Buzzings from a quilter who bumbles her way through life!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas on the Riverwalk

We went to the San Antonio Riverwalk last week with two of our three sons.  That night the temperatures hovered around 68 F. and the skies were clear. One terminal of the Riverwalk is a mall area. The river goes right up to the steps. Peruvian musicians have been there for years, playing their beautiful music (pan pipes and all!). This night they were playing Christmas music. In the middle of the river is a little island with a huge Christmas tree on it. 
. We could have ridden a boat along the river to see all the lights and sights, but we chose to walk. All along the cobblestone pathways, we heard carolers singing. They were sitting in small barges along the river - one held a group of school children, another a woman's group, another a men's quartet. We stopped at a steakhouse for dinner and chose to sit at a table on the river.The Riverwalk is below street level, so it feels like a separate city. We decided to walk up to street level and see more of the city. Horse drawn carriages covered with lights were drawn along the street. (We don't have snow or white Christmases, so we make up for that with lots of lights!)  And there we were at another Texas landmark, the Alamo! Most people are surprised at how small it seems.....                                            
                             but it is a "huge" attraction here.
                   Merry Christmas from the Alamo! 

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Story of the Gumdrop Tree

My Uncle Ted and Aunt Floy always had a gumdrop tree at Christmas time. They lived across the alley from us and my cousin Shirley was my age, so I was at their house often. The gumdrop tree sat on a side table beside the couch in their living room. It called to me. I wanted so badly to pick off a gumdrop and pop it in my mouth. BUT, my Uncle Ted, who loved children and was very often a jokester, had told me that if I touched a gumdrop, it would disappear! I longed to touch one to see it vanish into thin air, but I knew that he would know if one was missing. I didn't want to do anything to put me on his "bad side" (if he even had one!), so I carefully skirted my way around the gumdrop tree when I was in the living room. I didn't want to accidentally touch a gumdrop, or horrors, a whole branch of them. As far as I can remember, I NEVER ate a gumdrop off that tree. 
When my boys were little, I bought one of those little plastic gumdrop trees just like my Uncle Ted had. I put it up every year. You can see that my boys are not afraid of making the gumdrops disappear and they never were. It didn't work on them. As soon as they were told, they ran over to see the magic! Oh, well. It still became a tradition. I even have a back-up gumdrop tree in case this one "bites the dust". (You could use a bare branch if you don't have a plastic tree.)
     My mother had a cookie cookbook from Betty Crocker when I was a little girl. (As soon as a reproduction came out I ran out and bought it!) I have memories of bar cookies with gumdrops from that book. I will give the recipe here. I haven't found gumdrops that aren't "spice" drops, so I don't know if that is what she used or if gumdrops were different back then! If you use spice drops, I would pick out the licorice ones and not include them! 

 Jeweled Bars
4 eggs, separated
2 1/4 cups packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon water
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup candied orange slices or gumdrops, finely cut
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
Heat oven to 350 degrees (F). beat egg yolks; add sugar, water, and vanilla. Blend dry ingredients; stir into egg yolk/sugar mixture. Mix in candy pieces and nuts. Beat egg whites until stiff but not dry. Fold in. Spread in well-greased 9" x 13" pan. Bake 30 to 35 minutes. Cut into bars while warm. Makes about 3 dozen bars.
       Until next time, have a wonderful holiday!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A UFO and my Grandmother's Fudge Recipe

I had decided to put my quilting away until after the holiday season. My calendar is way too full right now to even think about dragging out my unfinished work. BUT, I can't resist. I went into my quilting studio to clean up a little (I really need to clean a LOT), but I ran across this UFO from about 2 years ago. I had finished it to this point just before we moved into this house. I put it away temporarily and then forgot it existed! I can't resist. I still need a backing, but it might be that I could finish it in time to give it as a gift. It was intended for my oldest son. Maybe I can find snippets of time to work on it. If not, I will put it on my design wall so that it stays nice and pressed and just show him what he will be getting. 
I also have another holiday recipe for you. This is from my grandmother, the one who is 102 years old. She made this at Christmas every year. To me, this is Christmas fudge! I looked forward to it all year.

                                        See's Fudge 
Place in a large heat proof bowl:
          18 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips 
          1 pint marshmallow cream or 2 cups miniature marshmallows
          1/2 pound butter
          2 tablespoons vanilla extract
          2 cups chopped pecans or walnuts
Place in a large saucepan:
          4 1/2 cups granulated sugar
          1 2/3 cups (large can) undiluted evaporated milk (NOT sweetened condensed milk!) 
Mix sugar and milk and bring to a boil. Boil about 7 minutes on medium to low heat, stirring occasionally. Start timing when it first starts to bubble. 
Add the boiled mixture to the uncooked ingredients in the bowl and stir well. Pour into a buttered 9" x 13" pan. It will set as it cools. 
(I like to use an electric hand mixer to really beat the melting ingredients into the hot sugar/milk mixture. I feel this gives it a smoother texture.)
Variation: Here is a variation that I came up with and have used in the past:
Half the recipe and boil it only 5 minutes. Use "milk chocolate" chips in place of half the semi-sweet chocolate chips. Use almond extract in place of vanilla, but don't half the amount. Toast almond slivers and use as the nuts. Pour into a 9" x 9" pan. I called it Hershey Bar Fudge. 

                     Merry Christmas! 
                            I need to get busy now! 

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Holiday Decorating

The breakfast area ready for family.
Although a chore, decorating for Christmas is a big part of the holiday season for me. 
My oldest son arrives on Saturday. He will be here until next Wednesday and has to be back at work on the east coast after that. He was quick to ask, "Will the house be decorated by then?" It just isn't quite as festive at our house unless the decorating is done.

This is my very favorite Christmas decoration. It is "Santa Claus" and was drawn and then painted by my youngest son when he was five. (He's now twenty-nine!) This painting makes me smile. Santa has about fifty teeth all showing in a broad smile. Those huge eyes could scare anyone and the off center beard is a little funky. The red poster paint has faded to a pink, but that's okay with me. I've brought it out every year for the last twenty-four years. Last year I had it professionally framed. I wish I had a painting of Santa by all three of my sons at that age!

I have it hanging in my foyer so that anyone who walks in will see it.

I love children's art work! Especially my own children and grandchildren. When the boys were little, my dining room was a gallery of their art work - all placed in inexpensive frames and hung on the wall along with family portraits. I could gaze at dump trucks and robots, dogs and monsters, and families all holding hands and standing in a row. (I also have a ghost picture with a large label in 4 year old handwriting that says "Don't scare God!"(I wish I knew what prompted that one!) My boys were early readers and writers, so they came up with some really funny captions!

My tree is decorated with ornaments from the 1940's and 1950's along with birds and berries. It is a simple tree this year, but the ornaments are my favorites. Some are from my husband's childhood and some are from an old Victorian house we owned. (They were hanging between the fretwork that separated the front hall from the back hall.) 

Here's a view of the tree in its entirety. 

Until next time, have a great holiday season!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Another Holiday Recipe!

Why do our lives have to get so hectic around the holidays! Every year I promise myself I will get things done early and have the time to sit and enjoy myself during the holidays. Unfortunately, every month has it's pressing matters and when there is time to take care of holiday shopping or baking, it is way too early to be in the mood! 
We have a Christmas Eve wedding in our family this year, so there is an extra reason for the season to be hectic. My niece (my brother's daughter) is getting married in my sister's back yard. That is possible here in southern Texas, although still risky as far as weather goes.
I am supposed to make a groom's cake that looks like an X-Box 360 with a controller. :0) It is to be Italian Cream Cake with an amaretto filling. I am beginning to stress over this. I have only seen an X-Box once. I have looked it up online and even gone to the store to gaze at it. Time is running out. This is not something I can really do much ahead of time unless the guests want a petrified cake! My mother is doing the wedding cake. (She used to do wedding cakes professionally and they were much in demand!) A "groom's cake" is, for those of you not in the southern USA, a cake that depicts the groom's interests in some way or is in his favorite flavor. If you saw the movie Steel Magnolias, you saw a red velvet groom's cake shaped like an armadillo!
All this is to say, I will be pretty busy these next few weeks!  
I don't have time to quilt or even sew. I do have lots of cooking to do for family coming  to visit, so I decided to put a great recipe here for you. This was my mother-in-law's recipe. She gave a lot of parties and she would make these ahead of time and freeze them in huge batches. 

                         Dorothy Winters' Pocketbook Sandwiches 
1 lb. New York Sharp or other very sharp cheddar cheese
3 oz. Blue cheese
3 oz. cream cheese (like Philadelphia brand)
1 tablespoon Worchestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce (a sauce made of hot, red peppers)
dash of garlic salt
dash of red pepper (optional)
dash of paprika
2 tablespoons mayonnaise (I use sour cream or yogurt)
1 1/2 loaves of FRESH thinly sliced sandwich bread
Remove crust from each slice of bread and keep wrapped so they don't dry out. Spread with melted butter on one side only. Don't soak the bread in butter. Just a thin spread.
Place the slices buttered side down and put a spoonful of cheese mixture in the center (on the unbuttered side). Fold the corners to the center of the bread over the cheese. Turn folded side down on a greased cookie sheet. Freeze. When frozen, they can be stored in  an airtight container or freezer bag in the freezer until ready to bake. 
When ready to bake, turn right side up (the side with the points in the center) and bake on a  cookie sheet about 20 minutes at 400 degrees. (Bake right from the freezer. Do not thaw.)  Although you can grease the cookie sheet, the sandwiches should not stick because they have been buttered. 

These are very popular among the men in my family. Give them a try. They're great with soup, by the way! 

Until next time, have fun preparing for the holidays!  

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Chocolate Truffle Cookies

If you need to take a break from quilting, mix up this dough and have it in the freezer, ready for unexpected company or just a "chocolate fix". This is a great recipe for a cookie that can be formed into scoops, frozen,and then pulled out of the freezer and baked on the "spur of the moment". If you need something sweet to serve with coffee or cocoa, this is it! (It could also go with hot tea or a glass of milk!) These are extremely rich and are soft in the middle after baking. (They are much better hot out of the oven than they are the next day.)

Chocolate Truffle Cookies

1 1/4 cups soft butter (2 1/2 sticks)
2 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
2 cups chocolate chips
Cream the butter with the sugar and cocoa until fluffy. Beat in the sour cream, vanilla, flour, and chocolate chips. NOTE: You could easily add nuts to this dough along with chocolate chips, if desired. Refrigerate 1 hour. Roll into 1" balls or use a small scoop.  Place on foil covered cookie sheet about 2" apart and bake 10 minutes only at 325 degrees F. 
To freeze, place on cookie sheets and pop into freezer until frozen. Remove from cookie sheet and place in plastic zipper gallon freezer bags.
To bake frozen dough, remove from freezer and place on foil covered cookie sheet. Bake at 325 degrees F for 15 minutes. (Note that you cook them a little longer since they were frozen.)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Christmas with the Three Bears

The "black forest" tree decorated with bears, antique illustrations, and miniature chairs.

   Christmas is only a few weeks away!
My "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" guest room last Christmas.
 It's my favorite holiday, but I still feel a sense of panic when I realize just how little time there is to get presents bought and shipped. I've started to think about Christmas decorating. This time last year, I had finished all my decorating, but I had to have the house ready for a Christmas tour. This year, I'm just now beginning to think about it!
The other end of the Goldilocks room. Not a great photo, but maybe you can see the three stuffed bears with the bowl of porridge on the antique trunk. The book in front of the quilt is open to the story of The Three Bears.
  I  used a quilt for inspiration in this room.  The tree is decorated with Scherensnitte bears, copies of illustrations of the story from antique books (mounted on cardboard), and miniature doll chairs. 
I had a small, narrow tree to represent the Black Forest. (In actuality, I brought home a tree that turned out to be BLACK ! I thought Black pine was similar to white pine or yellow pine, just another type of pine tree. It wasn't. I decided that it would be okay and it was. With all the little white twinkly lights, you could barely tell that it was not just a dark green.
One of the Scherensnitte bears, cut from plain white paper and coffee stained.
          This year, I plan to add Goldilocks if I do this room again.  
I've been working hard at getting a pattern made for this doll. I have little deformed doll bodies, arms, legs, and heads all over the room from my trials and errors. I have to make it easy enough for an inexperienced doll maker, yet detailed enough to be recognizable as the Goldilocks in my quilt pattern.  
All this to remind you that you can decorate around your quilts. You can use a quilt as a tree skirt. Why not take that another step and decorate the tree in ornaments that are in colors from the quilt? 
You could "decoupage" ornaments in fabric scraps.
You could make little stuffed pieced stars.
You could make yo-yo chains from scraps.
You could decorate the tree in your quilting room with spools of colorful thread or pin cushions.

 If you have some ideas for incorporating quilts and fabric into your Christmas decorating, post them in your comments. We'd like to know! In the meantime, Happy Decorating!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Fiona vs. Old MacDonald

It is a beautiful day outside. Sixty-six degrees, sunny, flowers still blooming. Not what most of you would consider a fall morning, but fairly typical of this time of year in south Texas.
  I had finished a sample quilt of Old MacDonald and needed to photograph it before taking it to the quilt shop this morning. I  carefully posed it across the back of a chair and was trying to snap a quick shot when Fiona, our neighbor's dog, decided to visit.She is small enough that she fits between the openings in the fence. Since her owners are gone most of the day, she gets lonely and when we go outside, she often comes for a visit.
  I don't have pets because I don't want to need a "dog sitter" when I'm gone. I also don't want to worry about dog or cat hairs on my quilts! Fiona thought I was spreading this out just for her. When I called her away from the quilt, she just tilted her head and looked at me like I was crazy or something. I'm rarely lonely, but I understand what it's like. I try to play with her if she visits while I'm in the yard. I actually miss her if she doesn't come and worry that something is wrong. I guess I'll have to wash this quilt once again, but that's okay.
                     Old MacDonald had a farm...
                   And on that farm he had a dog....    
 Too bad Fiona is not a chicken. She would have fit the theme a LOT better!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Itsy-Bitsy Spider

I've been hard at work trying to finish a sample quilt for my Itsy-Bitsy Spider pattern. I also wanted to finish it by today for a presentation at a local quilt guild. Since most of my sample quilts are in quilt shops, I needed more quilts.

I had so much fun with the colors, I might even make another one soon!

   I'm not a bit squeemish about spiders. I think they do wonderful things for our gardens. I also love the song, Itsy-Bitsy Spider (or Eensy-Weensy Spider for my British friends). It is one of the first songs my children learned. I loved watching their tiny fingers "climbing up the water spout". (Just what is a water spout, anyway? I always picture a drain "pipe" coming down from the gutter.) 
Children are fascinated with spiders. We are the ones who make children afraid of them.  As a teacher, I tried to teach them to just leave them alone to do their work -  don't touch, but admire. What artists they are! It's fun to watch them. 
Your child or grandchild wouldn't have any problem with snuggling up in an Itsy-Bitsy Spider quilt. What a great snuggly for a rainy day!

Now scorpions are a different matter. I don't think I'll be putting them on a quilt any time soon! Here in South Texas, we do have them around. I know they serve their purpose, but they are just creepy to me. Then again, I've been stung by one and it wasn't fun! I don't know of any children's songs about them either! Maybe I can write one:

                            Creepy, creepy scorpion
                               underneath a stone.
                            Stung the weary gardener
                           and oh, how she did moan! 
  Well, I don't think it will catch on! Maybe I should just stick to quilting!!!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Pressing Matters

When I first started quilting, I thought that after years of ironing my husband's shirts I knew all there was to know about "pressing". 
If ironed instead of pressed, this simple fabric square can become


The difference was "ironing" vs. "pressing. If you are new to quilting, you may not have been told about this. Ironing involves moving the iron across the fabric. It can push the fibers out of shape, leaving your fabric out of square. Pressing involves setting the iron down on the fabric, pressing down briefly, and lifting it without pushing it across the fabric grain. 

One great tool to help you press instead of iron is "The Steady Betty". The special foam surface grips your fabric to keep it from moving under the iron even if you make an ironing movement. (I'm not affiliated with this company and they are not compensating me in any way. I just happen to have one and love it!) You can find out more about it on their website, Your quilt shop may carry them. They come in different sizes.

I like to use spray starch on my quilt fabric to help stabilize it. Using starch also gives it a crisp feel that makes it easy to work with. If you want, you can make your own. You can mix liquid starch with water, 1 cup starch to 1 cup water. Mix it well and put it in a spritzer bottle. (You can also make a stiffer solution by increasing the amount of starch to water.) This is the formula I use when I make my own spray starch.

Another way to make spray starch is to mix 1/4 cup cornstarch with 1/2 cup water. Slowly add 4 cups boiling water to this and let it cool before putting it in a spritzer bottle. You will need to shake this well each time you use it. 
An easier version of this is to add 1 tablespoon of cornstarch to 2 cups of water. Stir it well and put in a spritzer bottle. Shake it well before using. (The uncooked cornstarch may tend to leave more residue. 
Each of the cornstarch recipes will last only about 2 weeks. You may get longer use out of the cornstarch mixtures if you keep them in the refrigerator. 

You will notice that there is a pillow case slipped over the end of my ironing board. I do this so that I can easily slip it off and wash it when needed. I put three large safety pins underneath to pinch the loose ends together and hold it in place. When one side gets dingy, I unpin it and rotate it so that the area that had been underneath is now on top. I use a pillow case that had been used to submit a quilt to a quilt show. We were to write our name and the name of the quilt on the pillowcase with marker. Since I wasn't keen on putting this on my bed, I use it for the ironing board.

If you knew all of this already, hopefully you don't mind a refresher, but if not, you will find that correct pressing will make a huge difference in the accuracy of your piecing.   Until next time, good luck in all pressing matters!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Gift Idea for Quilters

Don't laugh, but I have found that if I make my tools a little more feminine, I don't have to search for them in the garage!  They tend to stay put a little better. 
My orange handled scissors just screamed "construction zone" to my husband, so I bought a pair with pink handles. I haven't had a problem since then. No more cutting metal flashing with my good scissors!!! 

After a search for my tape measure and after finding it in the garage among dirty, oily stuff, I decided it needed a little feminizing too! (Just in case you think I have an inconsiderate husband, I need to tell you that he is the most generous, loving man around. We share everything, so in his mind it was "no big deal" to use my tools. When I explained their use and my objection to them being used in the garage, he stopped using them. Making them more feminine helps him see that they are MINE and not HIS.)

That said, I thought that maybe this little idea would make a good gift for quilting friends.

Start with a tape measure. I have two. One small one for the purse, and a larger one for blocking and measuring quilts.

Using a piece of paper, make a pattern of the circular or oval logo area. Just run your fingernail around the perimeter to emboss it to the right size and shape.  

Cut the pattern out and use it to cut a cardboard base. Check to be sure it fits in the logo area.
Cut a fabric scrap or pieced scrap about an inch larger all around than the cardboard. Sew a running stitch around the outer perimeter. 

Put a small wad of stuffing inside.

Place the cardboard inside.
Pull the gathering snug around the cardboard and tie it off.
Use a good glue and put some on the logo area of the tape.

Place the "button" you have just made over the glue in the logo area. Press down firmly all around. (NOTE: I used a bag of rice to weigh it down until the glue was set. It was able to go over the "puff" where other weights couldn't.)
                                                                        That's all there is to it! You could forgo the stuffed button and just cover it with a decorative paper or sticker. You could also glue a string of beads around the edge of the "puff". This could be fun! And I think it just might stay in the sewing room now!        

Friday, October 15, 2010

New Christmas Design, Peace on Earth

copyright 2010, Linda Winters

"Peace on Earth"
As I sit this morning drinking my coffee, I look out and see the sunrise over my back yard. The grass is still green, the chrysanthemums are brilliant gold, yellow, and orange and I can hear birds still singing. The air is cool (55 degrees, 7:00 a.m.) and there is a sense of calm all around me. I would love every morning to be like this, but I know that there will be mornings that are hectic, mornings I will wake up feeling bad, mornings where everything seems to go "wrong". For now, though, I will enjoy the peace of this moment. I will try today to offer small acts of kindness to the people I come in contact with - at the grocery store, in my family, and on the road.

The banner above is my latest pattern. It is not available at my webstore yet.  If you are interested in it, you can contact me about shipping one to you.

Until next time, enjoy those little moments of peace you find around you,  even if they are fleeting. 

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

My Favorite Work Surface and A Few New Projects!

This simple little Masonite board is my very favorite workspace. It is 18" x 19", 1/4" Masonite. I have had it since the time about 20 years ago when I ran in, found a scrap, and quickly cut a handle in it with my scroll saw. If I had known I would use it as much as I have, I would have taken more care in cutting the handle! I use it for preparing applique, tracing off patterns, writing out directions, and much, much more. I can put it in my lap while sitting on the couch. I can grab it up to take outside. I can also take it along in the motorhome and it slides against the wall and takes up almost no space at all. When I can't find it, I panic. It has become a trusted friend in all these years. It's funny how we come to depend on the simplest of tools.

This has been one of those roller coaster weeks. We have a cap on our internet "usage" and we had reached it by last Monday. It resets once a month, on the 13th. That meant no blog, no reading blogs, no sending emails, etc. unless we wanted to pay an astronomical price for any additional usage (I know because we had an additional $250 on our bill the last time that happened! I won't get into that, though. We're just waiting out our contract, which is up in February. Living outside a big city has some disadvantages.) The upside of curtailed computer usage is more quilting! I did finish some projects that I had going. 

I got the skeleton quilt quilted and the pattern is written up and ready to go except for having photos made of it. Too bad it is too late to market it. It will be ready for next time, though!

I used the two overdyed pumpkin blocks to make a table runner for the season. I used scraps from it to make a center, which doesn't show up very well in the photo. It is actually a Courthouse Steps block. The entire runner was made from recycled scraps and fabrics.

I drew out a new design and started working it out. It has a folksy look with little hens and nests with eggs. I have four blocks almost finished.
copyright 2010, Linda Winters

I've also been working on a Christmas banner, which is a new design.  ( I'll show more of it later.) Here's a peek.

Now that the weather is cooling down and it is looking as much like fall as south Texas allows (which is more like a cool summer), I am ready for the holidays. Bring on the old Christmas movies!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Overdying Scraps

This little pumpkin was made using leftover scraps from doll clothes that I was making. The scraps were not in colors that went well together, so I overdyed them. This just means I put a wash of dye over the previously dyed fabric. It can be done with colors or even with just a tan or beige, to give an antiqued look.

These little doll clothes were made from cheap fat quarters that I picked up for $1 each. If you've been reading my blog, you know that I am making a few doll clothes every week until time to send them as a Christmas present to my granddaughter. I am trying to use only scraps and fat quarters. (I'm not sure WHY, but I made that a challenge. I think I just couldn't stand cutting into yardages when I would only be using a little bit of fabric!)  

Here are the leftover scraps. I have washed all the sizing and starch out of them and I'm ready to put them in a solution of hot water and dye.

I used Rit dye from the grocery store, but there are other dyes out there in all colors. You are probably familiar with "tea dying", another form of overdying using strong tea as the dye. I use a disposable plastic container. Because I am just dying a few scraps, I don't measure my dye. I pour a little in the hot water, stir it, and put the wet scraps in. I leave them in for about 15 minutes. (The time the fabric is in the dye will determine how much dye is absorbed.)

I remove the scraps, rinse them off really well, and put them in the dryer with an old towel. (I used a red towel, just in case!)
After drying, I press each piece well.

I decided to use these scraps to make a Fall Pumpkin. I have actually made two of them and have enough scraps to make more. I'm not even sure yet what I will do with them. They could be placemats, squares in a table runner, or even part of a quilt. Each block is about 14" x 17".
Overdying is a great way to repurpose fabric from old clothing!  It's easy. It's fun. AND it's a good way to use up scraps. To your children and grandchildren, it's magical. Give it a try with some ugly fabric scraps. You might end up with something you would love to use.
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