Craftsy Class Review: Building Flavorful Soups with Peter Berley

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And now, it's time for my review of Building Flavorful Soups with Peter Berley.

As summer winds its way down towards fall, I start thinking of chilly nights with the smells of something tasty cooking on the stove. I've been wanting to focus some energies around learning how to build my own soups for awhile. The fact of the matter is, I only have one soup I make regularly that I use a recipe for (Pumpkin Bisque with Smoked Gouda--amazing); the rest I make up on my own anyway. But I wanted a few more ideas, better techniques, things that could send me off and running in any number of directions. 

Parmesan broth with toast, a poached egg, shredded Gruyere, and chives. 

Parmesan broth with toast, a poached egg, shredded Gruyere, and chives. 

And so, I bought this class. Peter Berley provides techniques and recipes for several types of broth that can be used as the base for a variety of soups. He starts out pretty simple, with a very basic tomato broth and a Parmesan broth, both of which I was immediately ready to try out myself. It uses Parmesan rinds and since I've gotten in the habit in recent years of buying good Parmesan and grinding it in my food processor, now I know what to do with all those rinds I slice off first!

I made the Parmesan broth and dressed it up exactly the way he suggested in the class--not too bad. I'd never poached an egg before without using my egg cooker--it didn't turn out pretty, but it worked.* And I was surprised that I actually enjoyed a poached egg floating around in a soup! Still n' all, I'll want to do some more doctoring to that one. I can imagine using the Parmesan broth with tortellini, diced tomatoes, and fresh basil, for example, or as a cooking liquid for any sort of pasta or rice. Yum.

I've bought a bunch of tomatoes to try out his method of making tomato broth, but our family plans changed on Sunday so I haven't had a chance to make it yet. I'm hoping to get to that sometime later this week, and turn the broth into tomato rice soup, a family fave.

I'm also looking forward to following his instructions for making chicken broth. It's similar to what I've seen before but has some differences to it, so I'm anxious to try it out. However, that will probably wait until a rainy weekend as it has more kitchen prep time involved.

Peter Berley has a very relaxed delivery. Indeed, sometimes I felt it was a little too relaxed. I've grown accustomed to food instructors who use cooking time as a chance to give more information, some chemistry background to what's happening on the stove or in the oven, suggest substitutions, and so forth. With Peter Berley, there is occasionally "dead air," and it feels a hair awkward at times. Still, he's easy to listen to when he is talking, and I did learn a fair amount more about making broths as bases for soups.

That being said, I do wish there had been something along the lines of the chart that Molly Stevens provides in her Secrets to Slow Cooking: Mastering the Braise class (see my review here), to give me more ideas about how to combine different ingredients within flavor profiles. He mentions variations in passing, but having an actual chart in the class materials would've been very helpful so I wouldn't have to keep running back to the different lessons to remind myself of the possibilities.

However, one soup helps keep away vampires and ghosts. So that's a win.

While this wasn't my favorite of the Craftsy cooking classes, I did still learn a lot from it and will be continuing to play around with his recipes and suggestions. The printed materials will stay in my kitchen recipe binder for reference. If you're a fan of soups, I do think this one is worth adding to your queue.

The Basics:

  • 6 lessons, ranging from about 24 minutes to about 37 minutes (absent the first lesson which is his three minute introduction)
  • Lessons cover vegetable and herb broths and soups, Japanese Dashi variations and Asian soups, using shellfish, meat, and poultry in broths, soups, and stews, and pureed soups.
  • Many of the broths he covers are either vegetarian-friendly or could be easily made so. I was specifically watching for this as my daughter's a vegetarian. 
  • He briefly touches on refrigerating or freezing the broths, although he doesn't spend a long time on that. 

So, for Building Flavorful Soups with Peter Berley, I think I'd give this class one thumbs-up, one thumb in the middle. Again, not my most favoritist of the cooking classes I've taken on Craftsy, but I definitely learned quite a bit and have some good ideas for moving forward. My second thumb would be fully up if there'd been a chart as I'd suggested above, or if Peter Berley had filled some of the dead air with more information about flavor profiles and other ingredients that play well together in soups with certain bases, that kind of thing.

*For instructions on poaching eggs, I did a quick refresh-my-memory check and used Alton Brown's method. Peter Berley doesn't cover that in the class.

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A Finish and a Craftsy Class Review: Thread Art with Lola Jenkins

Online Quilting Classes

Let me just start by saying, I had a ball with this!

The Craftsy class at hand is Thread Art with Lola Jenkins. My project ended up varying greatly from what she did in the class--so what you see here is inspired by, but not an exact replica of, the techniques she teaches in the class.

I'm hoping you'll see what fun I had with this and want to hightail it right over to Craftsy to sign up for her class!

Hawaiian flower, my own photo taken in 2010

Hawaiian flower, my own photo taken in 2010

The foundation of the class project is using a copyright-free image to base your artwork upon. She gives a lot of ideas about where to get your copyright-free images, and provides one in the class materials (The Girl with the Pearl Earring); it was one I do really like and debated doing myself. But I generally don't want to do what I know a bunch of other people are doing, and it wasn't a portrait I had ever wanted hanging in my house. I went back to one of my own photos (taken in Hawaii in 2010)--one I've always intended to translate into fiber in some way or another.

Photoshopped outline of flower

Photoshopped outline of flower

I'm not particularly good at drawing realistic things freehand, so I used PhotoShop to get an outlined version--more or less. There was at least enough outline for me to follow and trace the main parts. 

I stuck to the outline of the flower and each petal, plus the center stamen. I knew I'd be doing later quilting to give it more dimension.

I chose to do it on a white background so that the oranges and yellows of the flower would really show up well. I used one of my PFD fabrics as I had nothing else white in my stash that didn't have any print to it.

Windowpane light box

Windowpane light box

Then I used my trusty built-in lightbox (!) to do the tracing. Someday I'll have neighbors in that currently-empty-lot and and they'll wonder why the crazy lady next door keeps taping things in the window. I should come up with  messages to write on the back of the images I'm tracing. "Call the Mothership." "The Bear Flies at Midnight." "Send brownies." Messing with the neighbors' minds: always a good time.

Lola Jenkins makes several suggestions in the class (for which you're going to need to buy the class to find out!) about other things to do to your design, but none of them were speaking to me for this particular image. I finally landed on what I think was probably my most brilliant idea of the whole process. I pulled out my Hawaiian quilt block book, chose a block design that had a great outside edge to it, and used only that part of the block to create a frame for the project from one of my hand-dyes. Love it. May have to do that more often! I also free-hand drew leaves around the outside of the flower to help balance the entire thing. I drew the leaf I'm most comfortable free-handing. @Nonnie_p pointed out that it looked suspiciously philodendron-esque. Hey, when you find what works, stick with it. 

I knew I'd be able to shade the leaves fairly well--I've done that before. The flower was a bit intimidating, though, with all the ruffley bits. I kept going back over and over again with slightly different colors or adding in a line here or there, and I'm fairly pleased with the way it turned out. 

Dimension in the petals

Dimension in the petals

I debated for awhile what color thread to use in the petals to make the dimension even more obvious. Black would be too heavy. But invisible thread may not be interesting enough. I had finally settled on red thread until I actually sat down to do the stitching...the red wasn't jazzing me as I pooled it on the petals to test it out. Then I realized--wait! I had all those Superior "Try Me" special variegated threads I'd been picking up lately. Bingo! One in orange, yellow, and red variegation. FTW.

I had a lot more fun stitching the petals than I thought I would--I was a bit nervous about this part, as I knew it could go from helpful-dimension to way-wrong-angles in the blink of an eye. But, again, I was pretty happy with the way it turned out. And that thread really is pretty. I also did some thread painting in the black center, and you can nearly see a corner of the stamen. I'd used a yellow thread to do circles in the stamen area, but the circles are so dinky and I could see what I was doing so poorly that it ended up being more of a scribbly-fill. But it worked, so I moved on.

I stuck to the theme of Hawaiian quilting and echo-quilted both the flower and the border, and I went with a simple fused binding with one of my black hand-dyes--nothing fancy.

And so, my finished class project!

And the back looks pretty spiffy too! (Used another of my hand-dyes)

And the back looks pretty spiffy too! (Used another of my hand-dyes)

And so, for my review of the class itself:

1. I had a ball doing this. It was a fun combination of quilting with my old fave hobby, coloring. (Coloring in geometric design coloring books was my main form of stress relief in college, in my pre-quilting days.)

2. I learned a new technique that can be applied in many ways in future art quilts.

3. I got more comfortable with free-form thread sketching, contouring, and so forth.

4. I realized I'm actually not too bad at shading and drawing. Still no Van Gogh, but hey, good enough for horseshoes!

5. Lola Jenkins is a very artistic person and I enjoyed hearing her tips and suggestions for tools, techniques, and different ways to achieve results. Please note that the description of my approach above is inspired by her class but doesn't follow it exactly. You really should check out her class to see how she does things. I have a few take-away ideas that I can easily see myself putting into practice in other projects even if I didn't use them here.

The Basics:

  • 11 lessons, ranging from about 6 minutes to 35 minutes
  • She addresses choosing materials, supplies and resources, how to set up your sewing machine, etc, and then has one full lesson on finding copyright-free art with some very helpful ideas.
  • The next lessons are about turning a photo or image into something you can trace on fabric, adding other elements to the design, transferring the designs onto fabric, creating your quilt sandwich, stitching it out, coloring (over two lessons, with specific tips about eyes, lips, and shading), and final steps to set the color. The last lesson is a gallery of her own work which gives plenty of inspiration!

I really enjoyed this class. Two thumbs up! 

One more time, that's Thread Art with Lola Jenkins. Get out your colored pencils and get ready to have fun!

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Craftsy Class Review: Fire up the Fish with David Bonom (and a recipe!)

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I'm ready to review my next class! Welcome to Fire up the Fish with David Bonom.

I'm trying to overcome a lifetime aversion to seafood. I grew up eating fresh perch (and sunnies and croppies) out of Lake Ontario, filleted and fried in cornmeal. Other than that, I've really not been a fan of anything coming out of the water. Over the last 10 years I've been trying a lot more varieties of fish, and have begun to nearly like some of them. I'm still not a fan of shellfish of any kind--and believe me, I've tried most of them. Shrimp--well, that's just nasty. (And yes, I've tasted a few preparations. Couldn't get through any of them.) My husband's family is big into clambakes. Can't do it. The only way I'll eat a clam is if it's heavily battered and fried--basically once it's a vehicle for the batter, I can live with it. My theory is that I have a sister who's deathly allergic to shellfish so my DNA has a genetic aversion. That's my story and sticking to it.

So determined to try one of Bonom's recipes, I thumbed my nose at the rain and grilled anyway.

So determined to try one of Bonom's recipes, I thumbed my nose at the rain and grilled anyway.

David Bonom, however, made me want to start throwing all sorts of fish on the grill. He still couldn't make shrimp look good to me but to those of you who like shrimp already, you'd probably be into what he does with those. The same goes for his lesson on lobster tails--not my thing, but for those of you who already like lobster, your mouths would probably be watering.

Mind you, this is a technique class, not so much a recipe class. He does give the recipes for every preparation he uses, but he only briefly talks about possible variations or how to create your own recipes, which I'd hoped would be more prevalent. But I got so much inspiration it ultimately doesn't matter.

The class was tremendously inspirational for me. We hadn't ever tried to grill a fish at our house but after watching the lessons all the way through, I was chomping at the bit.

Swordfish on the grill, just starting out.

Swordfish on the grill, just starting out.

And, most notably, I was ready to try a fish I'd never been brave enough to order in a restaurant before: swordfish. He made it look so good in the class, I had to give it a go!

Armed with what he'd said to look for in a good, fresh, piece of swordfish, I took a quick jaunt out to my grocery store and found two smaller swordfish fillets that had all the qualities he said to look for and none of the ones he said to avoid.

I also got all fancy on its butt. Although I stuck to his recipe for the dry rub, I decided it called for a little fruit salsa, so I was making up a recipe as I wandered through the produce section. I'll post my recipe at the end--it turned out very tasty.

The fish was really quite simple. I've done enough grilling, and enough dry rubs, to be confident on both counts. I had picked up some useful tips from his classes, though, and had absolutely no problem with my swordfish steaks sticking at all.

I even followed his suggestions for how to get the best grill marks. Mighty pretty, if I do say so myself.

This being my first time out of the gate with (1) grilling fish and (2) working with swordfish, I overcooked it just a hair. I should've pulled it off the grill maybe just one or two minutes sooner. It tasted fine, but it was a little on the dry side. Not too much of a problem, though, since I had my fruit salsa nicely freshening things up. And the end result is that I really, really liked it. I'll definitely be doing this one again.

Pretty grill marks! Or, grill hashtags, for you #twilters out there.

Pretty grill marks! Or, grill hashtags, for you #twilters out there.

Back to the class. David Bonom was very easy to watch. It is important to remember, as I said before, that it's primarily a technique class. Although he does give plenty of recipes and talks a little here and there about possible variations and substitutions, he spends most of his time talking about the actual grilling--starting with a little discussion of the difference between charcoal and gas grills and setting up for the right temperature, he moves into how to prep the fish, how to prep the grill, what to watch for in terms of doneness, different tools and equipment (baskets, foil, etc.), how to check for temperature, and troubleshooting. The class goes from different types of fillets to whole fish to shellfish, and also includes fish cakes.

Not only do I feel a lot more confident about grilling fish, I feel a lot more confident about cooking fish in general and will more easily be able to tackle it in my kitchen when grill season is over.

The Basics:

  • 10 lessons. Absent the first that's just a brief intro of about 1 minute, the rest range from about 3 1/2 minutes to 12 1/2 minutes. Short as they are, though, they're packed with good information.
  • Lessons include: Setting up the Grill; Fish Steaks & Firm Fillets; Tender Fillets; Whole Sides; Whole Fish; Shellfish without the Shell; Shellfish in the Shell; Fish Cakes; Troubleshooting.
  • Included in those lessons are discussions of dry rubs; marinades; stuffing; using baskets, skewers, and foil packets; how to test for doneness; and what to do if your fish cake falls apart on the grill. (!)

I enjoyed this class a whole lot more than I thought I would. Although I'm posting this review after only doing one type of fish, I already have plans for a couple more from the class. I'm ready!

Again, that's Fire up the Fish with David Bonom. Two thumbs way up!

Finished product--grilled swordfish with mango peach salsa (and roasted baby potatoes)

Finished product--grilled swordfish with mango peach salsa (and roasted baby potatoes)


Sandy's Mango Peach Salsa

(Amounts for two or three people)


  • 1 T butter
  • Half a Mayan sweet onion (or any sweeter onion), diced
  • 1 clove garlic
  • Half a mango, peeled and diced
  • One peach, peeled and diced
  • a few tablespoons of balsamic vinegar--tropical flavor if possible*
  • Dash of salt

Directions: Saute the onion in butter until starting to caramelize. Add garlic and saute for about 30 seconds (don't burn the garlic). Add in the mango and peach and saute with other ingredients just to incorporate. Add balsamic vinegar, stir through, then turn heat to low and reduce the vinegar by about half or to taste, stirring occasionally. Add a little salt to taste. Serve over fish. Leftovers could be chilled and used for other things--like maybe over vanilla ice cream for dessert...nummy.

*I used one named Sunny Pineapple Balsamic Vinegar that was quite tasty. If you don't have a flavored vinegar, use a good balsamic--preferably white balsamic so the fruit doesn't look dirty--and then consider squeezing fresh lime or fresh lemon juice into the mix.

Need help knowing how to deal with a mango? Check this video out.

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


Classes in Progress


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!)

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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!)

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

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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.

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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!)

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 report! Sheesh. It's been awhile.


New Completions


(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!

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'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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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!)



Craftsy Class Review--Beyond Basic Machine Quilting with Ann Petersen

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...And so, I've decided I'm done. I didn't finish off the details of the class project, but I've done about 80% of it at this stage and have tried out every stitch design she demonstrates. Since I've got a multitude of other machine quilting classes in my queue, I decided it was time to move on.

I really liked this class quite a bit. This is the second machine quilting class I've completed on Craftsy. (Click here for my review of the Wendy Butler Berns Machine Quilting class.) WBB's class is a little more free-wheeling, "whimsical," which is a great way to get yourself started. Beyond Basic does get a little more complex, but I'd rate it, as they say, Confident Beginner. Or Rank Beginner if you're just a little adventuresome. I think she assumes you've already done some machine quilting and doesn't spend a whole lot of time talking about setting yourself up for quilting, although she does some--and talks about threads. Although she also does get into more complex designs than I recall in WBB's class, Petersen works you up to them by starting at an easier level and getting progressively more complex.

Through the course of the first several lessons, Petersen demonstrates a few ways of creating quilt designs, including no-mark methods. She starts by teaching you how to create a stencil by sewing (without thread) through the quilt design on paper. I've done this technique a few times before so I did well at this step. The difficulty I had was keeping my stitch length long enough that I wasn't just slicing the paper on the lines. Just have to keep my hands moving faster!



After you perforate the paper with the needle, you then rub some pounce powder or chalk dust through the holes of the paper to mark your quilt. She  gives a different technique for how to apply the pounce powder so I was able to try that out. Because I'd over-perforated some areas, I got a few globs of powder that obscured the line a bit. Plus, I was using white powder on a very light blue background, so I did have problems seeing where I was going. I do have blue powder but was a little concerned about how easily it would come off. Not sure why I was concerned with that small detail when I knew for darn-tootin' this wasn't going to be a show quilt anyway. Apparently sometimes I do sweat the small stuff. Go figure.


And so, my first flower looks a bit like a 3rd grader drew it. Actually, lots of 3rd graders would've done better. That being said, I think I started with the hardest one.


They got better as I went along...

One of the main things I learned in this class is that the first lines you quilt are not always the most important. Although none of these flowers are even close to being what I'd want to have showing up on a quilt for public use, those first wavery lines tended to fade into the background as I added more layers to the quilting later.


And then we move onto feathers and feather variations. The variations include whether you're marking them first and, if so, how you're marking them (she demonstrates a couple of different methods), as well as different shapes and sizes of plumes, and also adding some funky extra touches here and there. She also has you go through straight feathers and curved feathers, and later you go back and embellish the feathers with different kinds of veins. I did okay on the feathers after the first few plumes; at least, I got more confident about just diving in. Still need lots of practice. This picture is one of my better ones.

I'm right-handed, but I was far better at the plumes on the left side. Does that make sense or is it bass-ackwards?


And then there's the dragonfly. He's cute. Apparently mine got into a bar-room brawl at some point and broke his tail and it never healed correctly. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

(That's a different feather in the background. I had been dissatisfied with my first take on the plumes on this one so, knowing that sometimes the best thing to do when something is off is to just keep doing it over and over until it looks intentional, I went back over all the plumes a couple more times. It actually worked! Definitely improved.)

She also has you embellish all the flowers and leaves with various designs as well. I'd never given a whole lot of thought about the order in which you quilt your designs--I always just work center out. She has a different approach that makes a whole lot of sense. But you'll need to take her class to find out. I'm not giving away the farm, here.


And then there were the cornerstones and borders. I'd bagged adding cornerstones when I was putting together my project so I just drew them in and pretended they were there for quilting purposes--which worked just fine. Let's just say that I stink at pumpkin seeds. Yep, definitely lots more practice needed there. I also discovered the downside to using variegated thread on pumpkin seeds: You completely lose the design. Which was fine in my case since I'd lost the design several times along the way anyway. (Working backwards that small? Yikes!) My borders were a hot mess but her design options here aren't really my style, so nothing I'd likely use anytime soon. So I did it as-is in one border using one of her design options, then just used the rest of the borders to practice more feather plumes, echo stitching, and the like.


I did decently well on the echo quilting and practiced some of the background filler as well, but used a thread that blends. So it looks good, but who knows? You can't actually really see it that well--bonus!

To completely finish this, I'd have had to spend a lot more time on the borders and filler background--and I've just got too many other projects I need to get cranking on! Therefore, I decided I'd learned what I needed to learn and it was time to move on.


Therefore, now you've seen all the bits and pieces, here's the as-finished-as-it'll-ever-be class project.

In summary: Even though I didn't finish the project, I did get a whole lot more comfortable with machine quilting during this class. I got some good ideas for how to fill things in, and picked up a few new tricks along the way.

Ann Petersen is a very good teacher. She's calm, doesn't have any annoying mannerisms or habits; she's not a laugh-a-minute but feels like someone you could sit and have coffee with. I enjoyed her presence. I would definitely recommend this class if you're just starting out or looking for a few more designs to practice.

The basics:

  • 13 lessons, ranging from about 13 minutes to close to an hour in length. (You really get your money's worth in this one--lots of content!)
  • Lessons include supplies, basting and marking, starting to stitch, three lessons on feathers of various types, embellishing your designs (with stitching, not with beading or anything), the dragonfly, border treatments, quilted "lace" design, echoing and background stitches, and the final lesson is on blocking your quilt and dealing with ruffly edges.
  • You don't need to do the class project, of course, but it is kind of a fun one; although, as I said earlier, to finish it will take time. I have another project I'm working on for which some of these designs and techniques directly translate so I'm definitely getting the bang for my buck!

Again, that's Ann Petersen's Beyond Basic Machine Quilting, definitely recommended! And now, on to my next class!

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


May Craftsy Class Update


Ain't he cute? A little whonky, but cute!

Ain't he cute? A little whonky, but cute!

I'm still working on Ann Petersen's Beyond Basic Machine Quilting. At least I've made a lot of progress on it, finally! I debated going ahead and posting my review even though I'm not actually done with it yet, but I've decided to stay honest and wait until I'm really completely done--or, at least, whatever I've determined will define "done" on this project. I probably won't get it finished this week due to some travel but next week looks good.

A quick reminder here: I'm doing these posts to meet one of my 2014 Quilty Resolutions. Are you still working on yours? I'll be doing a quarterly check-in and giveaway at the end of June, so check your list and get ready to 'fess up...I in on your own progress!

New Completions

Online Quilting Classes

Nada. But progress!

Classes in Progress

Current count: 2

  • Beyond Basic Machine Quilting with Ann Petersen.
  • Thread Art with Lola Jenkins. Well, in my head, anyway.
  • I might return to one of my cooking classes in the next couple of weeks: I have a couple I started but never finished. I just haven't had the time to do much cooking lately so those have languished a bit.

Classes added this month

None. The ones I'm working on are keeping me too busy to check out new ones!

Classes To Be Completed

Current count: 18 (no change)

Completed Classes (all topics)

Current count: 22 (no change)

(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 Ways with Whole Grains

Craftsy Logo

I've finished watching the five lessons of the class "Creative Ways with Whole Grains," with Anna Bullett, executive chef at Cooking Light. I haven't done any of the recipes from the class (so I don't have any pics--sorry!) but certainly picked up a few tips for the next time I use quinoa or make a risotto. This is a freebie class so I figured I had nothing to lose and might pick up some healthy ideas along the way.

After the short introduction that assumes you don't know anything about Craftsy (that's why they offer these freebies, after all), there are four lessons that move from definitions and general information about whole grains, to pilafs and bakes, breakfast, and risotto.

I think I'm particularly intrigued by lesson four, which is using whole grains for breakfast. Beyond oatmeal, Bullett offers a few new ideas for some breakfast grains. Quinoa for breakfast? Definitely a thought! She cooks it in light coconut milk mixed with water, adds a bit of brown sugar and a little bit of salt. Throw some fruit on the top when it's done and you've got a healthy, filling breakfast with a tropical flare. I believe I'll be trying that out sometime in the next couple of weeks. She also talks about steel-cut oats in the slow-cooker--which I'm already a fan of! She suggests a tweak to my usual recipe, though, that I'm willing to give a shot--sounds tasty.

Anna is easy to watch, although I'd wish for just a little more of a natural feeling to her presentation. She's a good teacher, but it does feel a little overly scripted compared to some of the other food-related classes I've taken on Craftsy. Still, that doesn't take away from what you learn's free!

So, if you're looking for a quick cooking lesson with some healthy new ideas, I'd definitely recommend this class. And...did I already's free?

The Basics:

  • Five lessons, from about 9 mins to 17 mins (absent the <1 min intro lesson).
    • Lesson 1: Intro to Craftsy
    • Lesson 2: About Whole Grains--great background information about what makes a whole grain a whole grain, what to look for on labels, why they're healthy, etc.
    • Lesson 3: Pilafs and Grain Bakes
    • Lesson 4: Whole Grains for Breakfast
    • Lesson 5: Whole-Grain Risotto

Again, that link is "Creative Ways with Whole Grains," with Anna Bullett. I'll post pics later on if I do the breakfast quinoa thing!

(Transparency statement: Clicking on Craftsy links or banners on this page helps support this podcast and blog. Thanks!)

April Craftsy Class Update (Delayed)

Since I was out of town sitting in meetings this past week while the calendar changed from April to May, I'm a few days late posting my monthly update on progress made in Craftsy classes. That actually fits. I haven't made much progress in Craftsy classes anyway, so not like I was rushing with huge reports or anything.

Online Quilting Class

To whit: I'm still working on Ann Petersen's Beyond Basic Machine Quilting. I've been trying for a few weeks now to piece together the background I'm going to use for the class project. I mean, really--one big center piece of fabric, slap on a couple of borders, one with cornerstones. I could have it whipped out in a couple of hours on a Saturday. I've just had problems finding a couple of hours when I was (1) not awash in other more urgent projects, (2) not busy doing other stuff, or (3) not sick or recovering from trips! Yiminies. April was a tough month. (May doesn't promise to be much better so my May Craftsy Class update might be equally slim.)

New Completions

  • I completed Carol Ann Waugh's Stupendous Stitching class in early April. See the blog post with my review and completed project here.
  • This was a quick turnaround one: One of the Craftsy emails this month advertised several new freebie classes available, and I bit. I picked up Creative Ways with Whole Grains with Anna Bullett, executive chef at Cooking Light, and finished watching it within two or three days, even cooked a whole grain for dinner one of those nights (though not using her recipe). I'll do a review in later blog post.

Classes in Progress

Current count: 2

  • Thread Art with Lola Jenkins--still in the "thinking about" stage, although I did buy some Prisma colored pencils with a 50% off coupon at Joanns last weekend to use on this project.
  • Beyond Basic Machine Quilting with Ann Petersen. 'Nuff said.

Classes added this month

1 freebie. But completed immediately (see Newly Finished section above).

Classes To Be Completed

Current count: 18

Completed Classes (all topics)

Current count: 22 (+2 from last month)

(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!)

A Finish! Craftsy Class Review: Stupendous Stitching

I finally finished another Craftsy class, and this one has been a l-o-n-g time in process. I first started working on this sometime around January 2013, made a little progress, hit a stopper, and subsequently let it languish until sometime around mid-January of this year. That wasn't because it was difficult, or boring, or something I wasn't enjoying; it was pure "Dang, I can't finish this until I..." and then getting distracted before I completed the "until I..." portion.

But I'm done! Woot woot! And so, I can now officially post my review of...

Carol Ann Waugh's "Stupendous Stitching" class on Craftsy

I did have a whole lot of fun with this class!

Well, that is, I had fun once I finished this.

The first part of the class is making a "Stitch Bible." Carol Ann suggests starting out by creating a record of every stitch your machine can make. You start stitching each stitch in the default settings, then you make it wider, then longer. As she points out, some designs actually look like they're completely different stitches once you start monkeying with the settings. This was an extraordinarily helpful project--as she comments in this lesson, we probably have boatloads of stitches available to us on our machines that we've never used. Ahem. Yep. Now I've always got a quick reference. (And yes, they do look quite different stitched out for realsies than they do in the little diagram on my machine, so there's that, as well.) You can tell I didn't worry about having matching pages--I just used scrap fabrics and scrap threads so it's not a very pretty Stitch Bible. But I wasn't going for pretty. I was going for functional...and done.

Yes, this was the step that hitched me up and made this class take me over a year to finish. I made the first page or two, ran out of the stiff stabilizer I was using, and took about a year to get back to buying the supplies and creating myself enough pages to finish this. Over Christmas break this year, I got the remaining pages prepped so I could blast through and get the Stitch Bible complete. Boy, was that tedious work! Useful now that it's done, but mind-numbing to complete.

In this detail photo you can see the copious notes I took, ahem. Since I was generally using about the same settings every time, I didn't bother writing them down. It's enough for me to see the difference in stitch.

This was before I had an appropriately-sized grommet-maker. So I stabbed a hole in the corners with very sharp, pointy scissors. At that point, stabbing the pages over and over again with a sharp object was a bit therapeutic. This really was a tedious endeavor.

Ah, but once it was done, on to the fun stuff!

Carol Ann spends an entire lesson on how to choose a background for the Stupendous Stitching project. She does a great job showing choices that would work well and others that wouldn't work so well, and explaining why. It took me some deliberating to settle on which of my hand-dyes would work best for the actual class project. I needed something interesting, but not too busy.

This was the winner. I thought the sort of circular "blasts" of color might give me some design inspiration as I went. (It looks a little more vibrant/busy in this photo than in real life. I think you'll see that better in the finished reveal.)

The first step is couching. You couch a few lines on the project that sort of lay the foundation for everything that comes next. I ended up buying a special couching (piping) foot as the foot my machine came with didn't have a deep enough groove for the couching I was doing. This is the "Pearls and Piping" foot--I believe it's the one Carol Ann recommends in the class. I love it. It's a great foot. The one trick is remembering to move the little plastic piece that sits on the bar where it latches onto the shank--that little plastic piece adjusts the placement of the foot in relationship to your needle, which changes where the needle hits in relationship to what you're couching. Got it? This caught me up a couple of times--I'd get started and take a few stitches, then realize I'd not adjusted the little plastic piece. Still n' all, a great foot.

I had a blast using some great sari ribbons and sari yarns--ribbons/yarns created from scraps of old Indian saris. Beautiful stuff, bought a couple of packages of them two or three years ago, never knew how to use them. Wow, did I have fun! Well, except that the sari ribbons had a lot of fraying along the edges that eventually caused a bit of a mangled rats nest under the needle.

I call shenanigans.

Fortunately, nothing broke, and after 10 minutes with a very sharp pair of snips, tweezers, and a quick vacuum with my mini-attachments, we were back in business.

I used three large sari ribbon pieces and one narrower sari yarn. They added great color and texture, but the three ribbon pieces were a bit visually overwhelming. I sent @knittyAJ (AJ of The Quilting Pot podcast and I Knit N Quilt 2 blog) a quick email, since she'd done this class last year at the same time I started, to get her suggestion. She suggested I get over myself. Well, okay, she said it a whole lot nicer than that and it was one of the options I'd said I was considering in the first place, so I agreed. Thanks for the "call a friend" lifeline, AJ! Very helpful. I decided to leave it until much further in the process to see if doing everything else would soften the impact.

The next step is using your decorative stitches. Here I got to play with a whole lot of gorgeous threads I've collected over the years and, again, never really knew what to do with. (This was just what I started with--I added a lot more later!)

You do more lines with decorative stitches, and then you do some hand-stitching as well.

I had a whole lot of fun trying out some new stitches and getting ideas from the Creative Stitching book by Sue Spargo that I reviewed on a podcast episode awhile back. I got pretty good at French knots and lazy daisies, although my daisies were a bit hodge-podgey in size and petal direction. I choose to call it whimsical and move on.

Here's another example of my couching and some hand stitching.

In this one, you can see my ultimate solution for those overwhelming sari ribbons. When I was doing my hand-stitching, I decided I could try hand-couching them down and seeing what happened. I liked it! Nothing had to get ripped out, and now they're all interesting texture without taking over the piece.

(The hand-couched ribbon is on the left. The thicker couching on the right was sari yarn machine-couched. Hand-stitched lazy-daisies, hand-stitched threaded chain on far right.)

And some more detail of decorative stitches, hand-stitching, and couching.

You can see how much fun it is to just cut loose and say, "What can I try to do next??"

By the way, when you take this class (and you know you will!) pay attention when she says to stop the hand stitching a fair amount inside the edge. I didn't. Oops. I cut through some of my knots when I trimmed up the edge and had to go back to hand-tack a couple of my hand-stitching ends back down. Glue may have been involved.

You can also see in this picture the rat-tail binding technique she shows--a new technique for me! I had a little trouble with it here and there because I was using a braided cord that frayed like the dickens when I cut the end, and I also had very thick couching pieces that my zig-zag had to wrestle its way over. I used my Pearls n' Piping foot again for this step and it worked much better than my regular presser foot. Still, I couched over it twice to be sure, and then had to shave off some frayed ends with my snips. It's a nifty technique, though.

So here's all the fun stuff I played with through this process in one shot.

Pretty threads from a variety of sources, hand-dyed perle cotton from Laura Wasilowski's Artfabrik shop (bought in Houston a few years back), sari ribbons and yarns from Meinke Toy (check out their "toy boxes").

And, of course, my hand-dyes. (Also a hand-dyed on the back but there's a reason that hand-dyed piece ended up as backing. It's not exciting enough for a picture, but it's similar colors to the front.)

And here's the final reveal:


Sure, there's some things I'd approach differently if I were to do this again. I enjoyed it, though, and I did learn a lot about my machine, using different materials, and hand-embroidery. I can easily see myself using the techniques I learned from this in other projects, or creating "stupendous stitching fabric" for other uses, as Carol Ann Waugh shows in the final lesson (see "Basics" below). And I could imagine doing a few 9" or 12" blocks with this technique, set into a wall quilt with other blocks. That could be cool. I could see adding beadwork, or including needle felting....Lots of possibilities here!

So, if you're in the mood to play, to use a lot of intriguing materials and methods, and just be foot loose and fancy free for awhile (her mantra through the class is "there are no mistakes!"), this is exactly what the quilt doctor ordered. I do recommend this class. Once that dang Stitch Bible was out of the way, it was just a-whole-lotta-rockin' fun!

Again, that's "Stupendous Stitching" by Carol Ann Waugh. You won't be sorry.

The Basics:

  • 11 lessons, ranging from 5 minutes (the last lesson) to about 30 minutes.
  • After the introduction, the first lesson is a very helpful overview of the kinds of materials you could use; then the next lesson talks about the Stitch Bible. The following lessons then take you step by step through the process, with a ton of helpful tips along the way.
  • Last lesson is about five minutes of ideas for other ways you can use Stupendous Stitching techniques--pillows, purses, shoes, tablet covers, and the like.
  • The downloadable materials were great reference, and one, the "No Mistakes Poster," is worth sticking on the wall in your quilt studio!

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



March Update on Craftsy Class Progress

(If you're looking for the 2014 Quilty Resolutions Check-in Giveaway and Linky Party, click here.)

Dang, but I've got too many blog posts all backing up on each other right now! It's apparently either drought or downpour around here in terms of my blogging. Or, perhaps I should say, "blizzard or spring," which is far more apropos of the climate out my window.

In any case, it's pretty much time for the monthly update on my 2014 Quilty Resolutions goal of completing as many of my Craftsy classes as possible. I'm posting this now rather than waiting until the 31st because I have a lot of other stuff to get done this weekend--probably not including a Craftsy class, unfortunately.

I feel like I've had a lot of forward motion this month, but no actual completions. I'm re-ordering how I normally present these lists so that most recent stuff is on top.

By the way, before I get started, you may want to note that Craftsy is currently having a big sale on fabric and yarn right now, through Friday at midnight. Click on the banner on the right  of this page to take you directly to the sale, though you can use any Craftsy link on this page and find the sale info once you're there.

Classes in Progress

Current count: 3

  • Stupendous Stitching with Carol Ann Waugh--so dang close to done! In fact, so close that you might be getting another blog post in a couple of days with a finish. I debated going ahead and counting it as done anyway, but in the name of truly holding myself accountable, I can't quite bring myself to do that.
  • Thread Art with Lola Jenkins--I haven't actually done a whole lot on this yet other than watching all the lessons awhile back and choosing what image I'm going to use, although I've had some further thoughts in the last couple of weeks about things I might do on the project. So, if "thinking about it" counts as progress...
  • Beyond Basic Machine Quilting with Ann Petersen--still waffling between using some of my hand-dyes to make the basic wholecloth quilt project as she describes for this class, versus just pulling her designs and using them on a UFO. Her class designs might work well on my Rapid Fire Hunter's Star that's still waiting to be quilted, but I also think her class project would look great done with my hand-dyes. Waffle...waffle....

Classes added this month

Dang it. 1. I blame @nonnie_p.

  • Design It, Quilt It: Freeform Quilting Techniques with Cindy Needham. Nonnie was tweeting away one afternoon a few weeks back about how much she loved Cindy Needham's classes and how much they'd helped her and gee, wasn't it great that her classes were on sale... "Dang you, Nonnie!" {shaking fist in air over head}

Completed Classes (all topics)

Current count: 20 (+0 from last month, but see comments about a near-completion above!)

Classes To Be Completed

Current count: 17 (will change to 18 when I add my new class to this list...)

(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!)

First Quarter 2014 Quilty Resolutions Check-In

You knew it was coming!

It's time to check in with your progress on your 2014 quilty resolutions!

Did you make a quilt-related resolution for 2014 through my podcast/blog? Did you make one on your own, but not through my January giveaway? Either way, you can still play along now!

I'll be drawing a name at random from the Rafflecopter widget below on Sunday, March 30th. 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.)

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!

Looking forward to hearing your progress!