Wednesday, April 17, 2013

SEWN WE CAN DO IT! Sampler Quilt

My mom, Kat, has decided to finally given in to my urging and start quilting. Or, at least give it a try. She had a rough first quilt. Stretchy flannel and intricate piecing. Not a good mix. 

So, we are both doing the Sewn Skill Builder offered by Sewn by Leila. I can use a lot more practice on accuracy as I tend to fly by the seat of my pants and rarely do 'traditional' quilts. So, I'm going to take a contemporary/modern eye to fabric choices to bring the traditional sampler into a more modern aesthetic. I'm by no mean the first to do this...loads of folks have have posted pictures right in this vein. 

I'm also going to be adding in a few Farmer's Wife blocks or other 6" blocks that I just like. I really like the design of a central medallion/star with a round of 6" blocks and round of 12" blocks. Here is the quilt that inspired me for the layout. We will see if, in fact, I can make enough little block to get this to work. 

I'm also going to be borrowing a few blocks from the Summer Sampler Series from Fresh Lemons. I really like the challenge of some of those and don't really intend to do a few of the applique blocks from Sewn by Leila. I've done enough applique to know that it is not for me.

So, here are the primary fabrics I'll be using. I don't know the names of these, so hope I bought enough! I bought about 2 - 2.5 yards of each. I'm adding a few fabrics from my "stash" to add some deeper green and some other tones. 

I've made a few blocks. Clearly, I need more work on the precision portion of this. The meeting points of the HSTs still need more work.

Block 1: Four Patch

Block 2: Log Cabin

Thanks to blog-land, I have now tried three different HST methods. All have pluses and minuses. I won't cover that all here, since others have. But, I have to say there are good and bad parts of each of them.
Block 3 - Churn Dash

Here is what Block 5, Arizona, should not look like. I should not try to piece blocks at 11 pm after very little sleep. I made all the HSTs and then, in a moment of exhausted silliness, cut them all the the finished size. Then, I did not figure that out until it was all too late. And I put the pieces in the wrong places. So, I need to remake this one. I just could not face it yet.

But, here is one of the blocks I made from the Summer Sampler Series. I feel like I may have redeemed myself with this one.Nicely matching points with lots of the right kind of color variation.  

Lucky Pieces, July 27


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Bacon Wrapped Shrimp

People often use scallops to wrap in bacon. But, scallops are a bit more fussy to cook and wrap. They are also really expensive in the larger sizes. I used shrimp. Don't skimp on the size of the shrimp. They need to be big enough to grab and work with.  Size 21-30 was the size I used, but colossal or other large sizes are also good. 

Bacon Wrapped Shrimp
1 large package Boar's Head Bacon (16 oz). You want a good-quality bacon that has a nice flavor.
2 lbs - 21-30 count shrimp (raw, uncooked. I like to leave the tail on)
wood tooth-picks

Clean shrimp. In my case, I use de-veined with tail on. So, I remove the carapace (body armor) and legs, but leave the tail intact. The tail gives people something to hold onto! Rinse shrimp in cold water and let drain on a paper-towel. {sprinkle with your chosen spices if you elect to add them}

In a microwave, half-cook the bacon. You want it totally flexible but partially cooked. So, experiment with your particular microwave. By half-cooking the bacon, you'll ensure that you don't overcook the fast-cooking shrimp. From this point on, work quickly since the bacon is languishing in the "food danger zone."

Turn grill on high (aiming to 400F).

Wrap each shrimp in a piece of bacon. Whenever possible, cut the bacon lengthwise with kitchen scissors and use narrow strips. Using a wood toothpick, secure the bacon. It works well if you use an in-an-out motion as if you were sewing. Set the wrapped shrimp aside. 

If you have an assistant, they can start cooking the shrimp. At this point, ignore the bacon. The only concern during cooking on the grill is to time the cooking to ensure that the shrimp is cooked properly. Gill on one side until they just start to turn color.Flip and finish cooking. They should be removed from the grill before they are totally done. It takes about 4-6 minutes in total, once your grill is up to temperature. Remove from heat. Serve warm.

*a note on food safety. You are working with raw pork and fish, then partially cooked pork. Work quickly and keep the cold stuff cold until needed. If you are working in a warm climate (or very warm kitchen), keep the shrimp iced until wrapped. Quickly cook the shrimp in smaller batches so the wrapped-bacon does not linger in the 'food danger zone'.  Also, I would tend NOT to re-heat unused shrimp, rather use is cold. 

**There are tons of recipes that include cheese, jalapenos, asian spices, garlic-ginger marinade  and every other taste option. These are probably lovely. I was making these with my 3-year old son in mind, so avoided some of the stronger flavors. But, experiment and make these your own.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Childhood Christmas Memories, Fried Bow-tie Cookies

For every person, there is something that their mother or grandmother made for the holidays that they still think about. It is "the" part of the meal that you look forward to. It is the taste, smell and texture of the holidays. In my family, we would all gather in the kitchen (after working all day at the bakery) and cook for the holiday. That one food that is the Christmas season, to me, are pinolata cookies. These are simple cookies that are deep fried and then drenched in honey. They are crispy and drenched in honey. Did I mentioned drenched in honey?

In the north of italy they make towers of balls called Stroffoli. In Sicily, from where my peeps hail, they make bow-ties, called crostoli in Naples. In my family, they are called pin-ya-lat. The base ingredients are so simple: flour, baking powder, eggs, salt. That is it.  Some families add wine, lemon zest, and vermouth. In my family, not such adornment was used. The most humble of ingredients made the base of my childhood memory.

Once I was diagnosed as a celiac, my mom and I tried to make these using rice flour. They were an utter, gritty failure. We tried again and again, all were total failures. We tried using fancy binding ingredients and bean flours. All awful  Eventually, we stopped trying and accepted that, perhaps, they could not be made GF. After a 15 year hiatus, I decided to try again. I've learned so much about gluten free cooking. I now know that you can't simply replace flour with rice flour. Nope, it takes some blending and chemistry. Also, I also know that you must, must use superfine flours in baking.

Here is my recent version. I think they are successful, but the true test will be from my mom. I stuck very close to my grandmother's ingredients, but changed the flour to GF and added just a tiny bit of sugar to the dough. The honey that will be served over these will be sweet enough, but I wanted to slightly mask the rice taste.

Pinolata Cookies

flours (follow Glutenfree Girl and the Chef's guidance on making 40/60 flour to starch, all purpose guidance)
3/4 c superfine brown rice flour (this MUST be superfine)
1/2 c tapioca starch (or flour, same thing)
3/4 c sweet rice flour 

2 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. salt
2 tsp. sugar
3 eggs
1 T butter (melted, but not too hot)
peanut oil (for frying)

Instructions Sift together the brown rice flour, tapioca starch, sweet rice flour, baking powder and salt in a separate bowl. In food processor, place the 3 eggs. Mix for about 2 minutes. Drizzle in butter and sugar.  Add the dry stuff and mix some more. The dough will form a nice, smooth textured ball. Just at all looking like gluten-containing flour. This is correct. Do not thin the dough to make is look like normal GF dough.

Cut the ball into 8-10 equal pieces. Keep covered with a clean towel. Place a ball between two sheet of parchment paper. Roll to paper-thin consistency. Really, super thin. Take off upper sheet of parchment paper and then slice into 1 1/4 inch wide strips, no more than 4 in long. They don't have to be exact. 
Use a thin, sharp knife to release each strip. Use thumb and pointer finger to squish the center, gently, to form a bow-tie. Stack them up and keep them covered with a towel. 

In the meantime, heat peanut oil to 350 F. Once Add bow-ties to oil 3-4 at a time. Fry 15 to 30 seconds, or until golden or lightly browned; turn. Using tongs remove first stripes. Drain over skillet, then drain completely on paper towels. Continue with rest of the bow ties cooking 3-4 at a time. 

 Store in tightly covered container up to 3 weeks

Honey Topping (TBD) - I'm still waiting for details from my mom!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Kite Quilt

My hubby resurrected one of our older computers so that we'd have a working one at home. All drives from our old machine have been saved, so we didn't lose anything. Whew. 

My 2-year old and I have had a rotten cold. We are both on the mend, so hopefully I'm back on a weekly posting schedule. 

free-pieced kites
I've been working on a "scrap" kite quilt. I use the word gently. I'm tend to prefer more contemporary quilts with less of a scrappy look. However, I've been cutting my scraps into fixed sizes, so finally had enough to do something. I'm not sure why, but I decided to do a kite quilt. This will live in our living room and will be one of the only quilts, to date, that I've made explicitly for us. 

After perusing photos online, I free-pieced a bunch of kites. These are on my informal design door (a unused curtain tucked over the top of my door). There are a few more. These range from totally free pieced and then cut to size (like the trapezoid in the bottom left) to log-cabin style kites (two in the upper right). I also experimented with other shapes . This was a lot of fun and totally doable while my son and husband were in the same room watching truck videos (my son's current obsession). 
background for kite quilt on design wall

After making a bunch of these, trying to vary the sizes, I had to decide on a background. I thought straight lines would be busy and too boring with this approach. So, I went with large blocks of curved fabrics in tonals that range from medium to light in the "sky" of the quilt. Here is the background on my larger design wall. This is just a piece of white flannel hanging from a set of Elfa shelves. I have a plan to make a better one, but this is fine for now. There is still a gap between the blue sky and the green ground. Since I will be directly piecing these curves, rather than applique, I wanted to get the bulk of the background sewn before I fill in that last curved area. Not sure if it will be sky or ground yet.  

I learned the basic method of curve sewing from Alicia Merrett's videos on YouTube entitled "Contemporary Art Quilt Demonstration (3 parts). Her videos are amazingly clear and her work is stunning. Here is the first of her three videos. 

I've used this method on a number of projects. Batiks are a bit more resistant to ease the curves, but it is still totally achievable. It just takes a bit of patience. I'd recommend starting on non-batiks.

Take a look at Sew What You Love a great sewing book of fun projects. Author is Tanya Whelan of Grand Revival Design. Great photos and instructions. Lots of bags and little kid clothes.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Technical issues...

Hi everyone. Our home computer died unexpectedly. So, I have not been able to write any posts. I'll be back as soon as I can.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Working on a Tutorial....Busy this week

In between naps (the baby's naps...not mine..oh...for the time to nap) and work, I've been working on a tutorial for a block with paper-piecing, circles, and reverse (or traditional) applique. The design is still working it's way through my mind, but I hope to have it up next month.  I'm pretty busy this week between planning a friend's baby shower and my mom visiting. Keep posted any of you that are peaking at my pages. I had a high of 100 views in one day! Wow! 

Monday, January 30, 2012

"Free Motion Madness" Taught by Diane Loomis

If you have never heard of Diane Loomis, I can't recommend finding out about her work enough...and, click to look at her stuff up close. You will be amazed. In her showpiece quilts, some of the free motion designs are pea-sized circles. And they are all perfect circles. I mean OMG!!

Diane Loomis tracing a stencil with fabric marker to demonstrate
doing so without a pounce/chalk option. She explained that we could
use all or only a part of the design. Sorry about the bad lighting Diane!
Diane taught a class at Wayside Sewing. Day 1, we arrived on a Friday night at 6 pm and worked until 10 pm. The bulk of the time was spent on "learning" the basics. The class participants ranged from total novices to old pros. I fell somewhere in the middle skill-wise. Much of the beginning material she covered was pretty standard quilting stuff. But, the details are what set her quilting apart from the typical. She uses wool batting (to keep it poofy), silk 100 weight thread, size 70 sharp needle, and silk-sateen fabric. 

Cathy from the class showing how we
learned to free-motion grid line. Look
ma, no walking foot!
These changes in materials mean that you need to spend a lot of time getting the tension just right and the technique just right. Using only a size 70 needle means you have to really time your hands and material perfectly during free motion or 'plink'...broken needle. I broke 2 before I got in a good timing. The real meat of the class was on Day 2, running from 10 am to 3 pm. In that time, we had to finish our practice piece from Day 1 (or as much as we wanted) and get our 'official' one sandwiched. But, before you sandwich the quilt, you have to mark the top. I just learned this. See, I've never marked a quilt top. I had not idea you could use a stencil and then free motion it. 

So, on my 'official' piece, I choose copper silk sateen with a star that swirled into flowers. The outer area would be a grid.  I used the pouncing method to transfer the designs. Then, pin-basted with teeny, tiny #1 brass pins. I mean tiny.  This was and is my most hated task in quilting. I don't like those little pins. I don't think that you could use the Quiltack either, as the pointy-inserty thingy is probably too large in diameter and the fabric would never recover with the silk blend. 

The real kicker is that this is whole cloth. No piecing. No patterns. No nothing. The entire design is based on what you sew and the difference in density (aka poofiness) between the stitched elements. So, Loomis intensively sews every element. Her method involves sewing over all the marked elements, then echo stitching around each of those. Then, intensively free motion in the unmarked field to get the main design to really pop. She uses a variety of free motion designs within the field to keep the design fresh. Many demos and attempts later, most of the class had a start on the project piece. 

I really enjoyed the class and Loomis as the teacher. I'm not sure that I'll ever complete more than the project piece, but absolutely see how I can apply the method and techniques at a smaller scale. I also loved having like-minded folks in the room asking smart questions that I never thought of. Loomis' teaching presently is focused on the New England area, so look for a class by her if you get the chance.

2/2/12 UPDATE. Added photos from the class.