Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Just Made It!

Last night I finished one more quilt. I made it just before the end of the year; yeah! There was one more  project I wanted to finish before the end of the year, but it just didn't quite make it.  That's okay, because this was a super exciting one.

Several years ago when I was pregnant with my first child, my friends and family made a signature quilt for me.  It's filled with supportive comments and helpful advice, and I have been eager to hang this  sentimental piece of art. It is to be my September quilt (that's the month my son was born).

My mom did an amazing job with the piece-work, so all it needed was a backing, the quilting, and of course the binding. She had everything to do it, so I brought it all home with me and got to work.

I did a simple meander with a variegated brown thread, making sure not to quilt over the written parts. I wanted it to look like a lasso or rope being swung around, and I am happy with how it turned out.

I used one solid fabric for the backing and when attaching the binding I went for the hand-stitched look again. I am really hooked on that now.

So it only took 4 1/2 years, but the signature quilt is finally done. My son is really happy with it! He's a little too big for the baby quilt size, but that's okay. Now, we can start working on a quilt for his bedroom.  Maybe that will be on the 2014 agenda. :)

Friday, December 27, 2013

Oriental Triangle Quilt

I am on a mission to finish all of my "almost there" projects before January 1, and this one is a success! This quilt was the result of a pack of oriental fabrics I purchased at our local Quilt Show from PinCushion Boutique. I had a triangle pattern that I was interested in trying and adjusted the sizes a little to work better with the smaller amount of fabric I had. And, the end result...

This was a lot of fun to make. It was fun to work with triangles and work with all the different prints. It was challenging to figure out layout and get all the colors balanced, and it was also challenging to maximize the amount of green I had left so I could complete the border as well as the binding.

The backing is bargain bin fabric I purchased at Rosies last summer. I am excited that there's some left; I'll be able to do a fussy-cut quilt with that. Maybe 2014; I already have some ideas.

On this particular quilt, I knew I wanted to practice my free-hand feathers.  There are a lot of feathers on this quilt! I actually really like how they look, and it was wonderful practice for me. I feel much more confident with my feathering now. Yeah!

I have gotten a little hooked on the hand-stitched binding.  I really like the end result, and I'm getting better at picking up the pace to get it done quickly. All in all, I'd say this quilt went very smoothly.  Don't you love it when everything just goes together, and turns out the way you envisioned? I sure do. Okay, one more quilt to bind and one bag to finish, and I will be feelin' good!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Dressing Up My Christmas Tree

In 1987 a friend and I went to Hallmark and purchased our very first miniature ornaments. It started something in me that continues today, although it's harder to find miniature ornaments now-a-days. Every Black Friday (or as close to it as possible) I set up the 'baby' tree. It's always the first decoration I put up.  It's little twinkling lights, and colorful ornaments. Oh, I just love it!

As soon as I got the 'baby' tree, I needed a skirt.  This was well before my quilting days began, so I improvised as only a teenager can.  I drew a pattern out with a sharpie on some felt and cut one out. I even cut out holly leaves and berries and glued them on. It wasn't much, but it has worked for over 20 years.

Well, I've come a long way with my sewing skill and it felt like it was time to make a new skirt for my beloved tree. I picked out some Christmas fabric I purchased from Connecting Threads a couple of years ago on clearance, and got to work. I didn't realize how fast I'd be able to make, or how awesome it would look! Man, why didn't I do this years ago!

I kept the pattern and quilting super simple and chose a pattern fabric for the back, so essentially it's reversible if I want switch it up from year to year. The binding is single thickness; I basically ironed a fold and hand-stitched the back down. I also ironed the fold on the ribbon at the neck where it wraps around the tree.  It was my first attempt at working with curves, so I was pretty happy with how it turned out.

My tree deserved to get dressed up.  It's grown old with me; time for some sophistication! Hope everyone has a Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Other Ways to Enjoy the Rolls

I posted recently about the Potato Pan Rolls that are the softest, most moist little balls of grandeur you've ever eaten. Now, I have a confession. I rarely eat them in the manner I posted about. I know, I know, how can I resist? The truth is, I am always trying to find ways to up my fiber intake, and improve my overall diet, so I came up with a couple of alternatives in that bread recipe to help pump up the vitamins and fiber without sacrificing the taste. I feel I need to share.  These are switch-a-roo's totally worth trying.  You won't regret it!

First, there's the Sweet Potato Pan Roll. You thought the original was soft and moist, wait until you try this bad boy! It is amazing. I was out of regular potatoes and wanted to make some bread. I wondered what these would taste like, and oh-my-gosh I am so glad I was out of potatoes that day! I might never go back! The flavor is very similar to the originals (even my super particular husband liked them and ate a few more; and a few more after that). The difference is in the texture. I can't say enough good things about them! It's a must try!

Sweet Potato Pan Rolls
- 1 lg sweet potato; peeled, chopped (~1 c)
- 1 c potato cooking water reserved
- 2 pkg active dry yeast
- 1 tspn sugar
- 1/2 c butter, melted
- 1/2 c honey
- 1/4 c vegetable oil
- 2 eggs
- 2 tspn salt
- 6-7 c flour

The second type that I can't get enough of is the one I make the most. I decided to try out whole wheat. They have an amazing sweet undertone to the bread that's not overbearing at all.  It didn't effect the moisture content at all or the rising of the bread. It did help the fiber content, though, which is the part I was happy about.
Baking Note: when adding the flour, start with 1 c white flour and alternate after that with the whole wheat. After achieving 3 c whole wheat, complete the dough with white flour. This balance keeps them from becoming too dense.

Whole Wheat Potato Pan Rolls
- 2 med potatoes; peeled, chopped (~1 c)
- 1 c potato cooking water reserved
- 2 pkg active dry yeast
- 1 tspn sugar
- 1/2 c butter, melted
- 1/2 c honey
- 1/4 c vegetable oil
- 2 eggs
- 2 tspn salt
- 3 c whole wheat flour
- 3-4 c white flour

In a saucepan, bring the potatoes to a boil in water. Boil potatoes until they are soft and easy to mash, about 15 - 20 minutes. Drain, reserving 1 c of the cooking water. While the water cools to 110 - 115 degrees, mash the potatoes and set aside.
In a mixing bowl, dissolve yeast and sugar in reserved water that's cooled to the proper temperature. Let it rise for about 5 minutes. Then, add mashed potatoes, butter, honey, oil, eggs, salt and 1 c flour. Beat until smooth and continue to add flour one cup at a time until your dough is springy and a little sticky, but no so sticky that it stays on your finger. I have found that during more humid times of the year, it takes more flour and during more dry times of the year, it takes less.  Keep that in mind as you're adding flour.
Turn your dough out on a floured surface.  Knead it for about 1-2 minutes and then place it in a buttered bowl and cover it with some towels to let it rise. It will need about an hour to double in size. Pull it out afterwards and knead it down.  Divide the dough into 3 equal pieces.  Each piece will be divided and formed into 10 dough balls, making 30 rolls total.  Place 10 rolls into a greased round cake pan, and do that 2 more times for 3 cake pans total. Cover with your towels and let the rolls rise once more for about 30 minutes.
Bake at 375F for 15-25 minutes.  I know that's a huge range, but it depends on how baked you like them.  We like our bread barely baked, which is why they are so light in color. Therefore, I only bake for about 15 minutes. My Mom likes them baked longer and bakes for 22 minutes.  It totally depends on what your preferences are. When finished baking, place them on wire racks to cool. They do freeze really well.  I place them in twist-tie bags and remove the excess air in the bag before placing them in the freezer.  To thaw them out, just pull them out, or if you forget until the last minute (been there, done that) simply put them into the microwave on defrost for a couple minutes. You are going to love these rolls!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Experimenting with Cinnamon Rolls

The best kind of experimenting! Almost as good as experimenting with cookies! We have started our own little tradition of cinnamon rolls for christmas breakfast.  The first few years my Dad would brave the mall to purchase a pack of Cinnabon rolls for us all to enjoy.  A couple of years ago, though, I thought it would be fun to make them myself.

I have been on the hunt for a good recipe since then. There were a few failed attempts, and a combination of a couple different recipes, but I think I have finally mastered my technique and I am almost ready to share. I need to try one more thing; one more part of the experimenting. And no, it's not the tasting -aka devouring the entire pan before the kids wake up- part.

I put half of the dough in the freezer to save for later and I want to see how it comes out in a couple days. I like recipes that can be over-sized and then reserved for later. Makes life easier later when I'm in a pinch for time. Meanwhile, the kids and I will be enjoying these goey, delicious, totally NOT healthy buns for breakfast.  Maybe if we have some fruit with it, it will be healthier?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Two Lonely Little Cookies

I admit it. I struggle with how large to make a cookie.  When measuring out the dough that will inevitably bake into soft, chewy yumminess it needs to be the right size.  Too little and your cookie comes out dry and crunchy; too big and it will be undercooked and raw in the center.  When a recipe calls for 1-inch dough balls, I get nervous. When I am making them for someone else as a gift, I am extra nervous.  So, I did something I've not done before; I made two test cookies...

It's hard to get even consistency even after doing the test cookies, but it did help me get a better idea of how big the dough balls should be. Once I determined the cookie on the left was a better size, I was able to get to work and make the treat bags for Christmas gifts to teachers.

Who doesn't like a Snickerdoodle? It's one of those cookies that avoids upsetting any allergies, and has a consistent texture. The perfect cookie.  I hope the recipients agree.

Now, it's time to make some test cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning. Oh, I can't wait to sample those and see what needs to be 'changed'. :)

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Raggy Shaggy Christmas Tree

So many years ago when I was first getting into quilting, I wanted to try a bunch of different techniques to see what worked for me. One of the things I was 'scared' of was quilting, so when a friend told me about a Raggy Shaggy Quilt class she was teaching, I was all in. No quilting? How can that be?!? It was very intriguing. It was near Christmas, so she had chosen a Christmas Tree quilt. We were instructed to pick out some greens, reds (I went a little more pink), and whites and some gift-wrap looking fabric. My Mom and I packed up our machines and fabrics and headed to class. It was a lot of fun sewing in a group, and we made a lot of fabric.  We all met once more at my friends house to finish our quilts, and this was my end product...

I was super proud of my quilt. I felt like the colors worked really well together and the pattern was nice and easy.  I wasn't thrilled with the raggy part of the quilt; maybe it would be better in flannel.

I do like how the use of scraps/multiple fabrics created a stained glass look for the quilt; that's my favorite part. I also really like the gift in poinsettia fabric. I wish I had more of that fabric, I could have some more fun with it now that I have more ideas.

This quilt has been hung on the wall every December for the last seven years.  My quilting has matured, as well as my taste. I think it's time to update my Christmas quilt.  The hardest part is picking out new fabrics; there are so many to choose from. I have two different patterns in mind; a gift box pattern and christmas tree/triangles in rows. I'll continue to think about it while staring at my stain glass tree quilt and rushing to finish the other projects I vowed to complete before the end of the year.

I'm linking up with Crazy Mom Quilts for finished Friday. Maybe I can find the christmas inspiration I need over there.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Way Too Long

Oh, it has been way too long. It is so wonderful to have family visit for the Thanksgiving holiday. I just love seeing all the cousins play together and all of us siblings get to catch up. It is definitely busy, and loud, and tiring; but it's totally worth all of it!

I had a few different projects going before everyone arrived, and now I am starting to get back to work on a couple of them. I hope my kiddos feel like having a couple of down days at home as much as I do. I am in that kind of mood that I'd like to be locked up in a room for the whole day to just work to get things done. I know that's not happening, but maybe some time to work would be nice, too.

I finished attaching the binding onto the Oriental Triangles Quilt and now I just need to finish it off with a hand-bind.

Oh, I love these fabrics. I was actually hoping to do this on the move while everyone was in town, but no luck.  It turns out I was on the move too much. That's okay, a nice evening project will be calming. Hopefully I can finish it in a few days.

I also started putting together a large bag out of the leftovers I had from my Bear Paw in the Honey Jar Quilt. I was actually hoping to get this together before everyone arrived, but no luck.

It's my first attempt at a bag. I love these fabrics, but they might be a little much for this scrappy bag. Maybe not. We'll see how it turns out when I'm all done. I have not made a bag like this before, so I don't know if I'm doing it right or not.  We'll see.

There's still another project I have in the works as well, but it's just too dark to take pictures of quilting. Maybe that will be on next weeks list. I also took a bunch of shirts from my SIL that I want to make into a t-shirt quilt. I need to do a little research for the best methods, sashing, etc. I think that will happen next week as well.

Okay, it's back to work. Yeah! Oh, I've missed you, little sewing machine. I'm linking up with Freshly Pieced for WIP Wednesday. Gotta get back in the groove.