Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Pieced Quilt Backs

Sew Mama Sew's blog did an awesome February Quilt Month. At one point there was an open thread and someone posted a question that I would like to respond to here.

I saw some quilt backings that were pieced. I really do not care for the designs available on the backings. Any hints on putting together a pieced quilt back?

If you're just slapping together pieces of the same fabric to make a back the size you need in a fabric you like, you're in good company. Quilters have been doing that since the beginning. Consider piecing it diagonally (for a how-to check out John Flynn's The Story of the Diagonal Seamed Back).
I like to piece simple, bold, modern designs for the backs of more traditional quilts. For example, I backed a simple 30s reproduction one patch with a Josef Albers' square using four larger scale reproduction fabrics.
You can piece the back of a quilt just like the front of the quilt. I saw two very intricate two-sided quilts by Jan Krentz at my quilt guild meeting in February. Jan actually made two impressive quilt tops with Hunter Star blocks and made one quilt out of them. She said she didn't do it for an aesthetic reason, but to keep the weight of her suitcases within the airlines' limits.* So she gets to show two quilts for the weight of one while she's on the road. Genius!
There are two things to consider when piecing a quilt back.
  1. Due to the additional layer of seam allowances, if you're hand quilting it will be a little harder because you'll have to get through all those layers, and if you're machine quilting you'll have to be more vigilant about getting the bulk through the machine evenly. If you piece your back diagonally, when you look at the finished quilting, any variation due to the back seam will be less apparent because the variation is on the diagonal rather than straight vertically or horizontally (you know how the diagonal words are always the hardest to find in those find-the-word puzzles, same idea).
  2. You have to be more careful about aligning your back and your top when you're basting. To align your back and your top mark the center of each side of your top and back, then line up those center marks when you lay out your layers to baste. Also if your back design has wide, plain borders in a fabric without a noticeable direction (not lines, plaids, or orthogonal patterns), it will be less noticeable if your alignment isn't perfect. For the same reason, I also like to make the borders on the back intentionally unequal (for example one large asymmetric log cabin block).

Technicalities aside, approach designing the back of your quilt as another opportunity for creativity. Just because it's not on top, doesn't mean it never gets seen. At the Indiana Heritage Quilt Show the white gloved quilt angels were kept particularly busy showing the back of a quilt that had an amusing bit of sassy appliqué on the back. Your next quilt back is a great place to try something new.

Edited 8/21/2008 to add:
Pink Chalk Studio blogged her process of deciding how to arrange a gorgeous Denyse Schmidt style pieced quilt back. The photos and her description of what was going through her mind as she made design choices are very instructive.

Edited 1/21/2009 to add:
Weeks Ringle, of FunQuilts fame, dedicated a post on her new blog Craft Nectar to the wonders of pieced quilt backs. Her primary advice:
Be sure that the back and front of the quilt are square and in alignment because you don’t want one side to look fine and the other side to be out of whack.

Edited 3/18/2009 to add:
Kathy of Pink Chalk Studio meticulously documented her attempt to implement the John Flynn method to create a diagonal seamed quilt back. Her verdict: "it’s awfully darn fussy for the results I got and the amount of time it took to cut the fabric!"

* Apropos of John Flynn's column in the May 2008 issue of Quilters Newsletter.(back)

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Review Review

I read a number of craft blogs. The book review is a staple of the craft blog genre. There are so many craft books published these days that it is a bear to sort the wheat from the chaff and's reviews are often filled with people complaining that they wanted a book on a particular subject, so they bought this and it's not really on that subject, which is nice if you're not sure what the subject is, but otherwise unhelpful. So you would think craft book reviews would be a wonderful addition to the content of craft blogs. But it seems like no one in the crafting community is willing to grow a pair and be honest in their reviews. I mean, I dig, I scratch your back, you blurb my back cover. But you can still keep it positive without fabricating lies.

For example, a book that shall remain nameless (mostly because I have read so many lately and been so disappointed not only in the books, but in the bloggers’ reviews of the books that I’ve forgotten exactly which one), had artsy, hand-drawn diagrams which occasionally made the process less clear and inconsistent measurements within a project (like it would say “cut a piece of fabric into 30 4-inch squares” and then, “Now take one of your 40 3-inch squares . . . “) on multiple projects. Typos happen, whatevs. But when you review this book on your blog don’t rave on about its super accurate and helpful diagrams and instructions, which is exactly what one blogger did. Complement the pictures and the layout (which do seem to be what the publishers are concentrating on). Compliment the resources page (which is often one of the most useful things I find in even the craptastickest of craft books). Complement the font. But don’t lie to me.

Many moons ago I lived in a hip college town with an alterna paper that published the best movie reviews I have ever read. The reviewer succinctly made it clear whether he liked the movie or not, but also whether YOU would like the movie or not. More eloquently than this he would say, “It’s not my cup of tea, but if you’re into action movies made for their ability to put a THX sound system through its paces, do not miss this film.”

I want my craft book reviewers to do the same. Sure you can love it, but say, “This book rocks in the following ways . . . Just FYI, the publisher has posted an errata sheet (for example: the errata for Jan Krentz's Lone Star Quilts and Beyond). Where the directions might not be robust enough for a novice, the Flickr group (for example: the Flickr group for Lotta Jansdotter Simple Sewing) that has grown around the book has created a community of helpful crafters more than willing to hand-hold newbies. And don’t forget to check out the author’s rocktastic blog (for example: Angry Chicken, the blog of the author of Bend the Rules Sewing), the archives of which are rich with her instructive musing while working on the same or similar projects.”

And better yet, show don’t tell. You write a craft blog. Do one of the projects in the book and share the experience. You can’t judge a book by its cover, and you certainly can’t judge a craft book until you’ve actually walked through a project in its shoes . . . OK those metaphors got a little Sir Mix-a-lot, but you understand me.

Friday, February 22, 2008

more mortgage deduction

(shoulda been clipped in previous)
clipped from
What it does promote, studies show, is spending on housing—that is, people who would have been owners anyway pay more for their houses. Prices are higher than they would otherwise have been, and mortgages are bigger. As many owners have learned abruptly, this can worsen economic insecurity.
 blog it

Mortgage deduction silliness

Via Matt Yglesias
clipped from

The mortgage-interest deduction is the backbone of American housing policy. It exists, ostensibly, to encourage widespread homeownership. In its favor, it doesn’t actually do that. But it does have consequences: It’s been one of the quieter causes of the housing bubble. The mortgage-interest deduction deserves special recognition for the stupidity with which it subsidizes something that should not be subsidized in the first place. I challenge you to design a subsidy for homeownership that is as wasteful, as unfair, and as harmful to the economy in the long run.

 blog it

Sales of Obamaphernalia as a Function of Candidate Popularity

I've been a little obsessed with my Zazzle sales lately, specifically, the precipitous drop off in my Zazzle sales. On February 3rd I create two or three t-shirt designed using quote from Barack Obama's speeches. These shirts sold like hotcakes through about the 10th. Then they've tanked. Why? I took a look at Gallup's daily poll to see if there was some sort of connection between the Obama's popularity among Democrats and my drop in sales. Maybe people buy underdog t-shirts (well, not literally), but when their candidate stops being an underdog, they stop buying. What do you think?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Ever since I overheard someone say that people with arthritis shouldn’t drink caffeine because it is an inflammatory, I have seriously laid off that wonderful little legal upper. But in these short winter days when my mood regularly plummets toward blue in the shade of navy or midnight, I figured I could use a little pick me up. Well, one cup of Earl Grey later and I am Michael J. Fox in Bright Lights, Big City. A plus side of this is that I read my usual 30+ blogs in less than 20 minutes. A downside is I am deeply concerned about the my friendships as fomented by the peppering of quotes in Robert Genn’s Twice Weekly Letter.

First, I do not think I have kept my friendships in constant repair. I doubt I’ve even kept them in sporadic repair. And this explains why the hardest question for me on the FBI background check is name five people who are not related to you and who you have known well for over five years. But background checks aside, I am concerned. Not concerned enough to join a social networking site and start stalking my old friends, but concerned.

Second, the weird thing is I think about these long lost friends all the time, to the point that I have to consciously remind myself to stop clinging to the past and live in the present. But they don't know that. And how creepy would it be for me to send a card that says, "By the way, I think about you all the time. Today, while I was chopping squash, I almost cut off my thumb because I was thinking about you. But this card is it. I'll keep forgetting your birthday. I won't respond if you write back. I'm not including my phone number, because I never answer the phone and hate to return calls. But I'll feel guilty forever about not maintaining our friendship, and every so often I will wonder what you are doing right this very instant, and every time I chop squash I will think of how once I almost cut my thumb off because I was thinking of you."

Friday, February 15, 2008

Things to Do: Update

Breeders: +1, Sarah: 0

Add one more baby quilt to my list of Things to Do. A dear friend of mine just announced that she is on a short list to adopt a newborn, which is so awesome . . . and yet mysterious. The adoption process is completely mystifying to me.

Let's hope it's a girl, because I've got the pieces of a girly quilt all cut out and ready to roll from when I laid out a, what I thought was pretty unisex, 30s reproduction quilt for an impending boy. Right before I started sewing I found out that the boy's room was decorated in a farm theme, but his dad thought that wasn't masculine enough, so his bathroom was going to be decorated in a shark theme or something equally terrifying from a Freudian childhood development standpoint. So I pulled all the blocks with flowers or pink as the dominant color and then had my husband look through them and pull out any other non-masculine patches that my butch-filter didn't screen out. So I was left with a stack of pink, lavender, flowery patches and an inordinate level of anxiety about the color and motifs in the baby quilts I make . . . or rather the baby quilts I have in various stages of production, since I haven't finished a baby quilt since that masculine 30s repro quilt, which was a huge hit, btw.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Product Review: Fresh Repair and Restore Face Balm

As the only specific post anyone has ever complemented me on was the product review of Seikisho Mask White, I feel compelled to review the other free samples I got from Neimans. And this was the spirit with which I tried Fresh Repair and Restore Face Balm.I do not actually feel that my face is in need of repair or restoration. These are the sacrifices I make for you, Gentle Reader.

Following my standard face wash and toner I popped open a miniature tub of Fresh Repair and Restore Face Balm. The packaging alone is leaps and bounds better than the little packets most samples come in. Usually I don’t use the whole sample in one go, (well other than the Seikisho Mask White, but that was because it kept telling me I wasn’t applying enough) so I end up using mini-binder clips and other office supplies to keep the rest of my sample from oozing all over my ablutions basket. And even in non-sample sizes I’m a big fan of little tubs instead of tubes or bottles with pump tops because I feel like I can get all of the stuff out of little tubs, but tubes and bottles take a little for themselves, like the IRS. Does that make the little tub of Fresh Repair and Restore Face Balm Ron Paul?

Anywho, at first sniff I thought, “Fresh, zingy.” At second sniff I thought, “Instructions or no, I am not getting this noxious material near my eyes, mouth, or nostrils.” Which was quickly followed by, “Do I have Poison Control on speed dial?”

Then I applied. A little dab will indeed do ya’. I just thought about the idea of putting it on my t-zone and that was plenty. It’s not like applying Bullfrog, my sunscreen of choice and the top choice of surfing vampires everywhere, which actually turns all organisms into amphibians and can only be removed with turpentine and a sandblaster. And it breaths better than a lot of moisturizers who will go unnamed (Trish McEvoy, you know who you are). This is particularly impressive given that it is a night cream, so it’s not meant to be wearable while you go about your activities of daily living. It’s meant to stay on your face while you sleep. But I applied it AND went about my activities of daily living quite successfully. It did not melt into my eyes and burn, contrary to its initial olfactory threat (and unlike my beloved Bullfrog which, at least in the formulation I have, will burn your eyes worse than onions, so wash your hands after applying, consciously avoid touching your eyes, and consider applying to your face only from the cheeks down and wearing a big hat; the things we vamps do to get our surf on). And it didn’t make my skin sweat weirdly, like other night creams will if you wear them around, which is why they’re called “night creams.”

And this is when the fun really began. My face started to feel like it was not my own, like maybe it was some other, hopefully more attractive, person’s face. I kept rushing into the bathroom to look at the mirror to see who I’d turned into. It worked for, Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster, and Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis, though I think that trade was really pretty even. Buffy and Faith? Clark Kent and Lionel Luthor? It seems to happen every day on the CW, so why couldn’t it happen to me? Mirror, mirror on the wall, answered the same old way it always does: just Sarah. Which is good enough for me.

We Cannot Shop Our Way to a Greener World

Today's must read: The Dangerous Delusions of 'Inverted Quarantine', an article by Andrew Szasz, a professor and chairman of the department of sociology at the University of California at Santa Cruz and author of Shopping Our Way to Safety: How We Changed From Protecting the Environment to Protecting Ourselves. Not only does it briefly review the evils of bottled water, but it goes on to discuss the idea of an "Inverted Quarantine" response to environmental awareness

in which people act not as political subjects, not as citizens, but as consumers who seem interested only in individual acts of self-protection, in trying to keep contaminants out of their bodies.
This leads to the bigger problem, the problem that kept Bush in office two terms while Whole Foods expanded its marketshare and Wal-Mart started selling organic produce.
Inverted-quarantine products do not work nearly well enough to actually protect those who put their faith in them. But consumers believe they work. That belief, in turn, tends to decrease our collective will to truly confront serious environmental issues.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

My Geek Fell Out

I'm sure those of you who fly your geek flag proudly
(>cough< >Bob< >cough<)
have long ago bookmarked the wonderful I just discovered it today . . . and I'm in love. Please provide me a long list of things to do that involve using it. I think I might make some random bitmap t-shirts, just because I can.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


When I was a senior in high school I wrote a series of essays, short stories, and poems based on all of the definitions in Webster's Unabridged Dictionary of the word, "home." At it's height, it was easily a hundred pages long. I wrote it for an assignment in English class and had explained to my teacher that I needed extension after extension because this was going to be My First Epic Work. My teacher, who was clearly Neal Cassady living under the pseudonym Fred Tremallo after retiring from CIA, upon reading the first thirty pages, approved. Then my disk began to corrupt. I have attempted many times to write a poetic description of this harrowing ordeal, but words fail me, like that disk failed me. Arachne spun her web in my 5 1/4" drive. I even brought my disk to my teacher's office - he was quite the computer wiz for an old dude, probably picked it up at the Agency - and we watched together as the bits disappeared from the disk. He asked if I could recreate the lost works. But the words never came out quite the same way again. And I never felt the same passion for the project. It broke my heart. Just thinking about the very idea of home hurt like a bad breakup. Somehow I feel like an expert in the idea of home because I spent so much time with it that one year so long ago. And even though thinking about home hurts, I've thought about it ever since. The one conclusion I can retrieve from the wreckage is this: A house is not a home.

I told you that story so I could tell you this one.

A friend of mine is moving from the house in which he married his wife, in which his daughter was born, and it's breaking his heart. It wasn't his choice. His landlord terminated their lease. I want to console my friend. I want to tell him that his marriage will endure, his daughter will not miss the place. I sought some factual basis for my argument (doesn't everyone craft their condolences like they craft an argument?). The closest thing I found was this article by Carol Lloyd The American dream and our conception of home about a contest and survey conducted by Coldwell Banker. Ms. Lloyd pointedly states:

By linking home ownership to invisible forces like love and family and tradition and happiness, we've all bought into a powerful yet sometimes destructive myth.

Renting a house instead of owning a house does not mean you have less of a home. Renting does not make you unAmerican. 95% of Americans were at one time or are now renters.
The closest I got to an answer to the question of whether his daughter will be somehow damaged by living in a house other than the one in which she was born, the survey results included this little nugget:

When asked what makes a house a home, the most popular responses from adults were: "family" (60 percent) and "love" (47 percent), followed by "family time." This matched the children’s top three responses of "family," "love" and "memories," demonstrating that adults and children are aligned on the core values that make a house a home.

Can a home you weren't born in have memories attached to it? I hope so. I couldn't pick the house I was born in out of a lineup.

Monday, February 11, 2008

You Would Never See This During the Cold War

Due to some truly desperate and/or misguided marketing, the U.S. Navy mailed my husband a recruitment brochure. But more disturbing than the idea that the U.S. Navy is so desperate that they're trying to recruit thirtysomething Spanish professors with bad backs, is their pitch.

Want to heat up your career before you leave college? NUKE IT.

And on the other side:

Ready to start a high-speed chain reaction?

I am not making these up. I tried to find an image of this brochure online to no avail. As soon as I can get to a scanner, I will scan and post it.
But wait, there's more inside.

Start a high-speed chain reaction. Propel your life and your country forward!

So the Navy is actively pursuing people with a proclivity for dropping The Bomb, or at least playing fast and loose with fissile material. This does not make me sleep easier.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Atheists have their say. Virtually.

John Allen Paulos, bringin' math to the masses like we all should, has some questions for the candidates.

This puts a point to the conversation had some time ago over at thecitizens about how the atheists/agnostics felt more looked down on than the Mormons. I remain frankly dubious of that characterization, although proponents like Christopher Hitchens are actively baiting religious folk, so perhaps the trend is heading that way.

Anyhow, as always, Paulos has some excellent questions, though there are a few in there that seem rather lacking in oomph to me. No doubt Paulos himself could say something about the pros and cons of the "top X list" format of articles -- oh wait, he already did (see A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper).

Monday, February 04, 2008

Daily Show interview

Bob: "Well, that was a nice interview."
Rebecca: "Of course, it's Tim Gunn! They're like the two nicest guys on television!"

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Hope . . . Vote (alt title: Obama-sing-a-long-a)

Am I the only person that was moved to tears by this YouTube video in support of Barack Obama? According to it was made independently of the campaign by Bob Dylan's son, director Jesse Dylan, and musician of the Black Eyed Peas. It features a singing Scarlett Johansson, Harold Perrineau, and some other famous people who I am not qualified to identify, but who are all listed at

Of course, as is often the case these days, I was moved to create a number of t-shirts of Obama quotes from this and other speeches.

Here are the lyrics if you're a YouTube-phobe.

It was a creed written into the founding documents that declared the destiny of a nation.

Yes we can.

It was whispered by slaves and abolitionists as they blazed a trail toward freedom.

Yes we can.

It was sung by immigrants as they struck out from distant shores and pioneers who pushed westward against an unforgiving wilderness.

Yes we can.

It was the call of workers who organized; women who reached for the ballots; a President who chose the moon as our new frontier; and a King who took us to the mountaintop and pointed the way to the Promised Land.

Yes we can to justice and equality.

Yes we can to opportunity and prosperity.

Yes we can heal this nation.

Yes we can repair this world.

Yes we can.

We know the battle ahead will be long, but always remember that no matter what obstacles stand in our way, nothing can stand in the way of the power of millions of voices calling for change.

We have been told we cannot do this by a chorus of cynics...they will only grow louder and more dissonant . . . . We've been asked to pause for a reality check. We've been warned against offering the people of this nation false hope.

But in the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope.

Now the hopes of the little girl who goes to a crumbling school in Dillon are the same as the dreams of the boy who learns on the streets of LA; we will remember that there is something happening in America; that we are not as divided as our politics suggests; that we are one people; we are one nation; and together, we will begin the next great chapter in the American story with three words that will ring from coast to coast; from sea to shining sea --

Yes. We. Can.

Slave to Fashion

I am a big supporter of the Writers Guild of America strike, which is particularly easy given that I don't watch television. However, along with the economic impact on the rank and file entertainment industry workers, the big bummer about the strike is the lack of red carpet.

I love me some red carpet. It's just a completely fantastical fashion brief: make this person who just stepped out of a car look amazing from all conceivable angles for both still photography and video while standing on a brightly colored, non-reflective surface in a garment that has to be unique but appealing to that actor's target demographic. And the pictures of this person in this garment will make or break their career . . . so no pressure.

Alas, this season we are thus far left with the Screen Actors Guild Awards as our only fix. So enjoy the lasting photos of people not sure how to dress for an event that they usually don't bother to show up for, and certainly wouldn't wear a gown to, cocktail dress being more appropriate, and vote, Unions Yes!

There are some gorgeous ones at the New York Times.
And of course the ladies of Go Fug Yourself gave their two cents on a few ensembles.

Keep your fingers crossed for the Oscars!