Wednesday, March 31, 2010

New dog bed!

It's not a quilt, but I'm pleased with the way it came out. I'm
filling it with fabric scraps and bits of batting, but I don't have
quite enough to fill it yet. Rags likes it pretty well as is, though.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Paintbox Quilt-A-Long - Blocks finished!!

The real Paintbox Quilt-A-Long has us making 80 squares. But since I got behind and then ran out of different batik fabrics to use, I decided to stop where I was. That ended up being 64 squares.

In the original version, the blocks all are separated by sashing, but because of my catastrophic cutting error, some of the blocks have black borders on two sides. Some of the blocks don't. I was going to use black sashing, but that wouldn't work with black borders on some of the blocks. I tried it just above and below the blocks, separating each row, and really didn't like it. I liked what it looked like without sashing much better.

I have the blocks all sewn together in rows and my goal for tonight is to get this part of the top completed. Next, I decide whether I'm going to put a border (or two) on it, or leave it as is.

Monday, March 22, 2010

I won a contest!

I won a free yard of fabric a couple weeks ago from Sew, Mama, Sew. I meant to post about it, but then my laptop broke and by the time I got it back, I had forgotten about it.

I chose this lovely mushroom fabric. The current plan is to make a grocery bag out of it, but the plan may not come to fruition for a while.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Allergies, resolved?

My father came up to visit yesterday. We talked about allergies. He's allergic to aspirin and so is at least one of his siblings. I knew that... the part that I'd forgotten about is that he's allergic to aspirin derivatives when applied to the skin. For instance, shampoo with salicylic acid (aspirin is a compound called a salicylate) gives his head and shoulders hives.

I don't take aspirin because I thought I might have that allergy. I had nasal surgery a number of years ago to remove a family of polyps; they may have been caused by an allergy to ibuprofen. Ibuprofen and aspirin both belong to the family of NSAID painkillers. Apparently there's some sort of inherited condition that predisposes a person to be allergic to NSAIDS, develop nasal polyps, and have something else happen that I've forgotten about it. It obviously runs in my family.

Hypothesis 4: Salicylates applied to the skin in a personal hygiene product.
Supporting Evidence: Detailed above.
Experiment: I crushed up a baby aspirin and mixed it with a little water to make a paste. Then I applied this to my inner arm in one of my home allergy tests.
Results: About 10-15 minutes later, after I rinsed the aspirin residue off my arm, I developed an itchy rash in that area. It went away after another 10 or 15 minutes, but for the next hour of so I had vague itchies around various parts of my body (salicylates can be absorbed by the skin and cause a systemic reaction) and my tongue felt weird.

Based on this result, I went around the house looking at labels to find anything containing "salicyl-" ingredients. Lo and behold, one of the lotions that I really liked and was using all the time contained benzyl salicylate. Also, my California Baby shampoo has willow bark extract in it. Willow is what aspirin was originally derived from.

None of my other lotions seem to be problematic, but I'm going to stick with the California Baby lotion (no willow bark) for a little while until I get another lotion. My dad says he uses Aveeno and has no problems with it.

I'm also going to keep going on the hypoallergenic diet just in case there's a food aspect as well... but the foods that contain salicylates are numerous and varied (and include most fruits and vegetables), so if I'm allergic to it in food I'm just doomed.

Monday, March 15, 2010


I've decided that the cause of my itchiness is not the baking soda I was using to wash my hair. Itching didn't seem to change whether I used baking soda or some other random food product. This means that 1) I can use baking soda again and 2) I'm allergic to something else.

I had purchased California Baby shampoo, which is supposed to be hypoallergenic and mild and such. I've used it the last three times I've washed my hair. I think I'm going to trade off between that and the baking soda. So hair washing problem: solved.

This leaves me with a larger, more difficult problem - what AM I allergic to?

Hypothesis 1: Laundry detergent.
Supporting Evidence: We use a granular detergent and I know that it doesn't always rinse completely out because I've seen granules at the end of wash cycles. We have a teeny, tiny washer so it's possible that I've been using way too much detergent and putting in too many clothes to prevent full rinsing.
Experiment 1: Change laundry detergents and start double-rinsing everything. Also, add vinegar to the rinse to help remove old detergent build-up.
Results so far: Inconclusive. Some things after double-rinsing didn't seem to make me itch, while other things still did. It may take more than one laundering to fully remove any build-up of old detergent, so this experiment is still in progress. My three-or-four-times-laundered PJs don't seem to make me itch much.
Experiment 2: Do a home allergy test by applying a paste of old detergent to the skin of my inner arm.
Results: Small amount of redness and itching apparent. There was definitely more than the new detergent or vinegar, my control.

Hypothesis 2: Food.
Supporting Evidence: None, except that the rash doesn't seem to appear in the areas I would expect if it was an allergy to laundry detergent. I would imagine that the rash would be worst in areas that are closely contacted by clothes (waistband, underwear, socks), but that doesn't necessarily seem to be the case. I've also never had an allergy to any other foods before.
Experiment: Eliminate all the usual suspects as far as food allergens. This includes dairy, wheat, soy, caffeine, chocolate, alcohol, and basically any other food that's fun to eat. Here's a complete list if you're interested.
Results: I started the diet on Thursday, so it's been 5 days so far. Basically this is how we ate over the summer: lots of veggies, with rice and quinoa as the major grains. I haven't had any major cravings, although I would like to eat some things that aren't on my list (yogurt is the biggest one). No major changes noted.

Hypothesis 3: The degu.
Supporting Evidence: I'm allergic to rats and mice; degu are also rodents.
Experiment: Home allergy test done by rubbing a degu on the skin. I vigorously applied Vu to my stomach, including some small scratches with her claws.
Results: There was a small amount of redness and itchiness, especially around the scratches. However, it's hard to say whether this was due to the degu-ness of the application or the scratches themselves.

Being an excellent scientist, I'm doing all three of these experiments at once so that I can change as many variables as possible. I'm working on the theory that I can take everything out and get rid of the allergies (the goal), then add things back in one at a time until I figure it out. It was way more important to get rid of the itchiness than to do a well-designed experiment.

Complicating interpretation of the results is the fact that I've started to take allergy meds. I wanted to sort of rest and reset my immune system with the idea that maybe it will stop over-reacting to whatever the allergen is once stop taking them. I'm going to take them for a week, while continuing with the hypoallergenic diet and change in laundry detergent / technique. After a week, I'll stop and see if the itchies come back.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

River quilting

I had this idea in my mind that I was going to quilt feathers all around the border of my River Quilt. I read about quilting them and practiced on some crappy scraps of fabric. Then I drew out a feather on one section of the border and quilted away!

The quilting isn't marvelous, but I was pretty darn pleased with the quality of it. Most of the lines went where I wanted them to and the stitches were somewhat even (trending towards too small because I was moving very slowly). It took me probably a good hour to do roughly a foot and a half of feather. Here's what it looked like:
Once it was done, I decided that I didn't really like it. It wasn't the quality of the quilting, it was just sort of distracting running through the pink border. It made the pink sort of muddier and I didn't like the way it looked. You can decide for yourself:

I spent the next couple of hours ripping out the stitching for the feather. I'm going with a simpler quilting design that doesn't go through the pink border.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


I finished hand-sewing the binding onto my blue quilt on Monday, but my laptop was out of commission so I couldn't post pictures about it until today.

Here's the entire quilt so that you can admire the wide variety of totally random fabrics that went into it.
And here's one including my helpful quilt holder.

I quilted it in little spirals, which I thought looked sort of like wind or water and were therefore appropriate for a blue quilt. It's the biggest quilt that I've quilted so far - roughly 60" x 80". It wasn't that bad to manipulate through my machine during free motion quilting, but it sure did use up a lot of thread! I had to go buy more half-way through quilting it because I ran out.

I waffled on the binding for quite a while. I considered about 8 different fabrics and finally narrowed it down to this one and a solid blue one. The solid blue one was just too boring. It's a pretty bold choice of binding for me and I'm not sure that I *love* it, but it was good to try a binding that stands out. I like how the red-and-blue brings out the bright colors in the other fabrics, but I don't have a very good picture that shows the binding in relation to the whole quilt.
Construction details:
Piecing thread: I was doing this as a leader / ender project, so it's pieced with whatever thread I was using for the "real" project I was working on.
Piecing needle: variable for the same reason.
Batting: warm&white cotton
Quilting needle: size 75 quilting needle
Quilting thread: blue variegated Signature size 40 cotton thread; same thread as for the river quilt. This is why I ran out half-way through.
Tension: increased to about 6.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Assembling a quilt sandwich

Every tutorial I've ever seen on assembling a quilt sandwich tells you to lay the backing out on a hard surface: your giant, attractively tiled kitchen floor; those several large folding tables that you keep stored in your ample basement; your living room's reclaimed oak or ecologically-responsible bamboo floor. For those of us who live in smallish apartments with crappy wall-to-wall carpet, this doesn't work well.

I've been assembling quilt sandwiches in my kitchen. At the widest point with available floor space (i.e. not under the table), it measures about 5' across. This works fine for putting together small or lap-size quilts. Larger quilts have to be assembled in the living room, where there is floor space, but where there is also carpet. The backs of quilts assembled in my living room have up-till-now contained puckers and wrinkles because I couldn't get them to stay flat.

I was thinking about putting together the quilt sandwich for my blue quilt and wondering where I could go to lay it out on a hard floor (my mother's house? school? the grocery store?) when it occurred to me that all I really needed was tent stakes. Well, not literally tent stakes, but that idea: something to hold the backing fabric stretched out on the living room floor.

I decided to try using my largest size of safety pins. I stabbed them through the backing fabric and into the woven part at the back of the carpet. It actually held quite well.

I didn't take a picture of just the backing fabric for the blue quilt because it's large enough that, in order to fit it all into the frame, you wouldn't be able to see the safety pins. Here's a smaller-size reproduction:

If you look carefully, you can see the pins at the top and sides of the fabric. I "staked" the backing down, then went back and repositioned the pins to pull any loose areas tighter.

After pinning, the back seemed to be quite flat. I'll post after I finish quilting with a pucker-and-wrinkle-report.

Blue Quilt

I decided to follow Bonnie Hunter's advice and always "find one more unit to leave under the presser foot as you chain piece." She recently published a book called "Leaders and Enders" which talks about how to sew the blocks for one quilt in between sewing other projects. At least, I'm assuming that's what the book says. I don't actually have the book... but I think she posted about it on her blog or it used to be somewhere on her website or something. I can't find it now, but I got the basic idea down: have a simple piecing project that can start or finish a chain piecing series.

I pulled blues out of my bin of 4.5"x4.5" blocks and started sewing them together into 9-patches. I started this project a number of months ago and it's been sort of plugging along while I've been working on other things. Finally, I finished sewing all my 9-patches, then I made them "disappear" in order to make things a little more interesting.

I carefully arranged them all (on a friend's living room floor) in a pleasing pattern and labeled each block (130 total) with a little piece of masking tape so I wouldn't screw up the order. I finished sewing them all together during Quilting and Eating Day with Ciara.

Here's the end result, after being pinned into a quilt sandwich in my living room.

It's very blue.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Needle Types

I found an article about choosing an appropriate needle size in the October, 2006 issue of American Patchwork and Quilting magazine. I tried to find the article on their website, but I think it's probably too old. It includes a very simple table on pg 82 titled "Task and Coordinating Machine-Needle Sizes."

I've reproduced the table below:

I've been using quilting needles for all of my piecing and quilting. I bought a multi-pack with sizes 75 and 90. I'm using the 75s most often, but I haven't been quilting or piecing anything too complex or thick.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Tonight's food-applied-to-hair experiment

Yogurt. Plain. Non-fat.

The reasoning is that dairy has fats in it that will interact with the hair oils and enable them to be washed out. Based on that reasoning, NON-fat yogurt might not be the best test subject, but it's what's in the fridge.

Post-shower P.S.: Washing your hair with yogurt feels exactly how you would expect it to feel. Except colder because it comes right out of the fridge.
I applied about 3T of yogurt to dry hair and worked it in, then left it there for a couple of minutes while I brushed my teeth. It rinsed out easily, but my hair feels pretty oily still, so I'm guessing that it didn't work.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Salt Water Wash

In my reading of no 'poo info, I recently discovered that none of the acid washes are supposed to do much for degreasing hair. They are more for conditioning. Since I have more than enough personally-produced hair conditioner, I am going to skip the acid washes that I had mentioned in the last post. Unfortunately, that's about all of the things that I was planning on trying.

I thought I'd give salt water a try tonight. I have vague memories of my hair not looking totally greasy after a day swimming at the beach, so I took some of my pickling salt ("made with just salt" according to the box) and mixed it with some water and gave it a shot. I used probably between 1 and 2 tbsp mixed with about a cup of water. I stirred until it was mostly dissolved, then rubbed it into wet hair very well.

-it's easy to tell when it's rinsed out - the water doesn't taste salty anymore.
-there's no way I'm allergic to this... and the only other thing I used tonight was Ivory soap.
-it's dirt cheap.

-my hair didn't really FEEL degreased in the shower. However, I also skipped my normal face cleanser and my face feels nice and soft and not oily.. so maybe there's a chance that it'll work. I'll have to see tomorrow when my hair is dry.