Monthly Archives: June 2015

fear of failure

I was sorry to see the SpaceX failure today.  Obviously.  One thing that I like about the space community is that generally speaking, engineers pull for each other, whether they be American, commercial, Russian, other foreign, or government or whatever.  OK, I don’t know any Russians, but I assume they also like to see successful American launches, too.

One thing I hate about rocket launches is that no one notices or cares when launches are successful, but when one fails, you hear one of the following: Why are we wasting money on space exploration?  This is too dangerous!  We should be paying for food for the hungry instead.  Commercial space is a failure and can never succeed!  Drives. Me. Crazy.  You cannot succeed if you’re afraid to fail.

Yesterday, I had the privilege of listening to the man who I find to be the most inspirational speaker on the topic of space.  By the time he had finished talking, I was thinking, “Space is our future!” – just like the bumper sticker.  My dismay at the troubles of global warming and racism and gun control and everything else wrong with this world was put temporarily on the shelf as I reflected on the bright and exciting future of space exploration.  This crash does not really dim my excitement all that much.  (Time and the mundane challenges of daily life will do that quickly enough.)

I re-watched Blue’s launch video with my daughter this morning.  How high, Mama?  she wanted to know.  I tried to explain to her that it was much, much higher than the plane we’d taken to New York, but I’m not sure she understood.

straight line quilting

It turns out that a twin quilt is substantially larger than a baby or toddler quilt.  It also turns out that quilting every half inch or so is a lot of quilting.

Because the twin quilt is so large, I had to roll both sides and then roll in lengthwise for almost every seam.  There’s probably a better way, but I’m not sure exactly what it is.  Even with fairly low loft batting, it’s just a lot of quilt to maneuver.

I’m fairly pleased with the result, though.

Now, I just have to bind it.  I’m toying with the idea of attempting to machine bind it, but I’m really torn.  I know it will look nice if I do it by hand.  I’m not sure I have enough confidence in my sewing skills to do it by machine.  However, it would be much quicker, and it seems like a useful skill to have.  A twin-size quilt would take several days to hand-sew, but on the other hand, it can be done sitting on the couch with H watching TV, so it’s not an arduous task by any means.

The binding fabric I wanted was only available from, which means, sigh, I will be waiting a good week for it to arrive.  Why are there no other fabric retailers with such a wide selection?

Fear not, there is more quilting to be done.  I will move on to sunrise.

this and that

My foot has been bothering me, so I went swimming last weekend.  It was the first time I’ve swum laps when not pregnant in easily a decade.  At first, it felt so good!  I just felt so tiny and lithe, undoubtedly since the last time I went swimming I was close to 9 months pregnant.  Slipping through the water just felt so effortless and reminded me of why I love swimming.  (It was, however, much more time-consuming than running because of driving to the pool and changing clothes, and given how little time I have these days, I’m unlikely to do it often.  It also cost $16, which I thought was rather a lot.)  Anyway, the second half felt mainly tiring, and I was sore for days afterwards.  When I swam while pregnant, I always took it easy for obvious reasons.  This time, I just went for it and swam as hard as I was able.  It really is a great whole-body workout.  I hope my kids love the water as much as I do.  Swimming at the hospital always made me appreciate another aspect of the water.  It’s such a great equalizer.  There were always people at the pool who were old, injured, and often massively obese.  It was common for people to get to the pool using canes, walkers, or even occasionally a wheelchair.  And of course, there were the pregnant people, like me.  Once in the water, these handicaps are minimized as the effects of gravity dissipate.

It was interesting to be back at work this morning.  As a mom, I’m surrounded by young children and mostly mothers on the job.  We wear shorts and casual attire, and conversation is rather nontechnical.  Today, I’d say 70% of the attendees at the large meeting I was at wore jeans and a blue shirt (including me).  A daring 20% opted for khakis or a black shirt.  The remaining 10% truly went overboard with options like checks or even a green shirt.  I was the only woman in the room I was in.  Another woman was present in an organizational role in the adjoining room, but did not participate.  It was a real change from my days going to and from the park, the library, and the grocery store.  I have been working there so long, though, that it’s very natural to be back.  It’s effortless to switch back to engineer mode.


summer days

I looked into all manner of summer activities for L, but I haven’t signed her up for any of them.  Dance class, introduction to sports, Suzuki preschool, soccer.  The thing is, we are pretty content right now.  We walk to the local park or drive ten minutes to the nearest beach park (on the lake) or go to the pool or the library or just spread some quilts and hang out in the back yard.  Or we stay in and L paints or colors or “reads” or makes cupcakes.  (Making cupcakes entails filling cupcake papers with various small items she owns – matchbox cars, marbles, playing cards, finger puppets, and so on.  She calls it baking.  It is ridiculously cute.)  I am still pondering dance class as I do think she could really benefit in terms of her gross motor skills.  She still lags in that area, mainly I think because she prefers to sit and watch the world go by than to run around and interact with it and risk injury.

We headed to the pool on Monday, and L preferred to sit on the pool steps the entire time.  She’s not sulking or sad or scared.  She’s just perfectly happy to sit there and watch.  She is always sad to leave and tells me she’s having a good time.  This child of mind.  I have never seen another child at the pool sit like that.  This trip there were some obnoxious boys age 10 or 11 or so making a ruckus.  I want to embrace their joie de vivre, but it is amazing how a couple overbearing kids can really sour things for everyone else.

Our new water table.  L tires of it quickly, but B absolutely loves it.  Pictures of that to come.

I am working tomorrow and Saturday.  It is a bit of a pain because I am still nursing and someone has to bring B to me at midday.  (They are both relatively short days, so it works.)

sunrise twin quilt

I decided to make a twin quilt for L using the Kona sunrise jelly roll.  In order to do this, I needed fabric on either side to make the quilt a bit wider, and I also purchased some “wideback” backing fabric so I wouldn’t have to piece the back.  All the fabric finally arrived last week, so I sewed everything together.  Then, I started quilting.

Experimenting with stitch length:

I am using heavy-weight (12) cotton thread.  For now, I’ve just done a single seam on the mid-line of every piece of fabric like so:

I’m not sure how I feel about it.  The whole quilt is just very plain Jane.  Really, I’ve been having trouble finding a way to love this quilt concept for a while now.  At this point, I’m regretting not stippling rather than straight-line quilting, as I feel some curves would have livened things up a bit.

(It’s hard to tell from the picture given the terrible lighting / white balance, but the fabric on the side is actually a light blue linen/cotton blend.)

Anyway, at this point I’m debating where to go with this.  I could leave the quilt as is, bind it, and be done with it.

I could quilt two additional seams on each colored stripe.  The stripes are two inches wide, and currently there is  a seam at the 1 inch mark.  I’d add one at the 1/2 inch and 1.5 inch marks.  (There are obviously other minor variations possible.)

I could stitch in the ditch on the borders between the stripes.  I’m a bit worried about that approach as with the heavyweight thread, I think minor bobbles would be extremely obvious and hard to avoid.

I could add vertical seams orthogonal to the stripes.  The problem with this approach is that I’ve been using purple, blue and green thread.  If I quilted vertically, I’d end up with purple thread going through green or vice versa which I think clashes.  I suppose I could just use all blue thread, which goes fine with purple and green.

I’ll probably decide tomorrow, one way or the other.  I’m sure this question is just riveting to you all!

(The wide blue stripes are marking pencil which will come off in the wash.)


farmer’s wife quilt

I’ve been contemplating taking on the farmer’s wife quilt for a while now, and I’ve decided to take the plunge.  The quilt is described in this book.  The contains a series of letters in response to the question, Would you recommend to your daughter that she marry a farmer?  The letters are written by farmers’ wives.  With each letter, there is a quilt block.  There are a total of something like 111 unique blocks.

Here is what the back of the book looks like; it shows the finished quilt:

I’ve been poring over the Flickr group filled with Farmer’s Wife blocks and quilts.  I’ve been torn over what fabric to choose and so on, but to start, I decided just to try the first six blocks.  My game plan is going to be to try and do six blocks a month.  I’ve never done any detailed piecing before, only squares and one set of half-square triangles, so I figured that the first six blocks would be throwaways anyway.  Which they are.  Anyway.

Block 1:

This block turned out reasonably well, except that it came out to be 6 3/8″ rather than 6 1/2″, or 1/8″ too small.  I attributed this to general skill issues and moved on.   I used a mix of modern fabrics here and I like it but don’t love it.

Block 2:

This one was considerably easier to do since it had only squares and no triangles.  It came out to precisely the right size, and I rather like the mix of fabrics here.  It is also L’s favorite.

Block 3:

This is my favorite of the bunch.  However, it came out to be 6 1/8″ – much too small.  At this point, I realized that when I printed the templates, I had fit-to-page selected.  Normally, this wouldn’t matter since the page was meant to be 8×11 to start, but it was causing small scaling issues.   I love this block, but it’s not usable.

This one was tricky as well because I had to applique the basket handle on.  The handle is actually a rectangular piece of fabric that cut on the bias, wetted, and then stretched into shape.  This was nontrivial.  I have come to dislike fusible web as I don’t like the way the fabric feels stiff afterwards, and I just don’t like the way it looks.  I decided to do hand applique, which means I turned under the edges of the fabric and sewed the handle on.  I’d never done this before, so it was a bit tricky.

I started at the bottom right corner and went around, and you can kind of see how I got better as a went along.

Block 4:

This one as described in the book looks like a swastika.  Unfortunately, I didn’t realize this until I’d sewn it together.  I tore it apart and re-pieced it into a cross.  Now, the swastika used to be called the fire cross before the Nazis appropriated it, and it was a common symbol in traditional knitting and apparently traditional quilting as well.  With that being so, I think it was in poor taste for the author of this book to include blocks that look like a swastika.

Since I figured out the printing size issue, this block came out the right size, and I like it well enough.

Block 5:

This one came out fine in terms of size and general piecing.  I’m not a huge fan of the monochromatic nature of the fabrics I picked, however.  It’s just kind of boring and true blue.

Block 6:

This one was the toughest to piece, and you can see that the points don’t match up terribly well.  I believe this is because I used a single template over and over to cut all sixteen pieces of fabric.  The edges of the template got chopped off over time, and I think that resulted in the pieces of fabric gradually not being quite the right shape.  I think if I were to cut 4 or 8 copies of the template, it would come out better.  I’m not sure how I feel about the colors here, either.  I love the patterns, but again, it feels a little boring to me being so monochromatic.

One thing I struggle with is that the individual blocks I like best do not necessarily result in the quilt I like best.  The quilt is more than the sum of its parts.  111 beautiful blocks might look like a bit of a hodgepodge all sewn together.

Many of the blocks in this quilt are traditional, and it’s based on letters written in the 1920s.  That makes me want to use traditional fabrics.

Consider this stunning block.  It’s done using very traditional fabric – small florals, no bright colors.  Then there are the more modern florals – like this one.  Still florals, but larger and brighter.  Then there are more modern blocks – like this one and this one and this one.   As I was looking through all the photos on Flickr, I really gravitated towards the blocks made with modern fabrics.  Nevertheless, I’m leaning towards using more traditional fabrics for the quilt.  Actually, I can’t make up my mind long enough to even type out what I’m leaning towards.

Here are some full quilts I like:

From City House Studio:


From Blueberry Patch:


This one from Flickr.

This one from Flickr.

And this one by Heike Schneider:

© 2014 by Heike Scharmann


I’m torn about whether just to use my scraps, or to buy two or three fat quarter bundles.  I’ll only need about four yards of fabric to do the blocks themselves.  Even assuming 50% waste, that’s still only eight yards of fabric.  The amount of fabric in a fat quarter bundle varies tremendously (by number of prints and thus fat quarters), but most have at least a couple of yards of fabric, so it wouldn’t be a crazy investment to by three or four fat quarter bundles, given that the project will likely take a year and a half or more.  Decisions, decisions.  I’ve done my six blocks for June, so I’ll probably spend the next couple weeks pondering fabric and try to decide in time to do six blocks for July.


I think B’s first experience with fingerpaints is best shown in pictures.  It actually went pretty well.  When I first gave L fingerpaints, she was about 12 months old, and it was completely impossible to keep her hands out of her mouth.  B, for whatever reason, didn’t really try to eat the paint, which made things a thousand times easier.