Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Lesson of YOLO [Translation: "You Only Live Once")

Had lunch with a good friend yesterday and over our meals of quiche and garden salad, I complained bitterly (and in my whiny voice) about my always-frantic schedule.  I'm usually up by 5:00am working on the computer, filling orders or keeping up my bookkeeping responsibilities for my husband's electrical business.  Two hours later, it's time for a quick shower and on to my day job in the city, and then back home that evening where my pattern designs, rug hooking and wool dyeing are waiting, not to mention the laundry, vacuuming, a hungry hubby and two schnauzer dogs.

I have to clarify here that even though I am wantonly complaining, there is no way am I willing to give up my day job.  I believe a gal needs mad money, and besides, it gives me an excuse to buy clothes.

So it happened that a couple evenings ago, I was in the back yard with the hubby going over the measurements for a small shop so I can dye wool this winter without the rain and snow falling on my head.  As Paul concentrated on the measurements for the trusses and roofing materials, I accidentally stretched out on the grass and looked straight up into the blue evening sky.  One minute turned into five as I imagined how luxurious it would be to spend summer evenings in our back yard, prone and comfortable under the shade trees or curled up on the patio swing with a glass of iced tea or vino.

And that's when everything snapped and the sky began falling.  It wasn't that I was tired of the long hours or my busy schedule, because if there's anything I know about myself, it's that I continue to create this type of life because I enjoy it.

I realized in that instant I wasn't tired of hooking rugs or dyeing wool or appliqueing and quilting. No, to the contrary, I spend precious life-hours doing those things because I truly enjoy them.  But I also enjoy Jeeping and four-wheeling and our tiny cabin in the woods, and I would certainly enjoy a few minutes now and then to sit on my patio or dig through my berry garden.

And that's how I ended up at lunch with my friend, enjoying some stolen time finished with hot apple pie and vanilla ice cream.  As I ranted to her about my busy schedule, all the while fidgeting and twisting my hair all over my head, she suddenly stopped me and said, "What do you love?"  In that moment, everything stopped and my mouth dropped open as I pondered her question.  She elaborated, "YOLO.  It means "You-Only-Live-Once."  If you could choose to spend your time doing what you really love, what would it be?"  


So I began to ask myself what kinds of things really ring my bell.  At the top of my list is Jeeping with my hubby, camping, spending weekends at our rustic cabin, wild trips to Las Vegas and working in my flower and berry gardens.  Those things were easy to choose; it has never been hard to decide how to spend my free time.  What has come harder to decide is how to spend my business time.  What things do I really love?  I love designing rug hooking patterns.  And wool applique.  And dyeing wool and creating punch needle designs.  But I don't like getting mired down mailing tons of wool swatches or maintaining mailing lists or dyeing wool at 5:00am in order to meet a self-imposed deadline of releasing six new colors that week.  I can name a million things I do each day that are probably not necessary but somehow feel vaguely important.

So my friends, what kinds of things make you happy?  Play time with your children? Sewing or rug hooking?  Spending time with a good cup of coffee?  Think about things you spend life-hours doing that don't ring your bell, and then ask yourself if they are absolutely necessary and what would happen if you discontinue them.

As for me, I'm going to sit down with a glass of cheap vino this weekend and do as my friend suggests--I'm starting a list of the things I really love and things I don't want to continue.  I'm going to make time for new rug hooking designs and trash some old ideas that I'm not entirely happy with.  I'm going to work in time for my hubby and my berry garden and trips to Las Vegas.  Life is short and precious, and it's time to clear out the cobwebs and make time for things that matter.

As my friend says, "Remember YOLO."       --xoxo, Melanie

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Skinny on Punch Needle - Have You Tried it Yet?

Have you ever tried punch needle?  There's a good amount of instruction on the internet on this fun craft, and I have to admit I spent a fair amount of time (uh, $$) following bad instruction.  Since we’re friends here, I want to help you avoid frustration, so I've prepared this little introduction to punch needle.  As always, if you have additional questions (and you might), don't hesitate to make a comment on the blog or drop me an email at melanie@americanpiedesigns.com.

Punch Needle Pattern "C is for Cat" (www.americanpiedesigns.com)


Three Little Guidelines:

I've got three little guidelines I always follow.  You'll probably try your own methods and equipment and that's fine, but I bet you'll eventually stop pulling your hair out and come full-swing back to these suggestions:

Number one, you will have a superior result if you use “weavers cloth” for your punching foundation.  Anyone who tells you to punch on aida cloth, evenweave, muslin or an old sheet isn’t telling you how much difficulty you are going to have or how crummy your finished project will look.  If your loops are uneven or missing in places, chances are you are not using weaver’s cloth.

Number two, use an “Ultra-Punch” brand needle (sometimes called a “Cameo” punch needle).  I’ve used Boye, Clover, Dimensions and many other brands (and I hope I don’t make those nice folks mad), but Ultra-Punch is the only brand I recommend and offer on my website.  Why?  Hey, it’s simple--I want my loops to look good!

Number three, don’t try to use a standard embroidery hoop to hold your foundation cloth--it just doesn't work.  Instead, I use an inexpensive Morgan interlocking hoop.  There are also lap frames made especially for punch needle embroidery which work very well, but they are more expensive.

A Little Preparation:

Now, the first thing you will notice about a punch needle pattern is it is drawn backwards on the paper or weavers cloth.  That’s because you’ll punch from the back side of your project, so the pattern is intentionally “reversed” or is a mirror image of the completed design.  Don’t worry, your finished loops will appear on the underside of your hoop or frame and your completed design will look exactly as it's supposed to.  Also:
  • I use standard DMC® embroidery floss.  You can use the colors shown in whatever pattern you use or you can choose your own color combinations.  Embroidery floss is not expensive and goes a long way in punch needle projects.
  • Thread your needle with 6 strands of embroidery floss (just follow the easy instructions that come with your punch needle).  Then, I recommend setting your needle in the #2 position (Ultra-Punch needles are easy to adjust and lock into position).  You can play around with other settings and see what you think, but I personally love the height of my loops with the #2 setting.
  • Be sure to stretch the weaver’s cloth drum-tight in your hoop or frame. The fabric should “thump” when you flick it with your fingertip.  To get nice loops, it is essential to keep the fabric tight at all times.  Don’t worry if your piece of weavers cloth is not big enough to fit your hoop or frame--just machine stitch some waste fabric to the sides and then stretch it over your frame.  You can cut away the waste fabric later.
So Here We Go!

1.    You’ll notice the tip of your punch needle has an open, scooped side.  Normally, the  scooped side should face in the direction you want to punch your stitches, but I often rotate the needle a bit so I am punching with the scooped side facing sideways (or towards my thumb):

Tip of "Ultra-Punch" Brand Punch Needle

2.    Hold your punch needle like a pencil and keep it straight up and down (not at an angle).  If you are right-handed, you should punch from right to left.  If you are left-handed, punch from left to right.

3.    The Ultra Punch needle comes with three different size needles: small, medium and large.  For my patterns, I use the medium tip.  Following the manufacturer’s instructions, thread the needle with six strands of embroidery floss.

4.    You can start punching anywhere in the design that you like, except always punch the outline of each shape and then fill it in.  To begin, punch your needle down through the fabric as far as it will go (you will hear a “popping” sound if your fabric is tight enough in the frame) and slowly pull your needle back up until it barely emerges from the fabric.  Leave a short 1/4” tail of floss sticking up from your work--don’t worry; this will not unravel later.  Slide the tip over the fabric by about the width of your needle and punch it down again.  Try to keep the tip of the needle in contact with the fabric at all times. Punch down through the fabric again, slowly lift, slide, punch, slowly lift, slide, punch . . . that’s all there is to it!  Do this until you are familiar with the movement and then you will pick up speed very quickly.  You’ll notice loops forming on the underside (this is actually the front) and small running stitches appearing on the side facing you (this is the back). 
Punch Down Through Foundation Fabric
Slowly Lift . . .
Slide . . .
Punch Again!

5.    Once you have punched at least a 1” square, you’ll notice your stitches are beginning to “lock” into each other on the right side, forming a nice, soft, textured surface where your stitches will not pull out later.

6.    When you come to the end or want to change thread color, place your fingertip firmly against the last stitch to hold it in place.  Pull the needle gently up and away from the fabric and cut the floss, leaving an approximate 1/4” tail sticking up from your work (this tail will not unravel later):



Tips and Tricks:

  • I always begin each project by punching a single row of dense, tightly‑packed loops around the entire outside border of my design (this frames my project and helps keep the edges square).  Although not required, I usually continue by punching the shapes that appear in the foreground first.  For example, if a design has lettering in it, I punch the letters first and then punch the background.  Whatever order you punch the design, always punch the outline of each shape and then fill it in. The background should be the very last thing you hook.  I usually punch a couple of rows around everything in the main background color and then a row of a secondary detail color here and there to add depth and interest to the background.
  • If you reach a corner or need to change direction, stop with your needle in the down position, rotate your hoop or frame, and then continue to punch.
  • Remember, your stitches should be about a needle’s width in length and your rows of punching should be about a needle’s width apart.  If the stitches or rows are packed much tighter, your finished project will “hump” and the edges will tend to curl under when you remove your design from the hoop.
  • If you are not happy with a punched row, simply pull out the thread, gently scrape your nail over the weaver's cloth to close the holes, and re-punch.
  • Although you should usually hold your punch needle straight up and down, there is an exception when punching a row immediately next to another color.  In that case, slightly angle your needle down and away from the other row of color.  This will minimize the chance the different colors tangle with each other and will create nice clean shapes on the front side of your project.

Finishing Your Punch Needle:

Sometimes you'll notice some of your loops have tangled with others and strayed where they shouldn't be.  To fix this, take the tip of your punch needle and simply push the loops around to where you want them. Taking that extra step will make your lines clear and well‑defined.  Here is a bad example of colors tangling with each other . . .

This looks messy . . .uh, no-no!
. . . versus the correct way to punch and clean up your work . . .

Nice and clean . . . yes-yes!
When your hooking is complete, remove the design from your hoop.  If you have any loops or threads sticking up too far on the front side, just snip them off with your scissors (don’t worry, your design will not unravel).

If you packed your rows a bit too tight and your project “humps” a little or the edges tend to curl under, place it face down on an old terry cloth towel and gently steam the back with an iron.  (Caution:  Use more “steam” than pressure.  If you apply much pressure, your loops will permanently flatten.)

Finishing Ideas:

Some punchers like to antique their projects and make them look old and worn.  One way to do this is to mix two or three tablespoons of instant coffee in hot water and dab it onto your project with a sponge.  Allow it to dry and then reapply if you want it darker.  If it is too dark, carefully rinse some of the coffee away with cool water and allow your punch needle to air dry.

If you want to finish your design as a pillow or pin keep, trim the excess weavers cloth approximately 1” away from your last row of loops.  Place your punch needle face down with right sides together onto muslin or other fabric you chose for the back.  Stitch the front and back together using a zipper foot on your sewing machine (a zipper foot will let you stitch as close as possible to the outside row of punched loops).  If you do not have a zipper foot, get as close as possible to the last row of loops without getting them caught in your seam line.  Stitch all the way around, leaving about a 2-1/2” opening at the bottom for turning.  Trim the excess fabric to approximately 1/4” from your stitched seam.  Turn your design right-side-out and stuff it very firmly with polyester fiberfill.  Finish the bottom by joining the opening together with tiny hidden stitches.

To finish your design as a little mat for your table or under a candle, trim the excess weavers cloth approximately 1/2” away from your last row of hoops.  Fold that seam allowance toward the back side and gently steam press it in place, being careful not to flatten your loops on the front side. Cut a piece of wool craft felt the same size as your finished design and pin it to the back.  Using a needle and single strand of thread, whipstitch or blanket stitch around the outside edges.

I hope this information gets you excited to start your own punch needle project!  As always, feel free to leave me a comment or send me an email if you have questions or would like additional info.  In the meantime, Happy Stitchin'!   xoxo--Melanie

Special thanks to Earl at Punch Needle Marketplace for allowing me use of graphics and images from www.punchneedlemarketplace.com.

Friday, April 11, 2014

FREE PATTERN! - Check Out the Jelly Roll Jam Quilt!

My town is filled to the brim with springtime tulips, bluebells and forsythia, and I thought now is a good time to share a beautiful FREE quilt pattern for the "Jelly Roll Jam Quilt" developed by Sherri McConnell for The Fat Quarter Shop (you can find a link to the pattern near the bottom of this post).

Sherri used a "jelly roll" fabric pack called Giggles by Me & My Sister at Moda, or your can also cut forty 2-1/2-inch wide strips from your favorite Moda fabrics . . .


Jelly Roll Jam Quilt Pattern by Fat Quarter Shop for Moda

The Jelly Roll Jam Quilt is a shortcut quilt that is fast and easy to assemble and looks bright and full of spring.  Don't you agree?  It's also a great project to use up small pieces of Moda fabric from your stash!  I love Sherri McConnell's fabric selections and combinations, and I think these quilts would look wonderful on a table with a bouquet of flowers or in a child's crib. Here's some up-close pics of two versions of the quilt by Sherri:

Jelly Roll Jam Quilt in Pinks and also Blues

Close-Up of Jelly Roll Jam Quilt in Pinks and Yellows

Close-Up of Jelly Roll Jam Quilt in Blues/Greens

If you are like me, I always learn better when I can watch a video.  If that also applies to you, you can see the video of how to make the Jelly Roll Jam Quilt here, or you can click on the television screen below!

  

Now, if you are ready to check out the Jelly Roll Jam Quilt, just click on the image below and get started . . .

Click Here for  Free Pattern for "Jelly Roll Jam Quilt"


I hope this has inspired you to get excited about a new quilting project, and see how easy it is to use jelly roll fabric packs!  I'm headed back to my workroom to pull out some fabrics and see what color combinations will look best for my own Jelly Roll Jam Quilt.  In the meantime, Happy Stitchin'!  --xoxo, Melanie



Wednesday, April 9, 2014

New Patterns and New Wool!

In my neck of the world, it's turning into a beautiful spring! There's a street in the old part of town called Harrison Boulevard, which is home to hundred-year-old mansions that line both sides of the road for almost two miles. The center of Harrison Boulevard is neatly divided by manicured islands of grass and trees, and down each side grow tulips, bright yellow forsythia and flowering cherry and plum trees. Our town is encircled by rolling foothills, and higher above, by mountainous peaks. Although here in the valley we're getting temperatures of 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, you can still see snow high above and the area's favorite resort, Bogus Basin, is open and promises powdered slopes for skiers and snowboarders.

With spring bustin' around me, it's hard not to sneak in a stitch or two on one of my new crochet designs for a cute giraffe you can make for your children or grandkids.  Below, you can see the beginnings of his head and fat snout . . .



. . . and then his fat belly to which I will add a loooong neck . . .



The giraffe will have long legs and arms, and the best part is he is all done in single crochet. The pattern will be available soon for only $4.85 in my other Etsy shop, Lollypoppers, and also on my American Pie Website.  I'll keep everyone posted when the pattern is completed!

Coming in May: New Line of Hand-Dyed Wools for Rug Hooking and Wool Applique! I've been working with a fellow designer, Yvonne Buus of Vintage Heart Primitives, who does incredible rug hooking designs. (If you are a rug hooker, you should check out her patterns--you will feel right at home around her beautiful work!)

Yvonne has encouraged me to release my own signature collection of hand-dyed wool that will appear on my website in early May. Most of my collection comes from vintage dye recipes and will be soft, richly colored and consistent. My website will undergo complete reconstruction (which will not please those of you who hate change), and is necessary in order to bring you a great experience when you visit my site. You are going to love the quality and beauty of these hand-dyed wools, and I think you will also like my grand-opening celebration when the wools are released.  More about that later!

Spring is About Turkey Hunting (Uh, Sorta)!  When my hubby and I are done playing in the snow in about a week, we head to the mountains where spring is abundant.  My husband hunts turkeys, which he dearly loves, but I always joke I won't hunt that hard for a piece of bird breast. Instead, I spend my days at the motor home with our two schnauzers, watching the creek run by and photographing hen turkeys that walk into camp. Hen turkeys are safe from hunters, so I get really great pics of the huge birds as they strut past my lawn chair. The best part of my hubby's turkey hunting is I get to spend every weekend for six weeks tending the campfire, eating chips and salsa and working on my hooked rugs, punch needle and wool applique! It is a wonderful time for me, as the hubby comes back to camp around evening, just about the time I am ready to start dinner and build up the fire. It's a wonderful way to spend my weekends, and should result in completion of a few more designs I hope you will like.

Chairman Meow is Almost Finished!  I've posted a couple sneaker pics of my newest rug hooking design, "Chairman Meow", which is loosely based on a grumpy old cat we had for several years. I have the rug about two-thirds complete and hope to release the pattern by the end of this weekend. I love Chairman Meow and think you will enjoy the pattern as much as I do!

Well, I'm headed back to my worktable, and I hope you have a great week.  In the meantime, Happy Stitchin'!  --xoxo, Melanie