Well, preschool is over for Ely. He’ll go to the Summer session for one week in June and one week in July, but other than that he is home full time with me. I’m rather excited about this, because I missed him a lot this year. I spent a ton of time with Agnes, and I’m grateful I could devote so many hours of my day solely to her in her first year. But, I dearly missed doing all the stuff we used to do every week – storytime, playground time, puppet shows, playdates, and going to the Y – with Ely.
The last day of school ended with an evening picnic. I brought my family’s most favorite sandwich – brie, apple, and basil on a baguette – as our food contribution and I almost missed out on getting one. Of course, it isn’t truly the end of the school year without worrying about teacher gifts.
I decided (sort of at the last minute) to make tote bags from Last-Minute Patchwork + Quilted Gifts for the two classroom teachers. I had the exteriors already pieced and sewn from good intentions last year, so all I had to do was make the straps and interiors. Of course I love to make something quick and simple much harder, so I decided to embroider each teacher’s name on the outside of the bag. I was supposed to finish the bags up Wednesday evening, but instead spent those hours with my needle and floss and had to play hooky from work the next day to finish. I hope my husband (aka the boss) doesn’t read this blog…
When I make tote bags, I like to use canvas or linen or a decor weight fabric for either the interior, the exterior, or both. I chose quilting cotton for the exterior because I wanted bright colors and big patterns, and had a lovely matching brown linen in the stash for the interior. Now, I’ve used linen for bags many times before, but I had the most difficult time with this linen. No matter how many times I trued up my piece, the folded line was not straight and the cut edges seemed to turn wavy as soon as I lifted the ruler. I decided to ignore it, and figured it wouldn’t matter too much if the inside was a little wonky. It baffled me, and I wonder if it was because the linen was a looser weave than some of the other stuff I’ve used in the past?
At the beginning of last Summer, my husband got a few sprigs of mint with roots from his mother and planted them so we’d have our own mint patch. Since mint grows very enthusiastically (to put it mildly), We chose an ugly and unused long strip of grass between our ugly driveway and even uglier backyard fence. My husband is a true Southerner – he was born in the South, grew up in the South, and comes from many generations on both sides of Southern born and bred people. While I often call myself a Southerner, it’s only because my parents moved here right before I was born. My husband’s favorite beverage is fruit tea, also frequently known as tea punch. There are a few food and beverages unique to the part of the South we live in – one is hot chicken, the other is meat and 3, and the last one is tea punch. While you may find these three in other parts of the South, you don’t find them with the same frequency and intensity as you do here. I am a huge fan of all three, but while I only eat hot chicken at Prince’s and meat and 3s at Arnold’s, I will make fruit tea at home.
The auction for Ely’s preschool was over a week ago, but I didn’t have a chance to write about the quilt before I jetted off to Chicago. There are 3 classrooms at Ely’s school, and the classroom projects for the auction are a big deal. Each classroom paints a large canvas with the art teacher, but the room parents are responsible for coming up with the idea and implementing the other project. I’m not a room parent, but I’m “creative” which means I get roped into helping with anything that needs some artistic oversight. I actually didn’t mind helping at all. Right after college, I taught elementary school art and when I lived in Texas, I taught adult knitting classes. Some days I really miss being in some sort of classroom and watching children (and adults) explore the world through art.
The auction always benefits the school’s scholarship fund, but this year the auction also raised money for the upcoming playground renovation. Instead of the classroom projects being a free-for-all, we were told they needed to have an outdoors theme. Somehow we came up with the idea of a picnic, and decided to put together a family picnic kit. We got a wicker picnic basket with plates and silverware, and bought games, bubbles, kites, an insect cage, and other fun outside activities. To house the diversions, the children decorated the outside of a sturdy canvas bag with a bug and flower scene using their fingerprints and a little inspiration from Ed Emberley. And because sometimes picnics have to happen indoors, the children decorated a cookie jar the same way, so the indoor picnic could have some special treats too. I volunteered to sew some napkins and a picnic quilt, because it can’t be a picnic without a quilt.
I based my quilt off of Erin’s picnic blanket, though I made my squares a little bigger and I left off the rock pockets. I was going to make a rectangular quilt, but once I laid out 16 squares I thought it looked plenty big to fit a family. I kept the colors non gender specific, which was a good excuse for me to use a lot of orange. I was able to pull a few appropriate polka dot prints out of my stash, and added some solids, small prints, and other polka dot-like fabrics to create the top. Amy Butler, Denyse Schmidt and Anna Maria Horner all had some wonderful fabrics that worked so well together in the top. The quilt top was easy enough to assemble, and the back was just two pieces of the same sky blue kona cotton solid. I decided to quilt in the ditch to give the quilt a little more stability and durability, since the quilt was going to live at someone else’s house, and I didn’t want to worry about it disintegrating in the wash. I tied the centers of the squares with orange embroidery floss. The quilting part drove me batty. For some reason, I’m having a lot of trouble lately with my fabric shifting as I quilt. I don’t know if I’m not stretching the backing tight enough, or not using enough safety pins, or if it is something with my machine but it made the quilting part very slow and frustrating. It took me twice as long to quilt the whole thing as I thought it would take me. I used my favorite Denyse Schmidt orange print for the binding (it was also one of the few fabrics I had enough yardage of) and sewed it on using a large zig zag stitch. I thought the decorative stitch was a nice detail, but on the back side the edges lifted up too much, so you could see the line of thread where I attached the binding on in the first place. That bugged me enough to sew all the way around the quilt edge again with a straight stitch to keep the binding edge tacked down on the back.
Of course I still wasn’t finished once the binding was complete. We had decided the quilt needed to be personalized by the children some way, and the easiest way to do that was to make a label for the back. Using a Micron pen, the teachers and each child wrote their name on the label. There were a few reluctant children, so we had them draw a small picture and we wrote their name by their picture. At the very top, I wrote the name of the school, classroom, year, and city and wrote made by my name at the very bottom. As you can imagine, this label ended up on the large side. By time twenty-two 3, 4, and 5 year olds wrote their names, the label was 10×12 inches. I was able to cut a small amount off, but I decided to add an orange border to finish off the label and separate it from the backing as I used the same fabric for both. I was a little worried about how well the label was going to adhere to the backing, and I wished I had sewn it on before quilting or had even pieced it into the backing. Then, I came across a great method for making and attaching a label in Last-Minute Patchwork + Quilted Gifts by Joelle Hoverson. Joelle uses a lightweight fusible interfacing sewn on top of the label with the fusible side facing the label’s right side. Once you’ve sewn all around the label/interfacing, cut a small hole in the interfacing, trim the corners off and turn the whole thing right side out. Next, punch out the corners, center the label, press with an iron, and you have a patch that is completely adhered to the quilt! You still have to tack down the edges with a blindstitch, but I felt so much better knowing the center was attached too. I thought this was a great way for making labels, and I know I’m going to use this same method again in the future.
As for the napkins, I more or less used Heather Ross’s napkin pattern in Weekend Sewing with a zig zag stitch around the edges to sew the opening closed (I liked how the zig zag stitch also matched the zig zag on the quilt binding). By the time I finished the quilt, I wanted to forget about the napkins, but I already had most of the squares cut as they were rejects from the quilt top so I plugged along and finished them the night before the auction.
When the whole project was put together – basket, canvas bag, cookie jar, napkins, and quilt – it looked fantastic! Each little part made the whole picnic set colorful and whimsical and personal. I liked how we included so much of the children in our project, from their fingerprints to their sweet signatures in their own handwriting. The picnic set brought a lot of money, and a special little girl is now the owner of my quilt and all the other picnic items.
I spent the weekend in Chicago with 17 girl friends and 2 babies. We’ve been friends for over 8 years since we met (thanks to this woman) online while planning our weddings. Many of us have met in real life, but this was the first large gathering of our group. None of us could figure out why it took us 8 years to have a get together. We stayed in three condos right on Lake Michigan and spent the weekend hanging out, talking, laughing, eating, drinking, taking photos, missing the friends who couldn’t be there, throwing a blessingway for our two pregnant friends, nursing babies, pumping breastmilk, reading trashy magazines with a little walking thrown in just so we wouldn’t feel like complete sloths. Not much sleeping happened and we were amazed no one peed in their pants with the high level of laughing, as just about all of us have one or more children.