Although it’s been said many times many ways…


Merry Christmas.

Seriously.

I’ve been thinking about finding joy in this holiday this week, mostly because a sweet friend of mine taught a wonderful lesson in church on Sunday about finding joy in our lives. It got me thinking all about when I feel joyful (not nearly often enough), why I feel joyful when I do, and how I can feel it more often.

My conclusion? I am the stifler of my own joyful experiences.

Of course, I think all of us will admit to being more stressed than we should be, too distracted from the “important” things, and generally living the crazy life: kids, jobs, bills, keeping things afloat. And while certainly the execution of daily events can make or break a joyful experience, that’s not what I’m talking about. When I say I stifle my own joy, this is what I mean.

When I find a solution to a problem that seemed completely insurmountable only hours before, but I don’t allow myself to feel the all-encompassing relief and divine gratitude for my answer because I’m afraid I’ve misunderstood and something will still go wrong.

When I refuse to smile and laugh with my toddlers and their silliness because minutes before they were being stubborn and disobedient and I’m still angry about it.

When I get ready in the morning and ignore makeup or earrings (which I love) because I don’t like that my jeans are a little on the snug side.

When someone surprises me with something thoughtful and I refrain from reacting enthusiastically in order to avoid looking silly.

When I pout for hours (or days!) about an assumed slight, which of course I later find I completely blew out of proportion.

I could go on, and on, and on–and I don’t think I’m the only one.

You don’t have to raise your hands, or confess anything here, but think about it. Are you having a Merry Christmas? Are there things about your attitude that could change the way your world looks right now? Because even though my shopping isn’t done (or even started!), my Christmas tree is a bit lopsided, and I have yet to make goodies or dance with the kiddos to a rousing rendition of Jingle Bell Rock, I happen to know that my Merry Christmas starts right here with me. My head. My willingness to be joyful. To feel joy.

No one is going to make my life joyful, my Christmas Merry. Except for me.

I appreciate the reminder.



Quilting Basics: What tools do I need to start quilting?

While there are millions and billions of quilting tools, templates, and doohickeys out there, there are only a few you really need to get started. The rest you will acquire with time, I’m sure. Here are the basics.

Sewing machine:

You can quilt with just about any sewing machine out there, because really, all you need is a straight stitch. If you’re new to quilting, but want to get into machine applique, you’ll probably want a machine that does decorative stitches as well. These days, even the most basic machines have at least a straight and zig-zag stitch.

Thread:

You’ll read all kinds of information out there about which thread is better, discussions on cotton thread vs. polyester thread, and especially information on why you should never use one or the other. Here’s what I have to say: don’t stress it. Unless you’re planning on making quilts that will last centuries (I’m not), just choose the thread that matches best and go with it. I generally try to use cotton thread with cotton fabric and polyester with synthetics, but I don’t freak out if they occasionally mix it up. Here’s why: I use my quits. Every day. I fully intend that they’ll be reduced to shreds at some point, and that’s alright. Some people will tell you that if you mix cotton and polyester your seams will be stronger than your fabric, or vis versa. Quite frankly, my quilt will probably be trashed by the goobers long before it can fall apart on its own. If, however, you’re wanting to make quilts that last for-EV-er, you may want to read up on the thread controversy and come to your own conclusion. For the record, I use Gutermann 100% cotton thread almost exclusively, it’s a high quality thread that doesn’t lint up my machine as badly as the cheap threads.

Needles:

Both sewing machine and hand sewing needles. In general, a universal needle will do you just fine. Be sure to stock up, you’ll want to change needles after about 8 hours of sewing with it. You’ll want little “straw needles” for applique and binding too, I use size 11.

Flat surface for cutting:

A desk, a floor, a counter top…the possibilities are endless.

Scissors and/or rotary cutter, mat, and ruler:

Some good sharp scissors will of course be helpful, as will a basic rotary set. It takes a bit to get good at rotary cutting, but it saves SO. MUCH. TIME. A rotary cutter is a circular blade that you roll along a ruler to cut through multiple layers of fabric at a time.

Iron & Ironing Board:

Nothing too fancy here, just a good, clean iron. It will help if it has a steam setting, but it’s not necessary. Make sure your ironing board cover is clean, too.

Pins:

Get some quilters pins with a flat head, rather than a little ball or bead at the end. These will help you get things lined up just right. Also, you’ll want some curved safety pins, for basting.

There you have it! Really, most of this stuff you probably already have. If you watch for sales and discounts, you should be able to get a basic rotary set and some pins for under $30.

Happy quilting!



All Boxed Up: A Free Beginner Table Runner Pattern

Wanna make this?

Thought so.

Quick and easy, this table runner would be a perfect first project for a new quilter, and makes a sweet and charming (if I do say so myself) gift for someone on your list. I made mine in a little over 4 hours, and that includes some pretty dense machine quilting. Yours can be done even faster, I bet.

Let’s get going!

You’ll need:

1 pack (36+) 5″ squares (charm pack)

3/4 yard white solid

1-1/6 yard backing fabric OR

1-5/8 yard backing fabric**

**Here’s the deal. It’s more economical to make two of these at a time, because it works out perfectly to cut the right length yardage right down the middle to make 2 runners. If you absolutely only want to make one, you’ll have quite a bit of leftover backing fabric. SO. Buy the 1-1/6 backing if you only want one runner and know you’ll have extra. Buy 1-5/8  yards if you’d like to make 2, and you won’t have any leftovers. Keep in mind, all other measurements are for a single table runner, so if you do decide to buy two, of course get two of everything else.

24 x 58 batting

Here we go!

Step 1:

Start by cutting (7) 2½ strips from your white solid. Cut the strips from the width of your fabric (WoF). (3) of the strips will be used for your “quilt top”. The remaining strips will be used to bind your table runner. Set those four aside. (Sorry about the pictures, it was dark.)

Step 2:

Lay out 36 of your charm squares in 3 rows of 12.  Using a 1/4″ seam allowance, sew the squares together in lengthwise strips by putting the right sides together and sewing down one side. Press your seams all the same direction, either all to the right or all to the left.

Step 3:

Sew together your 3 white strips lengthwise, and then cut (2) 54½” pieces. Press seams one direction.

Step 4:

Put the “quilt top” together by pinning 2 adjacent rows together at a time, right sides together. Be sure to pin thoroughly so that you don’t have uneven edges. Press seams toward the white strips.

Step 5:

Cut your backing fabric to size. Depending on which amount of yardage you chose, you will do this one of two ways. If you chose to make only one runner, just lay out your backing fabric with your “quilt top” on top of it, and cut the backing so you have an extra inch or so all around the quilt top. If you chose to make two runners, fold your fabric in half lengthwise and cut down the fold. This will make 2 backing pieces the appropriate size.

Step 6:

Make your quilt sandwich by laying out your backing fabric right side down on a smooth flat surface. To help avoid puckers, I suggest taping the fabric to the floor or table so it is taut. Then, layer the batting on top of the backing fabric. Finally, lay your quilt top on top, smoothing out any wrinkles. Pin all layers together, remove tape.

Step 7:

Using your sewing machine, sew all layers together. This is called “quilting” the quilt. You can do all sorts of patterns, but that can get complicated. To keep it simple, you can do what’s called “stitch in the ditch”. This means to just sew along all the seams.

Step 8:

Once you’re done quilting, trim the edges and square up the corners.

Step 9:

Use your remaining white strips to bind the quilt. Voila!



Light the Menorah

There’s just nothing like some great Christmas music, the lights dimmed, the twinkle of the tree, and some hot chocolate or chamomile tea. Nothing.

I haven’t really put out all my decorations, because let’s face it: I have two (nearly) 3-year-olds. (I can’t believe they’re almost 3–so cliche, but where did the time go?) I figure some of my things don’t stand a chance with that duo around, so I’ll leave them in boxes for the next coupla years. We put up the tree though, and the goobers were just so tickled. I think they laid under it for a good 5 minutes, just staring. Honestly I don’t think they’ve ever been that still for that long. Ever. At least while they’re awake.

I’m also doing some seasonal sewing around here that I can’t wait to show you. Stay tuned. (Psst! I’ve heard there will be a table runner pattern posted on Friday. Just sayin’.) And after that, I have to dig in to the absolutely delicious new fabric that Lissa sent my way (thanks again! mwa!). I have so many ideas for it, I can’t wait to get started.

We have a fun tradition at our house: our annual Hanukkah party. This year falls extra early, starting today, and so I’ve been more in a Hanukkah mode than Christmas.

I know, I know. Hanukkah and Christmas in the same sentence. Lemme ‘splain.

Jacob (my sweet husband) grew up celebrating both Hanukkah and Christmas in his home because his father grew up Jewish, then later converted to Christianity. Still, the holidays and traditions of his childhood held a special place for him, and he wanted his children to know their heritage. So they celebrated and learned. When we were married, we wanted to continue the tradition. So in our home, there are dreidels sitting alongside manger scenes, menorahs reflecting the twinkle lights on the tree.  Sort of seems like a paradox, but really, they’re both beautiful holidays that celebrate the miracles that a loving Father performed for his children and I find that they complement each other beautifully.

Plus, I make killer latkes.

Hence the annual party. Not sure if you’re aware, but you can’t really make just a few latkes. The recipe starts with something like 5 pounds of potatos and more than a few onions. If I ate all 20,000 latkes (and I could, they are AMAZING) I’d be more than 5 pounds heaver, that’s for sure. Plus, around here, next to no one has ever really been exposed to Hanukkah, and it’s fun to share something new and lovely with friends.

So things are in full holiday swing over here, with 7 parties in the next two weeks, and 5 birthdays (including mine!) and we’re loving it. Now all we need is a blizzard, and the season will be perfect.

Hope your holidays are shaping up just perfectly, whether you celebrate one holiday or a few.

Mwa!



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