Friday, September 2, 2011

Summer quilting

Note: I updated this entry with new photos and commentary.

Lest anyone be under the impression that I am not creating because I haven't been posting, I hereby submit a collection of photos of my summer projects, all quilts for our church's Bags of Love project, made of donated fabrics.

Pink Cats

I started Pink Cats a year ago and showed it here. It disappeared during a major cleaning session. This baby quilt was made of blocks created by someone else. I sewed them together and added the borders. A helper at church tied it for me. During the time it was lost, it collected some dust that wouldn't shake out, so I had to wash it, and that accounts for its extra poofiness.

My quilting buddy, Linda Miller, put this youth-sized Dinosaurs quilt top together, and I quilted it with free-motion-quilting of the dinosaurs. Side note: A woman saw the quilting I had done on this quilt and told me she wanted to offer me as little as possible for any other quilt in my inventory, because she said I was an "accomplished quilter!" Nice to hear, since this was the first time I have ever done free motion outline quilting on anything bigger than a pot holder. I was glad to inform her (for the price she was considering) that I am not a professional and do not have an inventory. Now if she made it worth my time...

Floral Patchwork
Linda had already cut these Floral Patchwork blocks, so I put them together for a baby quilt.

Happy Flowers
There were a lot of scrappy leftovers from Floral Patchwork, so I made this crib-sized happy block quilt. There were still more pieces left afterwards, so I started working on another quilt. I will show the finished project in my next entry.

Jeannie's Quilt
Jeannie Flory is an expert quilter, producing lots of brightly colored quilts. She donated this full-size quilt top. I backed and quilted it.

Hot Checkers
A pile of four-patches were among Jeannie's donations, so I put them together for this youth-sized Hot Checkers quilt.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Mr. Potato Head baker bags

Microwaved baked potatoes? Ugh. A slight gag reflex ensues. Or at least used to. Along came the potato baker bag, and everything changed. No more wizened, wrinkled, bake-in-a-hurry potatoes. When baked in a quilted bag, potatoes retain their moisture, and -- voila! No wrinkles! And better texture, too.

I went a little overboard on this project, as you can see below.  At first I made them in various sizes, depending on how much scrap fabric I had on hand. The Mr. Potato Head bag holds about four standard potatoes (not the Costco size).

If you were to examine one of these, it would be easy to figure how to put it together, but just in case you want detail, here are some basic instructions, but first a word about fabrics. My first potato bag had a muslin lining. Why not? It would be inside and no one would ever see it, right? It turns out the potatoes stain the fabric, and it's just not appetizing even after being washed, so now I use prints from my stash.

I have been warned that polyester thread should not be used because it would melt in the microwave. I have doubts about this, but am passing the word along. If anyone has melted their cotton-wrapped polyester thread while baking potatoes, please tell me about it. Mine is doing fine, but then I bake potatoes only about once a month.

  1. Cut cotton batting, outer fabric, and inner fabric 10 x 22 inches (does not have to be exact, but 22 inches works well because it's half the width of most bolts).
  2. Place fabric right sides together, with the batting on top (or bottom, whichever way goes best through your sewing machine). 
  3. Stitch short ends only, using about a 1/2" seam. 
  4. Turn right side out so batting is between the two fabrics, press, and top stitch about 1/4" from both seamed ends. 
  5.  (Optional steps) Add a few lines of quilting or an appliqued design, if you wish. I thought Mr. Potato Head was cute, though I know he is a copyrighted design, so I will definitely not be selling these. After fusing on the scrap fabrics that make up Mr. PH, I stitched around the edges twice, using thread that matched his nose. Since Mr. PH is not an anatomically correct potato or person, I figured the stitching could be folksy, so I purposely made the stitching wander a little.
  6. This is the length of the fabric just after top-
    stitching the ends,
    before being folded into a bag.
    Mr. Potato Head, after fusing, before outline stitching
  7. Form the bag. Right sides together: Turn the bottom end up 2 inches and pin. This is the flap. Watch out for wrinkles in the folds of the fabric.
  8. Fold the remaining length in half, right sides together, so that the seam of the other end is 1/4" from the edge of the flap's fold. I know. I should have taken a photo of these two steps. Pin. Be sure to watch out for those inner -- soon-to-be outer -- wrinkles. My philosophy: A few wrinkles are okay, big ones need surgery.
  9. Stitch both sides. I used a 3/8" seam, but it doesn't matter, just somewhere in that ballpark.
  10. Trim edges if needed. 
  11. Finish edges with zig zag, serging, or binding.
  12. Turn right side out.
  13. Bake your potatoes. Wash and dry them, place in bag. I don't think they need poking. Bake as you usually do in your microwave. Or as I do: Nuke on high for 3 minutes. Turn over and nuke on high for another 3 minutes. Depending on how many you are baking, continue until they are cooked through.
The evolution of the potato baker bag: First I used scraps,
then found potato fabric, and finally had fun making Mr. Potato Head.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Jam without (much) guilt

Blackberries from my garden
I am probably one of the foremost toast eaters in the world, and as such, I like jam, especially homemade jam. But there's always been the problem of All That Sugar. It just can't be that good for you. After years of testing every low or no-sugar pectin that came along, I have finally found one that works great, apparently every time, at least in my experience.

 MCP, which I have used for years, includes in each box a list of jam recipes requiring squinting or a magnifying glass in order to read the EXACT amounts of fruit and sugar needed, different for each kind of fruit. The amount of sugar called for equals or exceeds the amount of fruit. If you can't find a recipe for your specific fruit, pomegranate, for example, you have to go online and find one.

The fruit I use never needs as much sweetness as regular pectin apparently needs in order to set properly, but when I tested it using less sugar, the jam did not set at all. I also tried Sure-Jell low sugar, but was not pleased with the results. Even when I followed the recipe exactly, I had setting failure at least half the time, meaning I had a lot of jars of fruit syrup, nice for waffles, but not what I had in mind.

Enter Ball Low or No-Sugar Pectin (see jar in third photo below). This pectin has only one recipe! No more reading a list of recipes in very small print. It's all on the label; you can't lose it. Another thing I like is that I can make a large batch all at once; no more having to do just four cups of fruit at a time, and I've used it for over a year now, since before it was sold in its current packaging, have made dozens of jars of jam, with no setting failures.

As per instructions on the label, for each 2 cups of fruit, add 1/3 c unsweetened fruit juice and 1 1/2 tablespoons pectin. Blueberries, peaches, and sweet cherries require 3 tsp lemon juice. After bringing this mixture to a boil, you add up to 1/2 c sugar per 2 c fruit, if you wish -- less than 1/4 the amount of sugar needed for regular pectin.

How I made my berry jam:

  1. I picked my berries using latex gloves, since my skin hates those little hairy stickers on the vines.
  2. I rinsed the berries by pouring them into a bowl full of water, sloshing them gently, then pouring off the water. The few ladybugs inhabiting my picking floated to the top, and I took them out to the garden. Ladybugs a wonderful, but not for eating.
  3. I used my trusty Victorio strainer to strain out the seeds, then ran the seed pulp through four times in order to get most of the fruit off the seeds, giving me an extra 2 cups of thick juice. I tried to run the seeds through a fifth time, but they jammed in the spiral. This caused a momentary panic during cleanup when I couldn't get the plastic spiral out of the screen, solved by my putting the screen on the floor, holding its lip with my feet, and pulling up steadily on the spiral. It worked. Whew!
  4. The strained berries amounted to 11 cups, but I did all my figuring based on 10 cups. This meant I would need to multiply the recipe ingredients by 5, since the recipe is given per 2 cups fruit.  5 x 1/3 c = 2 2/3 c unsweetened juice, 5 x 1 1/2 tablespoon = 7 1/2 tablespoons pectin. According to my Android app, 7 1/2 tablespoons = 1/2 cup, so that is the measurement I used. Since my berries were somewhat tart due to this year's cool weather, I chose to add the full 1/2 c sugar per 2 c juice.
  5. I chose white grape juice as my non-sweetened liquid, which adds natural sweetening without noticeably changing the flavor. I added my calculated 2 2/3 cups of juice.
  6. I whisked in the 1/2 cup pectin slowly. This pectin does not dissipate as easily as other powdered pectins. In my last batch I got lumps of pectin, even after processing (strange to come across while eating on toast), since I was not careful enough to stir in the pectin slowly.
  7. I brought the mixture to a boil.
  8. I added a dab of unsalted butter to reduce foam, though there was not much to start with.
  9. Added the sugar, brought back to a boil.
  10. Boiled 1 minute.

All the rest was as per usual - add jam to sterilized jars, put on sterilized lids, etc. The pectin sets slowly, takes up to even 2 weeks, according to the label. It's never taken that long for me.

My batch that started out with 11 cups of fruit made 16 cups of jam, but since I had only 12 8-oz jars on hand, I used a quart jar for the last 4 cups. I took that quart jar on a camping trip this last weekend, and most of it was consumed by 9 persons in one pancake breakfast. Yum!

The flavor of this jam is very good, undiluted by unnecessary sugar. You can pile it on your toast and waffles as thick as you want, and not feel guilty for consuming all the sugar you might normally eat. The set is slightly softer than high-sugar jam, but that just makes it easier to spread.

I hope every jam maker starts using Ball Low or No-Sugar Pectin, because I don't want it to disappear, like some of my other all-time favorites, off the market shelves for lack of sales. Ball has the same pectin in packets for small batches for those of you not inundated with seasonal fruit. They also have regular pectin in the same lovely green packaging, so be sure to read the label and get the kind you want.

I'd love to say I'm getting paid by Ball for this article, but I'm not. Maybe I can persuade them.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Puppy quilt

Once in awhile I succumb to the temptation to purchase a panel. This one, if I remember correctly, was part of the Hound Puppies series, though I may be only giving a close approximation of the actual name. 

Of course, I can't leave the panel as is; I chopped it up and added wonky borders, maybe not wonky enough. I have decided that if you are only a little bit off, it looks like a mistake. If you're way off, it must be on purpose!

The blocks on are my design wall (below), where I am trying to decide how to put it all together. I added the black paw print as sashing, and once I have the last couple of blocks sewn on, I will step back and see how close to rectangular the quilt actually is.