Thursday, May 31, 2012

Tell Me About Yourself!

I would love to know about you! Please leave me a comment and let me know how you got here and what you think! I'm dying for a comment (my Mom doesn't read this blog, so I haven't gotten one yet). Oh, and please come back soon!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Does Fabric Really Fade in the Sun?

Before one year of sun exposure

This is a little birdie pincushion I made from recycled wool at Sew Biz Quilt Camp last summer. He's been sitting in the window of my sewing cottage for almost a year now. From inside, he looks just fine.

After one year of sun exposure

But the side that's been in the sun looks like this:

Even the rick-rack trim faded! Not to mention the vintage thread spool he's mounted on...

So, why does fabric fade in the sun?

Here are some interesting links:

Teachers answer a student's question at NEWTON. explains how the moisture in fabrics reacts with the atmosphere to create a bleaching effect.

WikiHow shows how to use the process to your advantage with a technique for fading t-shirts to give them a vintage look!

I believe now from first-hand experience that the folks who are advising us to keep our quilts out of the direct sunlight know what they're talking about!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tuesday Tips: How to Get a Human Customer Service Agent on the Phone

I believe it's a fundamental responsibility of every company to answer their phone! But since they never do, the consumer is faced with trying to figure out how to reach a real, live, human person with whom to discuss the customer service issue of the moment. Some companies make it difficult for us to even find their phone numbers. Ironically, among the most difficult are the communications companies!

I've Got Your Number

Several websites are dedicated to helping us find the phone numbers we need and circumvent these frustrating systems that keep us pressing buttons with no results until we just give up:

While I haven't used any of these myself, they are consistently mentioned in books and articles on the subject, and they sound worth a try.

Is Anybody Home?

If all else fails, you might be able to confuse the system into thinking you are unable to jump through its hoops for one reason or another. I have successfully used all of the following tactics:

  • Press "0" repeatedly. This might possibly get you an operator, but don't hold your breath.
  • Press every button on the phone, in no particular order. This also could confuse the system and get you an operator. Again, don't hold your breath. 
  • Don't say anything or press any buttons. The evil system might think you are using a rotary phone (if anyone but my father-in-law still has one), or don't understand what to do. 
  • Speak gibberish. If it can't understand what you want, it might transfer you. I have also read that if you talk to it in Spanish, you stand a chance of being transferred to a bi-lingual operator. 
  • Select the "set up new service" or "speak to a sales representative" option. They tend to pay more attention to a potential new customer than an existing, disgruntled one.
  • Select the "cancel service" option or say "retention department". If the company has a retention department, it's where you'll find agents trained specifically to keep you from withdrawing your business. If you are lucky enough to get one of them on the line, they are usually among the most experienced, pleasant and professional agents, and are authorized to do whatever it takes (within reason) to resolve your problem. 
  • And my personal favorite: If all else fails, curse! I once lost my temper while pressing buttons and accidentally let loose a long stream of obscenities. I was immediately transferred to a very helpful agent who solved my problem promptly and politely. Honest! Since then, this trick has worked for me on several other occasions. I think the automated systems are actually programmed to recognize certain words. Please understand that I am not advocating the use of abusive language when talking to a real person, but if it helps you get one to talk to, I don't see the harm. One source also thought that mentioning the name of a competitor might be helpful, since it's possible that the computer is trained to pick up on your background conversations.
Later on, maybe we can discuss how to get results once you have finally reached a real, live customer service agent. But for now, I hope this helps!

ClipArt from Designed to a T

Monday, May 28, 2012

Happy Memorial Day!

Since I don't have anything incredibly inspiring to say about Memorial Day, but wish to recognize it, I am linking you to the Huffington Post, where they have published their list of 15 Memorial Day Quotes

While I do truly appreciate all the sacrifices (large and small) made by the people who defend our country, my heart on this day is with the parents, children and spouses who have lost beloved family members in military service. To me, this is the ultimate sacrifice. The families I know who have suffered this type of loss have done so with great pride and without visible expressions of bitterness. These are the people who are on my mind today. If you are one of them, I know today is about remembering fallen heroes, but you are a hero, too. Thank you! 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Tuesday Tips: Sweet & Sticky

Sweet Ideas: 

 Sticky Situations:

  • To remove sticky stuff from your iron's soleplate, try ironing over a used dryer sheet using your lowest setting. This works great for residue from accidentally ironing plastic bags, fusible web or interfacing used in sewing, or plastic buttons (not that I would ever do any of those things). I imagine it would work on almost any melty thing you might get into! 
  • 25 Ways to Remove Sticky Adhesive. Our family favorite is #22, Goo Gone. We prefer the gel formula. I have even used it to remove adhesive stickers from vintage paper cook-booklets with minimal damage. Just be patient and let the chemical do it's job before trying to peel the sticker off!

Sweet & Sticky:

If your honey has turned into a solid, unspoonable chunk in its container, you can safely decrystallize it using this method. Now, I know people (I'm not saying who...) who heat it in the microwave on medium power for maybe 15-30 seconds at a time, watching very carefully that's it's not getting too hot, but the experts seem to think the hot water method is best.

Photo credit:

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sewing Room Sunday: Storage Basket Makeover

View of sewing cottage from back door
Since I usually spend a lot of my weekend in my sewing room (cottage, really, out in the backyard), it makes sense for my Sunday night posts to be about what's going on up there. I say "up there" because it's up the hill a bit.
My friend and sewing student, Allison, thought you'd like to see how I dressed up my plain white plastic storage baskets to blend in with my sewing room decor. We had these containers left over when we bought new wicker ones for our bathroom linen closet. They fit nicely on my bookshelves, so I used them plain for awhile, to hold my smaller scraps. But the white really stuck out and bored me. So one night I cut some 2.5" strips from a fabric I had in two different colorways. Then I calculated the strip length required to thread one continuous strip through all three rows of holes. I sewed enough strips together, end to end, for each basket, alternating colors. I angled the seams (out of habit) like you would for quilt binding (instructions here from Heather Bailey's website), but I think a straight seam would've worked just fine.
Inside view of scrap basket
After threading the strip through (top to bottom), making sure the outside corners looked neat, I tied the beginning and end together inside the basket. Not an extremely neat finish, but good enough for the inside of a scrap basket. If you come up with a better idea, please comment! 
There's no before picture, but I think they look pretty good now! I did a larger-size basket (also retired from service in my bathroom) for my daughter's under-sink cabinet some of the colorful organdy ribbons I'd saved from gifts and packaging. These projects used only items we had on hand. I love finding new uses for items we already own! 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Reusing Baggies

We use at least five or six zip-top sandwich bags for packing apple slices and other items in our lunches each weekday. Mabzie buys snacks like animal crackers and packages them into her own "100 calorie packs". I know baggies are meant to be disposable- but why? They are so reusable I just can't bring myself to throw them away (unless they are really dirty, sticky or greasy).   

I'm not especially environmentally conscious, but I can't see disposing of plastic goods that can simply be rinsed and used again over and over! Shown at the left are the reusable sandwich containers we use daily- better than baggies because your sandwich doesn't get squished and your baggie doesn't get all peanut-buttery or mayonnaise-y (those would be the ones I'd just throw away).

I wash them whenever I have a few things to do by hand.. There are a few drying upside down right behind the Pyrex measuring cup in the image above. If they just have crumbs in them, I just rinse and dry. We are only on our second 100-count box this school year, instead of the box a month or more we used to use. It's not much trouble at all- I really think it's worth it. And you have to buy the fancy brand for them to last through many uses- we buy Walmart's Great Value.

We have almost eliminated disposables from our grocery list. We do buy paper napkins (we also use cloth when we're not being too messy) and paper towels (for cleaning windows and the stove top). And we keep a few paper plates and plastic ups on hand for picnics (I rinse out the cups and bring them home). I asked my husband and daughter if they could think of any other disposable goods we use and they both replied "toilet paper".  My daughter added feminine products to the list. I know there are alternatives to both that can be washed and reused, but I feel safe in saying to you that we will never be taking the elimination of disposables quite that far!

Updated May 20, 2012
Some other views and articles on the subject:

What's interesting, too, is that some of these folks did it in the dishwasher... and it worked. Why didn't I think of that?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Quilt Challenge!

I picked up my "quilt challenge" packet at Sew Biz this week. You can read a little about the challenge here. The quilts will be displayed and judged at the New River Valley Fair in July. 

Northcott Fabrics provided four fat quarters and Sew Biz added 6" bee-theme strip (the fair mascot, apparently, is a bee).

The rules are basically these:
  1. Must use 50% of provided fabric. May add as many other fabrics as desired. I'm not sure whether that means 50% total or 50% of each.
  2. Size: Between 24"x24" and 30"x30".
  3. Wrong side of fabric may be used, but over-dying is not allowed.
I'm fuzzy on whether the bee fabric is included in the challenge or whether it was just pretty packaging. But I like it and will probably work it in.

What makes this a challenge appears to be that the red poppy floral is from the same line, but a different color-way! Good luck with that red, right? I have a few ideas, but none too compelling yet...

My 13-year-old wonders how I'm planning to finish a two-foot-square quilt by July when I still haven't finished her baby quilt! I guess that's another challenge altogether.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Weight Loss Lip Gloss

MABZIE: Mommy, there's this new lip gloss that helps you lose weight! (holding up Elmer's Glue Stick and laughing) 

ME: (thinking about blogging this while waiting for her piano lesson to end, deciding to shoot this photo in the car,using my wallet and a spiral notebook as a background, open lipstick rolling all over the place)
Clearly, my advertising experience wasn't in photography!       

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Mother's Day

Just a quote for you today:
"Of all the rights of women, 
the greatest is to be a mother."
Lin Yutang

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Make Your Own: Bike Basket

Mabzie wanted a Nantucket-style bike basket. So, the other day I found this cute basket for $1.98 at the Y Thrift Shop. It said to me "I would make a great bike basket, take me home", so I did!

Today we got out our Minwax pecan stain and spray polyurethane*. I snipped off the top handle, Mabz stained and her Daddy sprayed. It stained quite a bit darker than the photo shows- the sun was very bright! Then we mounted it to the front of her bike with wire ties. Ta-da! 

It feels good to make your own lower-cost alternative to an expensive product (and to teach a young person how to improvise).

*We saved $33 plus shipping compared to purchasing the advertised basket. The Minwax products would've added around $10 to the project if we hadn't had them on hand.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Whole Package

Mabz was on a budget for her friend's birthday, since she was invited to four birthday parties this month! She chose the cutest little pink and blue polka dot cosmetic bag and filled it with a matching manicure kit and two coordinating nail polishes. The birthday girl is sure to love it! Then, she wrapped it like we always do:

  • She chose a gift bag from our stash. Some are from gifts we have received. This one was a shopping bag from Bare Escentuals.
  • She covered the logos on the front and back with striped cardstock from her art supplies made it into a sticker with her Xyron sticker maker. (I usually just gluestick it on- the refills for that little gadget aren't cheap!)
  • She found pink and blue polka dot tissue paper, also from our stash of recycled wrappings. Unbelievable that it matched the gift so perfectly!
  • She made a card and envelope from coordinating cardstock.
Another inexpensive alternative is the selection of cheerful gift bags offered at Dollar Tree for- you guessed it- $1 each. They also have helium-inflated balloons. And their greeting cards are two for $1, but I still like the homemade ones best!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Flammable Foods

Does anyone think it's at all funny that the day after I posted about burning my rice, I received a newsletter from my insurance company including (just what I needed) - an article listing six flammable foods? Has anyone ever even heard of deep-frying stuffed peppers? I was raised in the South and all, where everything is fried, but really?

New Scrap Management System

I'm heading up to my cottage now to work on my scrap bins. I've been reading a lot of articles about different quilters' "scrap management systems" and have combined a few to create one that I think will work for me. So I've been rotary cutting up a storm for a couple of hours each evening this week. As soon as there's enough progress to show you, I'll post more about it.

Monday, May 7, 2012

A Burning Question...

I wasn't planning to post again today, but this topic just happened to come up tonight in my kitchen!

Q: If I burn my rice or sauce, is there any way to save it?
A: Maybe.

Here's how:
Turn off the heat-immediately. 
Resist the urge to stir! (This is the key.)
Let it cool so that most of the burnt stuff sticks to the bottom of the pan. (It will anyway.)
Taste it from the top to see if it tastes scorched. If it does, throw it away. There's nothing you can do.
If it doesn't, spoon it out carefully from the top. Do NOT scoop down to the bottom. Your objective is to transfer all the good-tasting food into another container, leaving the icky mess in the pan. If it's rice, it's probably fully cooked by the time it burns, but if it's a sauce, and it's not done yet, just continue cooking it in a fresh saucepan.
See, it worked for me!

Q: Is there an easy way to clean the scorched pan?
A: No. Soak it in soapy water overnight and scrub like h-e-double-toothpicks in the morning.

I hope you weren't expecting two miracles in one post!

Woven Measuring Tape Fabric

I was supposed to be helping my daughter pick out a birthday gift for a friend at Walmart when I accidentally wandered into the fabric department (I'm not a fabric snob). Can I help it if the fabric is right next to the toys? Then, somehow the girl at the cutting table got the impression that I wanted her to cut me a half-yard, so I had to buy it, even though I am supposed to be sewing up what I already own first. And now I have to figure out what to do with it, I guess. 

How about a sewing tool roll, like I make for my husband's wrenches? Or a sewing apron? Or another tote? Maybe a "dumpling bag"... Eighteen inches is enough to make a few small items, even. Oh, sew many possibilities!

Maybe I'll challenge myself to see how many different things I could make with this adorable  sewing-themed fabric. Yeah, that's it...

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Lemon Balm, A Lazy Cat, Butterflies

Milburn Takes a Nap!
I thought the plant on the left, Lemon Balm, which smells like lemon dish liquid when you rub the leaves, was just for looks- until my husband asked if you could eat it. It turns out you can not only eat it, but make tea out of it. I can't wait to try some! The one next to it is Lamb's Ear, but we call it "bunny ears". It's a fun little plant, too, but you can't eat it!

In addition to the beautiful white blooms on our Red-Tips this week, there were hundreds of these colorful butterflies!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Ten Minute Table Runners

We made these fun and fast "Ten Minute Table Runners" at our quilt guild meeting Tuesday night! 
Pictured here (left to right) are Janice, Kay, Judy, Gisela, Karin, Christina, me, Sandy (who taught us the technique) and Kate, with our runners on the table in front of us. Two of the runners pictured weren't quite finished due to a back-up at the ironing boards, but I'm counting it as nine finishes! I think we had more, but they must've slipped out the door before picture time.

Get free instructions here from Sweet Home Quilt Company or here at RGA Design Quilts (this one includes a "Twelve Minute Gift Wrap Bag). 

While it took us a little over an hour to nearly complete these nine runners with six sewing machines, including instruction time, chatting, waiting for irons, chatting, ironing, chatting, posing for pictures, and chatting...oh, and a bit of seam ripping from sewing a seam wrong (OK, maybe that was just me)... I believe that now I could actually make one of these in somewhere close to ten minutes (maybe fifteen)! They would be great for decorating holiday tables at a group banquet or pot-luck dinner. You could even give the centerpieces away as door prizes!

Here's a close-up of mine, completed last night with embellishments from my button jar. Kate cleverly plans to applique on the triangle ends of hers. Tassels could also be sewn onto the points.  

Any project completed within 24 hours counts as a success in my book!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Taming the Scrap Bin(s): Part 2

Another Scrap Quilt!

Since I had so much fun digging through my scrap bins in Part 1 of Taming the Scrap Bins (and since I never finish a quilt without starting another one first), I dug out a bunch of "strings"  (anything at least 6" long and no wider than 2" or so) and some used dryer sheets to use as a foundation, and started this. Like my "bricks" quilt, every scrap has a memory attached to it. While sewing the strips onto the dryer sheets, I grabbed strings from the pile totally at random, making sure only that I was using a variety of widths and that no fabric was repeated within a sheet. The strings didn't all have straight, parallel edges- so it's a little "wonky", which I like. This is such a liberating exercise- you should try it!

Once each sheet was full, I trimmed it to 6" wide and straightened the top and bottom edges so they can be sewn together in long strips (as shown above) later. Right now I have no idea how big this thing is going to be, but I am thinking about sashing between the strips in a color that will bring all the scraps together, and some kind of scrappy border at the top and bottom instead of all the way around.

For this and the "bricks" quilt, I plan to piece a backing out of fabrics left over from many years of projects. I'm not too worried about having all those seams in the backing, since I will probably just machine quilt it in a large meandering pattern. Wish me luck- I'll let you know how it turns out!