Archive for July, 2010

In Honor of Mark

I lost a good friend about two months ago. We met 35 years ago in Italy and remained friends ever since. By happy coincidence my teaching jobs occasionally took me places near where Mark lived and we got a chance to catch up on each other’s lives more often than we could have otherwise.

I couldn’t make it to Mark’s funeral and his Memorial Service was this past Saturday on the other side of the country. So I sent a quilt.

I had asked Mark’s mom if I could have some of his shirts. Six boxes arrived, thanks to one of Mark’s friends! The T-shirts will have to wait for another time, but I took apart the others and cut out the pockets from each one. Working without a pattern, I sewed them together in strips, appliquing the plackets over some seams, and also using them to bridge gaps needed to grow rows when they were too short. (Hint: 1/4″ Steam-A-Seam tape is great for this. Fuse it to the back of the placket, then to the patches and top stitch.)

I wanted to use the pockets for visual interest and because pockets are positive. They hold things that are important. Even empty, they hold promise that something important will come along. In this case, I hope they will hold memories for Mark’s family.

I stitched the rows together and appliqued more plackets over top.  The plackets were really an excuse to use the buttons. I wanted to touch the buttons Mark touched. They also offered closure, both literally and figuratively.

I cut the left and right plackets off each shirt and buttoned them together so I could be sure to sew the buttons back onto the appropriate buttonholes later. (Again, buttons on buttonholes are more interesting than just buttons. Blue painters’ tape kept the button in position until I sewed it on the quilt top.

If the thread used to sew on the button originally was anything other than white, I wrote the color thread to use on the tape.

The tape helped me reposition the bottom and hold it in place while I sewed. Took me quite a few buttons to figure out a system as I was using a #20 applique foot, probably not made for sewing on buttons. Bernina makes a foot for sewing buttons on, and I know I have one; I just couldn’t find it!

After more than 180 buttons, I got pretty good at it.

I set the stitch to zigzag, dropped the feed dogs, lined up the button holes as best I could and manually guided the needle down the first hole by rotating the handwheel. A Bernina “heel tap” brought the needle back up again and I repeated the alignment process for the second hole (Sometimes the stitch width needed adjusting; not all buttons are the same size.)  If I made it in and out of the two holes without incident, I hit the gas. I never did break a needle.

Rotate and stitcht the other wayThen I peeled off the tape, rotated the quilt top the other way and zigzagged some more. At the end of the process, I threaded the top tails into a magic needle, drew them to the back and tied all four threads into a big knot, and clipped the tails. They would be hidden inside the quilt. Except for the buttons I forgot. Those were sewn after the quilt was quilted.

I used shirt backs for the backing and rented time on a long arm machine, making up the quilting as I went along. 

I made a tissue holder for each pocket, also out of parts of Mark’s shirts.  The quilt was displayed at the Memorial Service. People attending were invited to take a tissue holder made from Mark’s shirts with them. If they chose they could write a memory of Mark on a piece of paper and put it in one of the pockets on the quilt and I understand they did just that.  Here’s a “free pattern” for the tissue holders. Notice the quotation marks.

I have ideas for more quilts from Mark’s shirts; I have a lot of leftovers! Some will be wilder than this one, but I have a few traditional quilts in mind too.

It has been a great honor to make this quilt for Mark’s family. I hope the pieces bring them peace.

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July 31, 2010 at 6:38 am 78 comments

I’m Too Stupid To Own This Watch

One of my best friends just retired. She stopped wearing a wristwatch. I would go insane without a watch. In fact, I am.

My watch still works, but the “thingy” that holds the strap against itself after you buckle it cracked and fell off.

A new watch band is out of the question as the watch and the band are “one.” The watch still works, I just can’t wear it. To be more exact, I could wear it, but it catches on everything and will probably fall off and land in a bad place, like the Moo Goo Gai Pan trough at the China Buffet. Or I could be rummaging around in my pile of “yet to be ironed” fabric and lose it forever. My luck, my  trusty Timex would fall off in an airport bathroom and I’d just have to wave goodbye as swirled into another dimension.

In case you can’t tell, my watch used to be purple.  It’s been through a lot. It’s an Ironman triathlon. I think that’s particularly amusing as it is obviously a “girl” watch, sized for a  woman’s wrist.

The triathlon is a misnomer too. Mall Walkers like me don’t time laps, although I could if I wanted to. Are there any Tri-Quilt-Athon watches?

I know how to operate each of the wonderful features this watch comes with. I can set it (in two time zones), change from regular to military time, make it beep (and stop it from beeping), set any or all of the three alarms, run the stopwatch, and the countdown timer.  That last option has been particularly helpful. Throw just about anything in the dryer for 10 minutes, hang it on the line, and say good-bye to wrinkles.

So yesterday I bought a replacement watch. I got a green one. I should have known better when it took the saleslady several minutes to get it out of the mini plastic display capsule.

But it was the only green one. I was willing to go with a different brand even though the icons inhabiting the top third of the watch were too small for me to see. I could make out the time and the date. Did I mention it was green? It also had a timer and stopwatch.

This morning I uncrumpled the directions and attempted to set my new watch, the ones written in type the size of gnat droppings. After a good 10 minutes I realized that Mr. Armitron and I label things differently.  I followed what I believed to be the letters A, B, C, D only to discover that they were A, D, B, C. Makes a big difference.

Just in case you wanted to see all the wonderful features, here are more of the directions. I ironed them (low setting) to get the wrinkles out and then scanned them. They are pretty close to actual size.

I spent another 26 minutes fiddling with the new watch. (I know this because I timed myelf with the old watch. ) I learned that you can ADD and hour, but you can’t subtract one. There’s only ONE alarm. Switching to the second time zone requires pushing more than one button. And I still can’t read the top third of the watch! But that’s OK because the watch is 3 hours and 42 minutes fast. (I couldn’t figure out how to set it either.)

So, today I’m going back to the store, receipt in hand to return it. I’m too stupid to own this watch. I am not too stupid to get it back in the original container, which took some doing, but I have 17 minutes to take care of the transaction. That’s when the watch will start beeping again.

But it’s OK. I fixed my old watch.


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July 22, 2010 at 11:05 am 73 comments

Thread Lifter Lifts Spirits…and MORE!

First a little quilting lesson.

There are two kinds of threads. Actually, there are way more than that, but in terms of how they unfurl off the spool, there are basically two kinds: the ones where the spool goes up and down and the ones where the spool goes side to side.

Since I’m using some highly technical jargon here. Let’s move right to the picture. (That’s what we all do when we “read” a quilt pattern anyway, right?)

Don’t feel bad if you didn’t know this. I didn’t for years. Of course I’m the one that never measured the distance between her needle and the side of her foot and just assumed it was 1/4″. HA! I was more like 3/8″ and for 12 years nothing every went together right. But that’s another story. I digress.

There is logic somewhere, about the spool thing, but I don’t know where. Nevertheless, I feel strongly that I am right and you should feed the thread through your machine in the same orientation as they are shown in the cute picture above featuring my left thumb. I took that picture myself, one-handed, obviously. Possibly another reason to follow my advice. (I know things.)

Well all that is just fine, isn’t it? Every machine I’ve ever seen comes with a spindle that goes up and down. The problem is that hardly any of the machines that I own have a spindle that goes side to side —- which wouldn’t be a problem, except that when you put a side-to-side spool on a up-and-down spindle and sew at any speed above a crawl, well then, as they say in River City, you got trouble. (The Music Man is one of my favorite musicals because it is one of the few I managed to load on my iPod and I have been known to sing along, loudly, in embarrassingly public places.)

Yes, you got Trouble (note capital T, just like the song) and the Trouble is that if you sew really fast there’s too much pull on the thread. It feeds slower through the machine and can make your tension wonky. Doesn’t do a lot for the tension on the machine either.  If you go fast enough the spool can fly right off and cause injury. It’s not as bad as sewing through your finger (no comments on that please, I have a weak stomach) but like our mothers said, “It could poke an eye out!”

Add to that, the fact that some of the side-to-side spools have several miles of thread which is GREAT, except that they won’t even fit on your side-to-side spindle. Too many words again. Sorry. We need another picture.

Did you notice my cute little gold-handled, fold-up “Travel or Stay At Home” scissors? They’re sitting on my safe-for-computerized-machines  “Magnetic Pin & Scissor Grabber. ” (Hey, this is a free blog. How am I supposed to buy fabric? A little advertising never hurt anybody.)

So what’s a quilter to do?  Enter the “Wangensteen Thread Lifter” with apologies to anyone out there reading this whose name happens to be Wangensteen, and with a nod of the head to Dr. Owen H. Wangensteeen who invented a similar device for medical pursuits. Normally I wouldn’t know this except that I’m a big fan of M.A.S.H. and Colonel Potter invented one. Wikipedia confirms.

To make a Wangensteen Thread Lifter, take a glass jar and tape a dull pair of shears to the side of it. Put a glob of poster putty on the bottom and “fuse” it to your sewing machine table. Carefully place  the spool of thread inside the jar so it stands upright. (The entire point of this exercise.) A smaller glob of poster putty will hold it in place for a while. Feed the thread through the holes in the scissor handles and then thread the machine.

Problem solved. Kind of. Shrimpy spools fall over inside, big ones don’t  fit in the jar, and the slightest little bump will send the Wangensteen Thread Lifter flying off the table and onto the floor where the thread doesn’t feed all that well at all. It does make a nice cat toy, however. If you have cats. I don’t.

I want to introduce you to Paul from Minnesota. He makes Coneflowers which are one-of-a-kind thread lifters that are as useful as they are gorgeous. They work with all sewing machines, much like the Wangensteen Thread Lifter, but they won’t fall over because they are  made from recycled steel. Heavy.

They work with all kinds of threads which need lifting and they look beautiful sitting next to any machine be it a Bernina or a “boat anchor.” There’s even a place to store bobbins. Wow!

Paul creates three basic Coneflower styles, in single bloom or double bloom, named for his mother-in-law, his daughter, and his daughter in law. (Is that the sweetest thing ever?) When I met Paul he gave me a “Sara” (daughter-in-law). Or maybe it’s a “Barb” (mother-in-law). I don’t care who I have, I just love it to pieces. My tension is perfect, I can run faster, jump higher, and I have better check-ups at the dentist. Seriously, it’s such a good thread lifter I thread it and forget it. And every time I walk by my machine and the chaos that surrounds it, I think what a beautiful piece of art my Coneflower is. And I should really clean up my mess!

After you go shopping on (remember the little commercial from up above?) you should head right over to visit Paul’s Metal Petals. Tell your friends make them go there too. Both places. Everybody needs little treasures in their lives that make them happy.

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July 12, 2010 at 5:32 am 18 comments

Audio Post

Trying something new….

Click the little arrow for an audio message.

I won’t do this all the time, but what do you think? (Comment below please.)

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July 6, 2010 at 9:32 am 136 comments

Don’t let me loose with a camera!

Here’s Steve and I in silhouette. We’re leaning over the railing checking out the fish in the Detroit River from the Canadian side. Look closely and you can see the tiny fish in our shadow.

I don’t know what kind they are or where they were going, but there were zillions of them.

This here is Canadian Water, as we had lunch in Windsor, Ontario today, our strange little celebration during the July 4th week-end. We appreciate the USA inside and out.

Straight in front of us was the “Ren Cen” (Renaissance Center) in downtown Detroit. I deleted the picture of the guy zooming by on the speed boat as I had no idea who he was. We did wave to each other however, so I feel a little guilty.

For the rest of the photo album come over and “like” my page on Facebook. Once you do, you can see the Windsor album. Click here.

July 3, 2010 at 5:32 pm 8 comments

Mutant Fruit

The cherries are here! The cherries are here! It’s really summer and I bought a big bag.

I gently wiggled my fingers around a suitable handful and carefully took them out of the bag. I ran them under cold water, plopped them in a bowl, and wouldn’t you know the first one I chose was a DOUBLE! I haven’t had a double cherry in years. It’s like finding a four-leaf clover except that you can eat it. And, frankly that whole four-leaf-clover thing is way over rated. Who has time to even LOOK for those?!

Twin cherries are like finding  a double yolk. It’s like getting the “baby” green pepper inside of the big one, or discovering an extra few mini sections of a navel orange inside the Mama orange.  FREE FOOD! 

The next blind grab into the bowl of cherries yielded ANOTHER TWIN. I called Steve over. First he was impressed that I still remembered how to forage for food at a grocery store, having given up cooking so long ago. Then he got that “she’s gone overboard again” look when I started rummaging through the rest of the bag to see how many more cherry pairs there were.

Lots. I have just about an entire bag of mutant fruit!

So I’m thinking that these have got to be genetically engineered. What’s next, triplets? In ten years will one stem hold FIVE cherries? That’s just not right. What started out as a happy thing has really got me worried.

First, while it’s fun to get twin cherries, they’re hard to wash. There’s that crevice to consider. Who knows what kind of dirt is hiding in there?

Second, I know this is a family blog, but at just the right angle I can’t help thinking that they look like little rear ends. Sorry.

Third, how are you supposed to eat them? There’s a huge controversy about the best way to eat an Oreo cookie, after all. Do you bite down as is, or twist the two cookie halves apart and scrape the frosting off with your teeth?(Top teeth or bottom teeth?!) Or do you just dunk? If double cherries are going to be the norm, we’re going to have to come up with a national plan, get those think tank guys on this. Are we supposed to risk possibly choking and pop them both in our mouths at the same time? Or are we supposed to twist them apart and eat them one at a time? Which one should I eat first, the one with the stem or the one without?

As you can see, I’ve been thinking about this a lot. And, I can tell you that after the 42nd pair the whole double thing gets old. The novelty has just about worn right off. Sadly, looking at the 82 pits in the bowl, I’m worried about something else now.


If you thought this was amusing, you’ll want to join my NEW Facebook page. I’m not sure why, but I have a Fan Page, except that it’s not called that any more. I think it’s  a “Like” page. So, if you like me here, it shouldn’t be a stretch to “like me” over there as well. I think you can get there from here.  If you don’t like me (over there) I don’t know what I’ll do. But, I suppose I’ll get by. After all, life isn’t always a bowl of cherries. (That new Facebook page again is:!/pages/Ami-Simms/104075532958422?ref=ts)

July 1, 2010 at 11:35 am 32 comments

Ami Simms

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