an Italian seasoning blend with garlic powder and a little salt for the two that are green; the third is the same blend with some paprika added just for fun.

One of the pizza dough recipes is a focaccia recipe, so when my MIL asked me to bring an appetizer for Father's Day dinner at her house, I jumped at the chance to make that one too. You refrigerate it overnight in the cake pans, so on baking day you just add your herb oil, do another "dimpling" with your fingers, give it a second rise (1-3 hours depending on a lot of factors) and bake. It seems like an impressive dish to other people but the dough is super-simple and does most of the work itself while you're off doing other things. Note here: I had to go back to the Artisan Bread class for more complete information about making focaccia; in the pizza class he uses the focaccia dough for making pizza and gives only cursory information about the baking.

Focaccia complete. And very yummy, too.

Focaccia complete. And very yummy, too.

The catch with the freebie classes is the course instructors don't necessarily participate in the conversations the way they do on their for-sale classes, but there's always an active conversation among students. So you should still feel free to ask questions--surely someone will answer! It's also worthwhile to read through others' questions and the responses to see what tips you might pick up.

One thing I've learned from doing a few cooking classes on Craftsy--print off all the materials first and have them at your side as you're watching the lessons. Often the course instructor gives extra information or clarification in the video lessons that's not on the materials. Yes, I take video notes, but I often prefer to have the printed version at my side while I'm actually cooking, so it's helpful to write the info from the video lessons on the print materials for reference later. (For example, in the pizza class, you won't find the information about baking in the print materials--that's in the video lessons.)

Is it the perfect pizza? Depends on your definition of perfect but I have to say, it's pretty dang good. Being able to do a nearly side-by-side comparison between his dough recipe and method and my usual one: his had a nicer texture, I think. Flavor-wise, hard to tell as I added herbs to my usual recipe and didn't when I did his recipe--I probably will do that in the future; I love herbs baked right into my crust. The pizza dough recipe made enough that my daughter and I each had a "personal sized" pizza for lunch, and I froze five more personal-sized balls of dough for later. (I didn't cut them completely evenly--probably could've gotten six if I'd weighed them out.) The focaccia recipe makes three pans full, if you're using round cake pans or, in my case, two cake pans and a deep dish pie plate.

The Basics:

  • It's free!
  • 6 lessons, ranging in time from about 5 minutes to nearly 40 minutes
  • The first lesson is the usual less-than-one-minute introduction to Craftsy. if you're an old hand like me, you can just skip that one. Lesson 2 starts the class proper with a discussion of the class and then a little more about the Craftsy platform.
  • Lesson three is about dough, lesson four about sauce and cheese, lesson five about making and baking the different styles of pizza. And then some of you will be thrilled to see lesson six: Gluten-Free Pizza. Yep, there it is, gluten-free folks--your reward! I didn't test that recipe out so I can't speak to it. But I trust Peter Reinhart!

I highly recommend this class. Why? First of all--ummm...it's free? Why not? Second, I'm a fan of Peter Reinhart, as I said before. You can tell he's been teaching for awhile--very smooth, easy to watch and easy to follow, knows how to fill time with more great information while waiting for things to bake, and shows his enthusiasm for his topic. Plus, even though I've been making homemade pizza for awhile, using a few different methods, I still learned a lot from this class!

Again, that's Perfect Pizza at Home with Peter Reinhart, and it's free!

(Usual transparency statement: Clicking on Craftsy links in the blog help support this blog and podcast. Thanks!)

Craftsy Class Review: Homestyle Pan Sauces with Martha Holmberg

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Yum.

Somewhere along the way, from some Food Network cooking show or another, I picked up the little tidbit that a simple sauce can go a long way towards making a basic piece of meat seem just that much fancier. I've mostly only waded in the gravy pond when it comes to sauces, but have always wanted to learn more. This class is definitely the way to go!

I actually started this class late last fall and did several of her recipes back then. A couple of days ago when I was tooling through my class list trying to decide what to do next, I looked at this one and realized how close I was to finishing it. Apparently I'd gotten distracted by the holidays. So, now...done!

Homestyle Pan Sauces with Martha Holmberg walks you through the steps of making several sauces, from simple to slightly more complex, though all of them are things you can do pretty easily on a weeknight. As usual in Craftsy food classes, there are several recipes available but each recipe is used as a way to teach different techniques that you can apply across the board.

The class begins with some basic information about pans, tools, and supplies, then the best techniques for seasoning and browning meat. I've been browning meat for years, and still picked up some good information. After laying this foundation, the rest of the lessons work through various types of sauces and techniques that you need to know in order to pull them off with success.

Again, none of it's complicated!

Blue Cheese-Stuffed Strawberries with Balsamic Reduction

Blue Cheese-Stuffed Strawberries with Balsamic Reduction

The first sauce she teaches is a balsamic reduction. I'd done reductions once or twice before, and rarely with confidence that I was doing it right. But after watching her do it, I created a balsamic reduction that weekend to use in an appetizer for a party I was hosting--and it turned out beautifully! (Have you ever had Blue Cheese-Stuffed Strawberries? Yum. I used what I'd learned about balsamic reductions in this class to make the strawberries and it was beautiful.)

Lesson two works with additional kinds of reductions, as well as doing some teaching around aromatics. (She spent a lot of time talking about chopping and sauteing garlic--again, something I've been doing for awhile but still learned something.) As she talks about the reductions, she explains different types of liquids you can use, things to be aware of with each, and what you're trying to accomplish in the cooking process. I loved the amount of information she gives behind each step. She also gets into using cream and cheeses in sauces.

The rest of the lessons are different types of sauces, gravies, and jus, each again teaching several techniques within the lessons. Even if you're not interested in the recipe or type of sauce she's talking about in that lesson, it's worth watching anyway just to see what other techniques and information you might pick up. I'd also made her recipe for Chicken with Meyer Lemons and Capers last fall (never took a picture--sorry!)--it all went fine as per her technique, but we only very rarely see Meyer lemons in these parts, and using regular lemons instead made the sauce too sour for our tastes, even though she said you'd use the same amount either way. I'd still make the recipe again, I'd just cut way back on the amount of lemon I use. In another lesson she has a Lemony Cream sauce for pasta with vegetables--I made that recipe too (again, no pictures--sorry!) and liked it quite a bit.

Martha Holmberg is, as I've said about so many other Craftsy teachers, very good at what she does. You can tell she's got a lot of experience teaching. She's very easy to follow, easy to watch, and she occasionally throws in a little humor--nothing rip-roaring, but enough to make me chuckle.

And she has a way of talking about food that can turn one's head. No one in my family likes caramel sauce but I still sat and watched her bonus lesson on salted caramel sauce and found myself thinking, "Hmmm. Maybe I would like it if I made hers!" Probably no time soon. We really don't like caramel here. But still, she's that good.

The Basics:

  • 7 Lessons ranging in time from about 15 minutes to around 40 minutes.
  • The sauces start right out in the very first lesson--she takes just a few minutes to introduce herself and the course, and then gets right down to business. The lessons include  working with multiple reductions, butter, cream and parmesan, vegetables and herbs; reduction sauces--base liquids, spices and herbs, more about aromatics, a lemon cream sauce, using sauces on pasta and vegetables; gravy; jus; and the aforementioned salted caramel sauce.

I did like her recipes--or will, once I adjust for missing ingredients--but even beyond that, I learned quite a bit from watching the lessons even if I hadn't made those specific recipes.

So I highly recommend this class. A quick sauce can make the difference between the same-old-same-old on a weeknight, and something that feels just a bit more special!

That's Homestyle Pan Sauces with Martha Holmberg. Yummy stuff.

(Transparency: Clicking on Craftsy links in this blog post helps support this podcast and blog. Thanks!)

 

 

Lookie What I Learned in Nebraska! (Eileen's Dimensional Bow-Tie Block Tutorial)

Last weekend I was in Nebraska with women of my denomination. Despite it being a work event, I found plenty of ways to Talk Quilt while there! One woman named Eileen had organized a large number of donation lap quilts and afghans to be donated to a home for the elderly. She'd made all the quilts that were present at this event herself, so we spent some time during a break going through her quilts: She was telling stories behind the patterns, quilting designs, and fabrics, while I was admiring all the same.

One quilt in particular caught my eye as the block was a dimensional bow-tie block. I've seen those here and there online, but had never had the chance to see one in person. Eileen explained to me how she did the block. She'd actually figured it all out by herself (she's definitely not an Internet person) but she is aware that others also do them. So there may be other methods, but I'm giving her due credit for figuring it out on her own! Hence, I'm presenting this as Eileen's Tutorial. 

Eileen gave me a nice little set of demo squares and I took some pictures while she walked me through the process. After I got home and got some sleep (!), I pulled some 5" squares out of my scrap stash to see if I could remember how she did it. My first one turned out perfectly! My second one, not so much--I somehow reversed the squares. Twice. But the third (and fourth) time's the charm!

So let's walk through the process....

Eileen's Dimensional Bow-Tie Block Tutorial

With pictures I took of my own blocks back home. Again, yes, you can find this elsewhere--I'm just giving credit where credit's due to the person who taught me!

For each block, you need five squares of the same size. You can use any size square you want, you just have to make sure they're all the same measurement.

You also get to make some choices about color arrangement. I did my blocks with three squares of the same color for the bow tie, and two light background squares. I did that mostly because I have lots of multiples in my scrap square stash and this is a great way to use them up. But there are lots of possibilities, here: I could see having the bow tie ends being scrappy but all of the tie knots in the middle of the blocks being the same color to bring the whole design together; or using all solids; or prints in the background with solid bow ties....

For the purposes of this tutorial, your bow tie fabrics will be referred to as "dark", and the background as "light." This is key to keeping everything straight later!

1. Fold one of the dark squares you're using for the "knot" in half, right side out. It's not necessary to press and, in fact, you may not want that kind of a hard crease in your finished product.

2. Sew the folded "knot" piece, fold towards the top, between one light and one dark square: light square on the bottom, dark square on the top. Make sure the raw edges (unfolded side) are aligned with the bottom edge of the squares, and sew along the right-hand edge. Be sure the light piece is on the bottom, the folded piece in the middle, and the dark piece is on top. (If you do it in the reverse you'll need to flip things around later!) The light and dark squares should be right sides together.

Press towards the dark.

3. Now comes the first tricky part. Flip the unit over so the folded square lays to the right of the seam you just sewed. The folded edge will now be on the lower edge and raw edge side towards the top. Fold the already-sewn dark square to the left and out of your way.

4. Lay the remaining dark bow tie square, right-side up, underneath the folded square and line up their right and top edges.

Then lay the remaining light background square, right-side down, on top of both, lining up the top and right edges. It's critical here to make sure you've got the two colors in the right place. The first time, you have the light on bottom and dark on top; this time the dark is on the bottom and the light is on the top. If you reversed it in the first step, you'll need to reverse it again here.

Sew the seam on the right hand-side and press towards the dark again.

5. And now for the second tricky part. You need to open that folded square and line it up between all four blocks for the final seam. The only way to describe this is in pictures...

 

 

 

 

I found it helpful to pull the knot sides fully open with my thumb and forefinger of one hand, then flip the top squares out of the way with my other hand to make sure I had the sides of the knot fully extended. (Don't let the quick-swap of fabrics fool you--this picture was taken while working on a later block.)

 

 

They won't come to points--it's sort of a blunt end.  And here you need to be pretty careful that you don't get the fabric that's in that fold caught in the seam you're about to sew. Keep moving things around until you're sure you're not sewing extra layers. This is virtually impossible to describe and although I tried, I couldn't get a good picture of what I mean. But you'll know if you've done it wrong when you flip open the finished block--more about that later.

For this part, I did what you usually do with matching seams--I scooched it around until the seams felt like they were really butted up together. Then I pinned that center down so it would stay in place. Next, I reached under each side to make sure the knot was really fully extended, evenly pleated in the center, with raw edges flush. I pinned each end of the knot once I had it in place. I also pinned both ends of the unit because that center knot seemed to want to knock everything a little out of whack.

6. And finally, you sew that last seam. And the magic happens!

 

Press the last seam whichever way you choose, depending on how you're setting these finished squares. Then open it up and thar she blows! A bow tie with a fun dimensional knot in the middle!

As mentioned earlier, you'll know you've caught a fold in a seam if you open it up and see a sewn crease down one of the lines of your knot. It should look nice and flat and open, like this.  (And yes, ask me how I know. That same block in which I sewed the squares in the wrong placement twice in a row also ended up with a sewn line down the middle of the knot at the end. Go figure. It was doomed, but me and my seam ripper beat it into submission.)

 

The first one took me all of about 10 minutes. The second one...well, you've already heard about all of that. My trusty new electric seam ripper was put to good use. 

But the third and fourth blocks were back to about 10 minutes each again. What a fun way for me to burn through some of these 5" squares and eventually have some donation quilts! Woo!

Again, I know there's likely other methods out there, but I need to give props to Eileen from Nebraska for figuring all this out herself, and then teaching me so easily. And not least for making several dozens (perhaps even hundreds!) of donation quilts herself. Go, Eileen!