Thursday, February 6, 2014

A few hints for making the "Home" quilt along house block

Yes, the pattern is finished! I am so excited to have it done.

You've seen this before, but here it is one more time, just for fun. :)

I promised you a few tips for putting this together, and here they are.

1. To Limit Bulk
If you are wanting this for a lap quilt you may want to limit the bulk and stiffness of the fusible web as much as you can. If you are planning on using this as a wall hanging it probably makes no difference. You can reduce the bulk of larger pieces by cutting out the center of your piece of fusible web before ironing it on to the back of the applique fabric. You will need to leave a piece of web at least 3/4" wide around the outside edge to give you a secure fuse.

2. Embroidering Flowers
It's difficult enough to embroider through even one layer of fusible web, but near the bottom of the house you will have two or three layers of web. I wouldn't even try to stitch through that. Instead, I drew the shape of the flower bed onto a larger piece of my green fabric with white chalk, then placed it in my tiny embroidery hoop and embroidered the flowers onto it. The fusible web was ironed to the back after the embroidery was finished.

3. Applique Stitch Choices
The stitches you choose for securing the appliques can add life and depth to your block. Thread colors that contrast will highlight the pieces, especially when made with a standard 50 weight thread or heavier. Stitching in matching colors with lightweight, 60 weight thread will recede into the fabric and almost disappear.

Dark thread and zigzag stitching add contrasting trim to the door and the window.
Contrast thread made with a straight triple stitch (jeans top stitch) separates the panes on the windows and creates the ropes for the swing. A similar effect could be achieved with embroidered lines.

A blanket stitch in thread slightly darker than the applique pieces adds definition without standing out too much. The machine blanket stitch also makes very clean edge to the applique. Again, a similar effect can be achieved with a blanket stitch made by hand. I simply don't have the skill to produce lovely, even blanket stitches by hand.

A blanket stitch in matching thread, especially if the thread is a fine 60 weight, will blend into the applique and practically disappear.

Now, on to the block #2.

I'll choose from one of the ideas I've been given so far. Please keep adding to our list! This is what we have so far.

Thank you all so much for these wonderful ideas!

needle, thread and scissors
yarn and knitting needles 
a kitty cat
rocking chair
plate and silverware 
teapot or coffee pot 
cookie jar and cookies  
potted plant
sewing machine
white picket fence
coffee mug
watering can

Happy Stitching, everyone!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Sewing is finished on my house block!

Wow! I love this feeling of accomplishment!

The pattern isn't ready yet, but the applique stitching is finished. Yesterday was a long day at the sewing machine, but once something nears completion I seem unable to stop until it's done.

I've made the templates for the applique pieces, and that's a big step. I still need to draw the layout plan and write the pattern, so there is quite a bit of work remaining. Even so, I'm hoping to have the pattern ready by Friday or Saturday. Fingers crossed!

I really like the way this block has turned out! It has enough detail for my tastes, but it looks like it would be much more work than it was. Since it's a large block, the pieces aren't terribly tiny and there really aren't too many of them. The only hand stitching was the embroidery used in the flower bed.

It's amazing how much life is added by stitching. The before and after photos really highlight the differences.  I've decided that, at least for now, I won't make one in different colors. I have so many other projects waiting for attention.

Astounding isn't it?
I thought you might like to see a list of the ideas that I used from all of you.
  • a 16" block
  • just the house and one big tree
  • bigger blobs for leaves
  • a swing
  • flowers under the window
  • a sidewalk to the front door
I'll end with a few closeup photos so you can see the details more clearly. When the pattern is ready I'll add a blog post with more information and a few helpful hints for putting it all together. 

The doorknob button won't be sewn on until quilting is finished.

Oops. A stray piece of thread invaded the photo. 

Happy Wednesday, everyone!!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Quilt Along House Block Progress

This center house block is finally coming together! I'm ready to start work on templates tomorrow. Then I'll do the applique stitching and add any details that are needed. I should have the pattern totally finished and up on Craftsy by February 10th at the very latest. Then the new blocks could come out on the 10th of every month.

It remains 16" x 16", and it basically contains the house and just one tree.

I'm so much happier with the leaves on the tree! I moved the house up a bit and added another layer of grass so the empty area on top is much smaller. Now it all seems balanced. What else? Oh, I changed the colors on several pieces. The yellow was just one color too many on this one block. The blocks will contain many colors in my scrappy quilt, but I prefer to have the colors in each individual block harmonious. 

I need to thank all of you for your ideas. 

Thank you!

The swing is an just an idea. It hasn't been ironed in place. If I keep it I'll need to drop it a bit lower. The house looked so deserted and lifeless!

To keep or not to keep? What do you think? 

I'm also considering adding some bushes or a pot of flowers to the front of the house. That would involve some tiny pieces, but it can be made quite manageable. 

Again, what would you like to see? Leave it alone? Add some color?

Ideas for other blocks are coming in. 
Please join in with your ideas. 

This is what I've been given so far:  

needle, thread and scissors
yarn and knitting needles 
a kitty cat
rocking chair
plate and silverware 
teapot or coffee pot 
cookie jar and cookies  
potted plant
sewing machine

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Chicken and Rice Soup for Whatever Ails You

We had such a fabulous time at my party the other night, but I'm afraid that I overate. It was the chips and dip that finished me off. What is it about crispy potato chips? It didn't help that the dip was fabulous! Thank you, Midge! That wasn't meant to be sarcastic! The dip was awesome!

Not surprisingly, I awoke with an uncomfortable tummy. My digestive system just isn't what it used to me. That cast iron stomach is only a fleeting memory.

Yesterday, I mainly ate broth and yogurt. I was better this morning, but still feeling some after effects. That's where the chicken soup comes in.

This particular soup is very much like one that my grandmother used to make. It's great for tummy woes, colds, and whenever you need something light and nutritious.

Grandma wasn't much with a needle and thread, but her cooking was fantastic. Mother, on the other hand, was a remarkably skilled seamstress, but she couldn't cook. I was fortunate to have both mother and daughter for teachers.

You know how I cook - a bit of this, a pinch of that, a handful of the other - so that's the way this recipe reads. Add, subtract, substitute, design it to fit your taste buds.

A light, simple soup that's easy on your tummy.


1-2 tablespoons olive oil
One small onion, chopped
1/2 - 1 cup diced chicken breast
About 1/2 cup diced carrots
About 1/2 cup diced celery
1 garlic clove, chopped very fine
1 can of chicken broth
1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup rice
A handful of lentils
1 - 2 tablespoons dried parsley flakes
1 medium basil leaf
A sprinkling of dried onion flakes
8 or 10 whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt
4 or 5 cups of water


1. Saute the onion in the olive oil until it becomes very lightly browned and  translucent. Add the chicken and saute for two or three additional minutes.

2. Add the carrots, celery, and garlic. Saute for another two or three minutes.

3. Add chicken broth, parsley, onion flakes, vinegar, peppercorns, bay leaf, salt, rice, lentils, and water.

4. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat to medium low and simmer for about an hour.



Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Quilt Along: first steps on the house block - seeking your opinions

Here it is, then - the first experiment with placing of applique pieces on the 16" square that will make the block. The paper backing is still attached to appliques. I'm not nearly ready to iron anything on permanently!

I will be making two blocks from this pattern. These fabrics are for the brightly colored, scrappy quilt.


First off,  there's a lot of empty space here. I'll could add to the grass and move everything up on the background or I could fill something in at the top of the block. If I put something at the top, what might it be? Pieces can't be too tiny or stitching becomes tricky, so that pretty much eliminates little appliqued birds. Embroidered birds? Flying in a group? Just little, black, curved "v" shapes?

I'm not sure that I like the green blobs on the tree either, but haven't thought of another way to deal with that yet. Maybe if I had more variation in sizes and shapes the tree would look better. Only one blob stands out as being different. The rest are all quite alike.

Of course, the easiest solution would be to cut the block down to 14" x 14" and  add a pieced border all around it. Here are three possible layout ideas for a smaller block.

Just house and grass

House with small tree

House with large tree snug against it (Still need to work on those leaf blobs.)

I see other little problems, too, but those are minor adjustments in proportion and possibly fabric choice.


I would sincerely welcome your thoughts! This is, after all, a group project and you need to be given a block pattern that you like. Every idea you share will be seriously considered.

What do you think? How shall I deal with the empty space at the top of the block?
What about the green blobs on the tree?
What else do you see that could be changed to improve the plan?

Waiting for your comments ...

Monday, January 27, 2014

Honey Wheat Bread

    I did find time to bake bread for my party! I really like this recipe. It's very easy to make and it reminds me so much of the whole wheat bread my grandmother used to bake. She also made delicious white bread, but the whole wheat was always my very favorite. 

    The following recipe is for 2 loaves. I almost always double the recipe and give two of the loaves to friends. I slice and freeze the rest to keep it tasting fresh.
    The bread freezes well and will keep for about a month.


    • 1 envelope yeast
    • 2 cups water warm water
    • 1/4 cup butter, softened
    • 2 tbsp molasses
    • 1/4 cup honey
    • 1 teaspoons salt
    • 3 cups whole wheat flour
    • 2 cups white flour


    1. Dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup of the warm water.
    2. In a large bowl, combine butter, molasses, honey, and salt with the remaining warm water. Stir. Add the yeast mixture and mix with a wire whisk till blended.
    3. Add 2 cups of whole-wheat flour, 1 cup at a time, mixing well with wire whisk after each addition. 
    4. Add the 2 cups of white flour, 1/2 cup at a time. Use a wooden spoon to mix until the flour is absorbed. 
    5. Add the remaining 1 cup of whole-wheat flour, 1/2 cup at a time, mixing with a wooden spoon till it’s well incorporated.
    6. Turn onto a floured surface and knead briefly, adding just enough flour so that dough stops sticking to hands. The amount of additional flour needed will vary greatly depending on humidity, temperature, and the flour used.
    7. Cover the dough and Allow it to rest 5 minutes.
    8. Knead 5 – 8 minutes or until smooth and elastic, adding flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking to the kneading board. (Look for “broken blisters” on the surface of the dough to show that it is ready.)
    9. Pour 1 tablespoon of oil or melted butter into a bowl. Spread over the inner surface of the bowl.
    10. Place the dough into the bowl, and turn so that it is covered with a thin film of oil. Cover with a towel, place in a warm place, and let the dough rise for about 1 hour or until double in size.
    11. Punch the dough down, divide it into 2 equal parts and shape into loaves.
    12. Place the loaves in greased loaf pans, cover lightly with a towel and let rise until double, 40 – 60 minutes. The center of loaf should rise slightly above the rim of the pan.

    Bake at 375ยบ for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the bottom of loaves sounds hollow when tapped. Turn the loaves and cool them on a wire rack.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Apple Pie Cinnamon Rolls Recipe

I'm having a party!

I love parties!

Not all parties, of course. I only love the parties composed of people I like. Who wants to waste time at a party when you don't care for the people there? My party next Tuesday will be one of the best, because I've invited my sewing group buddies to the winter potluck supper at my house. I hold these gatherings three times a year, fall, winter, and spring. In the winter we have soup and whatever else people choose to bring.

I don't know what else will be coming, but Shelley will likely bring a soup, and Midge will bring something delightfully flavorful. Diane is a wild card, sometimes salad or fresh veggies, sometimes chips and yummy dips, sometimes cheese and crackers. The only consistency is that her contribution will be a wonderful accompaniment to the soups. The rest? I have no clue what will be served at my table, but I do know that the food will be delicious, and it will be eaten in an atmosphere of cheerful camaraderie. That's what happens when good friends who have known each other for a very long time come together. We laugh, joke, and discuss all those things that women, particularly teachers, like to talk about. I can't wait!

My part of the menu is all decided. This is my list:
  • Minestrone soup (Something light to balance all the rest of the goodies.)
  • Bread ( I may bake bread or I may buy fresh from the bakery. That depends on how much time I have.)
  • Homemade cinnamon rolls (These are super special and delicious.)
  • Biscotti and perhaps another kind of cookie, too. (I'm keeping dessert simple as we'll likely not have room for much.)
Today I'm sharing the yummy cinnamon roll recipe with you. Now, I've gotten into trouble with some of my readers for posting rich, high calorie recipes, so there are a couple of things I need to explain.

First of all, I don't bake rich foods for myself not do I keep them in my house. Decadent baked goods are reserved for special occasions. They are sometimes gifts, sometimes served to a group, but always shared with others.

Secondly, I know all about how hard it can be to keep to a healthy weight. I'm a small person, only 5' 3", and I'm not overweight, but that hasn't always been the case. I was a chubby child and a plump teen. I was very body conscious, and when I put on that "freshman 10" in college I knew that obesity was just around the corner unless I adopted a regimented diet. As a result, I've spent a lifetime fighting my body's tendency to put on weight. I watch what I eat very carefully. I monitor calories, nutritional content, and fiber with every meal. On the rare occasions that I have something rich I stick to small portions.

But, my goodness, this is a party! And I'm baking up a batch of very tasty cinnamon rolls!   I hope you enjoy this recipe. I don't know the calorie count, but cinnamon rolls are never low in calories.

So set out your favorite baking supplies and get ready for some kitchen fun!

I found this recipe online, but I changed it up quite a bit. I cut down on both butter and sugar.  I followed the original recipe once and the rolls were overly rich for my tastes.  I used a different icing,  too. I also changed the instructions for making the dough because I really prefer a hands on approach to yeast breads. If I can feel the dough with my hands, I know when it is ready to stop kneading. I like to imagine that my bread is happier, too.

Now on to the fun - the recipe.


Makes 18.  
Prep time, about 4 1/2 - 5 hours. This dough rises slowly.
Oven temperature, 350 degrees F.
Baking time, 20 - 5 minutes
The finished cinnamon rolls freeze beautifully!

  • 1 package yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup scalded milk, cooled to warm
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 3 - 3 1/2 cups flour 
 Filling, first layer: 
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
Filling, apple layer:
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 5 small apples, peeled, cored, and diced
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 - 4 tablespoons milk

I always heat my mixing bowl a bit before making yeast doughs. I put 1/2 cup of water into the bowl and pop it into the microwave for 30 seconds. Then I dump out the water, dry it, and it's nicely warmed up.

1. In a small bowl, add yeast and 2 tablespoons of the sugar to the warm water. Let it sit for about 10 minutes, or until it dissolves and starts to foam a bit.
2. In a mixing bowl, put the scalded milk, melted butter, egg, remaining sugar, and salt. Whisk together.
3. Add two cups of flour, one cup at a time, to the mixing bowl contents. Mix with the wire whisk until the mixture is smooth.
4. Add another cup of flour, 1/2 cup at a time, and mix with a wooden spoon.
5. Lightly dust a flat surface with flour and turn the dough onto the kneading surface. Knead, adding flour as needed to make a slightly firm dough that no longer sticks to the surface. Cover with a towel and let the dough rest for about 10 minutes. This will relax it somewhat and make it easier to knead.
6. Knead for 5 or 6 minutes. (Press down on the dough with the heels of your hands, turn a quarter turn, fold the dough, press again, repeat.) Form the dough into a ball.

My grandmother taught me that you can often tell that you've kneaded enough when blisters begin to form and break on the surface of the dough.

7.  Pour about a tablespoon of oil into a large bowl. Spread the oil to grease the bowl. Place the ball of dough into the bowl, and turn it to cover it with a thin film of oil. Cover the bowl with a towel and set it in a warm place to rise. Spritz the towel lightly with water every hour or so to keep the surface of the dough from drying out.
8. Let the dough rise until double in bulk. This will take 2 1/2 to 3 hours.
Dough after 1 hour
9. While the dough is rising, prepare the apple filling. Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Add the sugar and apples. Cook on a medium high setting, stirring frequently.
10. When the liquid has mostly evaporated and the apples are lightly caramelized, remove from the heat and allow to cool.

 11. Check the dough again.

Dough, after 1 1/2 hours
Not near ready

Dough, after 2 hours
It was growing, but when I poked it lightly with my finger the dough popped back up.
Not ready yet. This was another of my grandmother's tricks to see if the dough has risen enough.

After 3 hours. The dough was nice and fluffy and the finger poke stayed poked. Done!

12. Punch the dough down and turn it out onto a clean countertop lightly dusted with flour. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough into a rectangle about 11" x 18".

12. Spread the melted butter with a pastry brush  to completely cover the dough and sprinkle with cinnamon.  

Confession - I didn't measure, I just sprinkled from the jar.

13. Spread the apple mixture on top, making sure to get as close to the side edges as possible. Roll the dough into a log.

I roll the dough from the back to the front, so I left a couple of inches of dough uncovered with the apple mixture.
That decreased the danger of my apples squeezing out on that end. 

 14. Cut into 1" slices. Put the rolls in a lightly greased 13" x 9" x 2" baking pan, cover it with a towel and set it in a warm place to rise.

15. Let it rise until it's double in bulk. This took about 1 1/2 hours.
 16. Heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes or until lightly browned.

 17. While the rolls are baking, make the glaze. In a small bowl, mix the melted butter, powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla until smooth.
18. Remove the rolls from the oven and set the pan on a wire rack to cool. Spread with glaze.

Eat or freeze. 

I'm freezing mine in the pan. I'll thaw them and reheat them in a warm oven next Tuesday.
They'll be fresh and lovely for our party dinner. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Easy Machine Stitching Techniques for Applique

I have always loved applique, and I've spent most of my sewing life looking at applique with envy.

I mean, just look at this antique quilt. My gosh, thousands of tiny hand stitched pieces!  

I have a friend who does hand applique. Her stitches are so tiny and so perfect that I watch her in awe. I've tried over and over to imitate how she sews, but the ability to produce tiny, even stitching still eludes me. 

Tiny, neat stitches? Totally impossible!
I can't even get blanket stitches to come out even when I try to sew them by hand.

It took a long time and a new sewing machine before I figured out how to stitch appliques in place with the sewing machine. A few years ago I traded my limping1980 sewing in for a new one. The poor old gal was spending more time in the shop than in my house. I found a lovely little machine that I could use for free-motion quilting. The zigzag stitches on the new machine were not only more flexible, but there was a much larger variety of stitch options.  I suddenly found that I could applique with my sewing machine! Wow! One little project and I was completely addicted!

My "fancy", new machine - nothing at all like the 1980 machine.
It's perfect for applique and for free motion quilting, but nothing will ever  convince me
to part with  the reliable  1952 Singer  201 that I use for straight stitching. 

These are my three favorite techniques for machine applique stitching ... so far
(New tricks will come. I'm sure of it.)

Blanket stitch. This is the stitch I use most often. 

Sometimes I use a dark color thread that imitates vintage hand applique beautifully. 
And the stitches come out even every time!
Elephant Walk Bib and Burp Cloth

More often, though I'll match the thread color to the fabric piece. 
It doesn't disappear, but it's very subtle and well camouflaged.

Detail from "New Toys"

Zigzag stitch. I've learned more and more about how to use zigzag stitching this past year. In the past few months I've figured out that narrow, very tiny zigzags, almost a satin stitch, work best for me.
I use zigzag stitching for all of the silhouettes.

Detail from "February Valentines" mug rugs

The same zigzag stitch is the best way to attach slippery, satin appliques that might 
otherwise unravel easily when laundered.

Satin ears nose and tail from "Doggy in the Window" baby blanket

Raw edge applique.  This is a straight stitch that secures the applique in place on the background, and, as the name implies, the cut edges are left raw. Eventually, those edges will fray a bit, and that fraying will add a different artistic touch to the piece. Flowers and leaves, for example, will look even more realistic. I've used two different raw edge techniques on mug rugs this year.

a. The first technique uses raw stitch applique close to the outside edges of the applique. I could have used matching thread for these pieces, but since there were so many colors involved I chose invisible polyester thread instead. This saved me from having to change thread every few minutes. The pieces were first attached with fusible web, then stitched close to the cut edge. 

Detail from "Pansies" in the "Baskets for Mom" mug rug trio

b. Sometimes the pieces are so very small that another approach is needed. I used another raw edge technique when attaching flowers and leaves to my March House and April House quilts..

An unmarked section of fusible web was first ironed onto the wrong side of the chosen applique fabric. The paper was removed, turned over, and fused to the wrong side of a second piece of the same  fabric. Now, the fusible web was sandwiched between two pieces of applique fabric. The flower and leaf shapes were then traced directly onto one side of the sandwiched fabric and cut out. Pieces were reversible.

A few stitches made by machine or by hand will secure the appliques to the background fabric. In this photo you see both machine stitches and french knots used for that purpose. With this technique, the pieces become three dimensional, and add wonderful texture to the project.

Detail from "March House" mug rug

I hope you take the time to experiment with several of these techniques. They are each unique, and each is quite lovely in its own way.

Happy Stitching!