"I love my cats because I love my home, and little by little they become its visible soul." Jean Couteau

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

a stole for a remarkable minister

If you don't know what a stole is, never fear! A stole is something that ministers generally wear to signify being yoked to God. Although you may never have a need or desire to make a stole, the principles are good for any applique project.

A very good friend of mine (I'll call her E, since this is a surprise, so I didn't check to see if she's OK with me using her name) is a minister in the United Methodist Church. In the UMC, becoming a minister is a pretty extensive process. After three years of seminary (minister school), you (hopefully) get commissioned to be a probationary minister, then after another three years, you (again, hopefully) get ordained. Ordination is kind of like tenure. You're not allowed to wear a stole until you're ordained, and my friend is getting ordained this spring, so of course, I had to make her a stole. 

I'd never made a stole before, but my mom is a minister, and she has a friend who is an amazing quilter and has made a few stoles for my mom. So as soon as I heard that E was approved for ordination, I emailed my mom's friend for any advice. I already had an idea planned of what I wanted the stole to look like, which I mocked up in Gimp (free Photoshop-like program), so I sent her that too. 

Here are the main recommendations:
  • For the main fabric, use something with a bit of body to accommodate the appliques. Avoid lightweight poly/cotton blends and anything containing spandex. Look for fabric used for making pants or skirts, like twill or poplin.
  • The appliques can be a different fabric, but should be 100% cotton.
  • Use Steam-a-Seam 2 to attach the footprint appliques to the main stole fabric
I headed off to JoAnn Fabrics and starting perusing the selection. It left a lot to be desired. I wanted to make the stole green, which is the main color used in the church for all but special occasions. There aren't a lot of options for pants fabric in kelly green, but I eventually came across some green denim. Yes, that's right, I said green denim. I then took my bolt of green denim over to the quilting square section to find some small pieces of various colors for the applique footprints. I really wanted to do all the fabric-picking right then and there, since it's easiest to get colors and patterns that go together that way, instead of ordering things online.

The denim was wide enough that I would be able to get all four pieces out of it. 

  I took all my fabric home, pre-washed it, and started cutting. Well, first I measured everything out for the denim, and then I started cutting. 

The part where the two sides come together in the back was a bit tricky, but I just started with a shallow angle and slowly made it sharper, pinning and trying it out each time, until it seemed to lay nicely.

Next, I printed out my footprint pattern in a couple of different sizes and chose the one that seemed the best. Then it was time for the Steam-a-Seam 2. I followed the directions, tracing the footprint pattern onto one side of the paper, then peeling off the other side, sticking it to the applique fabric, and cutting out the footprint. I did this for all the footprints and laid them out on the denim to get the spacing figured out. I marked the bottom of each print with chalk to remember where they all went. Then I started ironing. The Steam-a-Seam directions said to put a damp piece of cloth over the applique before ironing. At first, I used a towel, but the terry-cloth left little dimples in the applique fabric, so I switched to an old t-shirt. Also, as the denim got wet, the color bled onto the ironing board, so I put an old towel underneath. 

  Once all the appliques were ironed on, it was time for the hard part -- sewing around each applique. I'd done zig-zag stitches before, but they always looked very zig-zaggy, whereas stitching around appliques always looks very smooth and solid. After much Internet research, I went to my sewing machine manual, which, it turns out, has a section on sewing appliques! I probably could have saved myself some surfing time if I had thought to look in the manual first. It's a little bit of trial and error, adjusting the pressure of the presser foot, the main thread, and the bobbin thread, but I soon came up with a combination that seemed to be capable of creating the look I was going for. 

Now it was time for practice. I practiced a lot. Having never done this type of stitching before, it took awhile to get a feel for how to make it work. The key seems to be running the machine sort of fast (not crazy fast, but not snail-slow either) and moving the fabric slowly. This keeps the stitches close together to get that smooth, solid look. After a few practice runs on scrap fabric for the main footprint part, I felt confident enough to go for the real thing. I decided to do all the sole parts first, then go back to the toes, since after much practice, they were still pretty tricky.

I used silver thread to add a little sparkle, and I LOVED the look. For awhile, I debated whether or not I should bother stitching around the appliques, since it would be difficult, it wasn't really necessary due to the Steam-a-Seam, and I thought maybe it looked OK without it. But I'm really glad I did it. It just made everything look a little more finished, plus it added the aforementioned sparkle.

Now for a slight tangent. When I had 2.5 toes left, my sewing machine started jamming. At first I thought it was the bobbin, but I took out all the thread, and it had the same problem. I went to JoAnn and got some sewing machine oil. Using my manual, I opened up and oiled every spot indicated for oiling. It definitely seemed to move better, and I was very optimistic that this had solved my problem. Then I started sewing again. It did better, but it still jammed up some, though I was able to get it going again each time. In this way, I was able to finish the toes, which was very important since it had taken a lot of trial and error to get the settings just right for doing the applique stitching. However, when I tried to switch back to regular straight stitching with regular thread, the jamming continued, and I sadly admitted that my Kenmore Ultra-Stitch 6 had sewed its last stitch. Even though I still had plenty of time before ordination, I was antsy to get the stole finished, so I borrowed my in-laws' sewing machine for the last step of sewing the denim pieces together. It worked OK, but I was used to my machine, and I had trouble getting used to the different feel of theirs. Luckily, there wasn't much more sewing left. 

First, I sewed the two front pieces together and the two back pieces together. Then I sewed the front to the back. This is pretty straight-forward and standard -- put the right-sides facing each other and straight-stitch around, leaving a reasonable-sized opening, through which everything will be pulled to turn it right-side-out. After turning it right-side-out, I hand-stitched the opening closed.

I had initially envisioned writing the names of the churches that have been important to E's spiritual journey in between the feet. However, once it was done, I thought that might seem like too much. I solicited opinions from several friends and the overwhelming vote was to instead write the church names on the back of the stole. That keeps the sentiment without overcrowding the front and detracting from the feet. It also leaves plenty of room for additions as the bishop moves E to new churches over the years. I used a silver Sharpie paint pen to carefully print the names. Then I declared the stole complete. 


Sunday, May 18, 2014

a new home for thread

This was a busy project weekend, working on two projects, plus house cleaning. I'll post about the sewing project soon, when I get it finished. The other project is something I started quite awhile ago, but finally got finished. My good friend with tools brought over his miter and table saws for me to borrow while he's out of town, and I quickly put them to use. 

I'd found this a long time ago and saved it for the future. Well, the future is now. Back in February, I cut the frame and shelves with my new miter box and primed them. I bought the beadboard for the back and then got busy and never got around to cutting it. Now that I have a table saw in my garage, it was a simple thing to cut it to size. 

I made a different size than the project website -- 24" wide x 17" tall. I made five shelves, each 3.25" tall. The beadboard was pre-primed, so after getting it cut, I glued the frame on with wood glue. I clamped it and let it dry for awhile, then put some 1.5" nails in with my brand new nail gun to give it some extra hold. Next I measured the locations for the shelves and did the same with those. 

After letting the glue dry, I put on a coat of white gloss paint. It's paint that was left behind by our house builders as the color of all our molding and doors, so I don't know exactly what it is. I let that dry for several hours since I didn't have more time to work on it Saturday. Sunday, I put a coat of spray polyacrylic on to give it some protection and a bit more gloss. I let that dry for a couple of hours. Then I nailed on some hooks to the back. I've had a box of assorted picture hanging hardware for years; I think it came from Ikea. It was nice to be able to put it to use. I put two hangers on the back, one on each end near the top.

Then I measured and put some nails in the wall, hung the shelf, and put my thread on it. Clearly, I overestimated the amount of thread that I have, but I'm sure my collection will grow as I do more and more projects over the years.

a pfaff for a tropf

In the middle of a recent project (no spoilers, but coming soon!), my sewing machine started jamming. At first I thought it was the bobbin, but I took out all the thread, and it had the same problem. I went to JoAnn and got some sewing machine oil. Using my manual, I opened up and oiled every spot indicated for oiling. It definitely seemed to move better, and I was very optimistic that this had solved my problem. Then I started sewing again. It did better, but it still jammed up some, though I was able to get it going again each time. I sadly admitted that my Kenmore Ultra-Stitch 6 had sewed its last stitch. 

My mom has a friend who is an amazing quilter. She recommended that I get Pfaff sewing machine. It has a feature called Integrated Dual Feed, or IDT (maybe the acronym makes sense in German), which helps the top and bottom fabrics feed evenly and sew smoothly. I looked online and found a dealer in Annapolis (Capital Vac and Sew). A girlfriend and I went over to check it out. 

The lady at the store showed me the Passport 2.0, which is the lowest cost Pfaff with the IDT feature. It has 70 stitch styles, which is about 10 times the number of stitches on my old Kenmore! The fabric fed really smoothly and all the stitches she showed us looked really nice. I fell in love immediately. Sorry for the bad picture; the lighting for photos isn't great there.

If you purchase a sewing machine at Capital Vac and Sew, it includes a lesson on how to use your new machine, so I went back the next weekend. I had an hour of learning how to wind the bobbin, insert the bobbin, thread the needle, use all the buttons to select a stitch and control the stitch length and width, and use all the different feet that come with the machine. I should be all ready to go. Now I just need some projects!

And finally, some advice sent to me by my Mom's friend:

Saturday, May 3, 2014

what happens when you pull your car too far into the garage

Back in December, we cleaned the rest of the old furniture out of our garage, so Zach's car could finally live in there. Of course, there's still a lot of stuff in the garage, and it's just barely big enough. The lawnmower lives on Zach's side of the garage, and he pulls right up to it, leaving about 3 inches between then back of his car and the closed garage door. Sometimes, he pulls in a little too far and nudges the lawnmower. Last week, he pulled in a little more too far and nudged the lawnmower into the water spigot, bending the knob attachment. I came home from work the next day to a mini river flowing from the hose out to the driveway because, with that attachment bent, the knob wouldn't fully close anymore.

  After turning off the water to that spigot, I easily took the knob attachment out, just by unscrewing it. I was hoping to only have to replace that part because attempting to unscrew the entire faucet+pipe was not successful. Unfortunately, the plumbing guy at Home Depot (who was extremely nice and helpful and talked to me at just the right level of knowledge) said that wouldn't really work. For starters, you can't just buy that inner piece. Plus, he said that if you just replaced that part, you couldn't really be sure that you got a good seal inside. So besides getting me the faucet+pipe piece I needed, he also recommended a penetrating lubricant (insert dirty joke here) to attempt to get the existing pipe to budge.

Now the fun could begin. In order to reach the oil back to the pipe fitting, I had to rip out some drywall. And it turned out to be super-thick drywall, about an inch thick, so cutting through it was not easy. Between a box-cutter, hacksaw, rubber mallet, and lots of elbow grease, I finally got enough drywall out that I could reach in and find the screw end of my pipe. 

I sprayed it liberally with the penetrating oil, let it sit and penetrate for a few minutes as instructed, hooked on my wrench, and attempted to turn. No luck. More oil, more waiting, more no movement. Eventually I gave up and waited for Zach to get home. I held the wrench while he gripped the faucet with some pliers and attempted to turn. No luck. More oil, still nothing. More oil, still nothing, other than Zach yanking so hard that I lost my grip on the wrench, which then smashed into my finger. At this point, we gave up again to wait until we could enlist help from our wonderful friend, who has helped me many times in the past (with this, and this, plus various other smaller things that haven't made it into this blog). 

The next evening, our friend came over, and between two strong men and two pairs of pliers, they finally got that pipe unscrewed! 

It turned out that the pipe/faucet that the Home Depot guy had picked for me was longer than what we had, so with pipe in hand, I went back to Home Depot and traded it in for a shorter one. It turned out they didn't have one that was actually the same length, but the shorter one wasn't MUCH shorter, and I already knew there was some wiggle room, so I went with that. 

We already had some Teflon tape, which I wrapped around the threaded end of the pipe for sealing help. I screwed it in by hand as tightly as I could, then enlisted Zach's help again to tighten it further with me holding the end still with pliers and Zach screwing the pipe in. We turned the water on and no leaking! Success!

Unfortunately, this project was still not done. As you can see from the above photo, there was still a hole in the wall. Since the drywall was so thick, I figured I could just screw the one side back in and glue the rest of it back together. And since it's in the garage and doesn't need to look nice, I decided to not even mud over it this point. This turned out to be less easy than anticipated, but eventually I got it closed up enough for a garage wall.