Saturday 27 May 2017

On Pain

Celtic Ballad 

I know that there are people in this world that suffer pain on a daily basis. Extreme pain, chronic pain, unrelenting pain. How much of it is alleviated by analgesic medication, I'm really not sure. But after this past week, I have a better picture into their world. 
It started maybe 3 weeks ago when I did a little yard work. Not much - just removing the old stalks from my delphiniums and piling them up. I'm quite out of shape, and have had back pain issues on and off for a good part of my life. And yes, I have about 40 pounds to lose, most of which is on my abdomen, which is very detrimental to back health. So, after doing my little bit of yard work, my back was stiff and achy. Nothing too serious, certainly something I could live with. Not sure exactly what contributed to its worsening. I was working on the quilt top (Celtic Ballad) in the picture that opens this post. It involves some pretty intense appliqué. Those smaller blocks are only 4" square, and the actual appliqués are probably less than 1/2" across. So I spent quite a bit of time hunched over my sewing machine, looking closely to make sure that the stitches landed where they needed to be. For 24 of those blocks. And then there were the branches I loaded up and hauled to the dump. I had trimmed them last fall, but didn't get a chance to remove them before the snow flew. And so my back got worse. I wasn't in agony, as I told my chiropractor when I visited him on the Thursday before Victoria Day weekend, but I figured I should get something done about it. 
I had plans for the holiday weekend. No camping trip or vacation, but there's always lots to do around home - cleaning, yardwork - just generally getting things caught up. And, of course, some quilting. I had planned on entering a quilt in each category of the 2017 Pantone Quilt Challenge. I needed to finish the Shamrock Pillow for the small quilt category. The Celtic Ballad quilt top was finished and I had booked time on the longarm at Central Sewing Machines after work on the upcoming Tuesday, so I could finish this quilt to enter in the regular quilt category. But I needed to get the batting and backing ready. I had originally planned on making a Celtic Twist quilt for the top only category, but hadn't even started it yet, and since I had already started the swoon quilt for my sister Judy, and it was in various shades of green, I decided to see if I could finish that one instead. 
Then pain intervened. Instead of getting better, my back pain worsened. And it came mostly in spasms - twisting, wrenching spasms that sometimes caused me to cry out in pain. 
I know what it's like to hobble in pain.
I know what it's like to have a spasm of pain so severe that I felt like my leg might collapse while walking.
I know what it's like to try to figure out the best method to wipe myself after toileting to cause the least pain.
I know what it's like to be afraid to get off the toilet because the act of getting up hurt too much. (Sorry if these last two are TMI). 
I know what it's like to not be able to get down on the floor to play with my grandson.
I know what it's like to be afraid to move because movement brings on the spasms. 
I know what it's like to have a sneeze trigger a back spasm.
I know what it's like to sit on the floor and be afraid I might have to sleep there because I couldn't figure out how to get up again without experiencing the pain. (I was watching a youtube movie on my TV. The volume was really low on the movie, even though I had the TV volume maximized, so I had foolishly decided to sit on the floor to be closer to the TV). 
I know what it's like to drop something on the floor and have to leave it there because it would be too painful to pick it up. 
I know what it's like to try to maximize efficiency to minimize movement. When I crouched down to fill the dry cat food bowl, I picked up the canned cat food bowl while I was down there, so that I could fill it.
I know what it's like not to shower or dress because those activities require too much movement, and movement causes pain. Try putting on socks when you have back pain.
And I know what it's like to have a physical disability (even though temporary) prevent me from doing the things I'd planned. I couldn't clean or do yard work. I paid my daughter to mow my lawn. I couldn't clean out the cold storage room or defrost the freezer. I couldn't vacuum out the truck. 
Not only did the pain collapse my plans for the weekend, but I missed a whole week of work. And, of course, there was no way I could get Celtic Ballad quilted. While I did have some times of no or less pain, that would have required nearly 3 hours of driving round-trip to get there, plus a couple of hours of mostly standing to get the quilting done. And while I could stand for short periods, I am certain that the long drive and too much standing would not have benefited my back - if I could even manage to get into the truck, not to mention shower and dress first. Plus I couldn't count on not having a spasm of pain that would result in really strange quilting patterns. 😕 So, yes, I'm disappointed that I will not have an entry for the regular quilt category in the Pantone quilt challenge. 
Celtic Ballad quilt top, with batting, backing, pantograph and thread all ready to go the longarm studio

Ironically, I have still been able to sew. I use a bar stool for sewing, which may seem weird, but you can read more about that here. It's high, so it's easy to get out of without precipitating too much back pain. And it's firm - very little cushion on it - which also makes it easier to get out of, unlike the sofa and chairs in my living room. It actually is the best chair in my house for someone of my height suffering back pain. I rather wish I had one on the main floor as well. One of the recommendations on Web MD for back pain is to change positions every 30 minutes. Simple when you're sewing - you stand up to cut, you sit down to sew, you stand up to iron, without having to move around too much. And occasionally, you go lie down for awhile. And sometimes try to catch up on the sleep you'd lost because it was so painful every time you rolled over at night. 
So, I was actually able to finish the Shamrock pillow and the Swoon quilt top, and enter them in the quilt challenge. And yesterday, I was able to shower and dress and drive to the store for some much needed groceries. And Tylenol Arthritis. Though so far I can't say it helps. Neither did the Ibuprofen I've been trying on and off all week. 
In Home Care, we do an extensive assessment (known as the MDS or the RAI-HC) on our clients on admission, annually and for placement. There's a section on pain, and I couldn't help thinking of it and what my answers would be. 

  • Do you experience pain?
    • No pain
    • Less than daily
    • Daily
    • Multiple times daily (this would be my answer)
  • Rate your pain
    • Mild
    • Moderate
    • Severe
    • Times when pain is excruciating (not sure if I would rate my pain as excruciating, but the spasms were definitely severe). 
  • Does your pain interupt your daily activities?
    • Yes (definitely)
    • No
  • Does your medication control your pain?
    • Yes or no pain
    • Pain present, medication not taken
    • No, the medication does not adequately control my pain (You could only pick one answer, but I would honestly, "No the medication doesn't even touch my pain. I might as well be taking candy because then at least I'd have a sweet taste in my mouth. So for the most part, I just stopped taking it.")
And I'm still afraid of the pain. I'm afraid that when I get up from the chair I'm sitting on right now at my computer desk, I will experience one of those severe spasms. And even if not too severe, the pain has worn me down emotionally to the point where I can't tolerate much of it. I don't want to hurt at all any more. A little bit of achiness, like I'm feeling now just sitting here, may be tolerable, but I want the pain to go away and never return. I want to be able to get up out of this chair and not hurt. 
And eventually, in all likelihood, I will be relatively pain-free again. However, such is not the case for many. There are a lot of individuals who face a future of unremitting pain, which, but for analgesics, would be unbearable, for the duration of their lives. 
My favourite Bible text is probably Romans 8:28. "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose." I'm not sure how lives of unremitting pain can work together for good for those who suffer. I'm not even sure how my experience of pain is going to work for my good. Will it make me more compassionate? Will it motivate me to lose the weight I need to lose? There are many answers we won't know until we get to heaven. But I do know that we have a God who has not and will not forsake us. He is there with us even in the midst of our pain. The end of Romans 8 gives us this assurance, "For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." verses 38 & 39. Furthermore, He has promised us a future in heaven where, "there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away." Revelation 21:4.

Friday 26 May 2017

Un-squaring Square Quilts

My Beloved's Vineyard (at least I think that's what I'll call it)
I don't like square quilts. Well, actually I don't like square BED quilts, because, after all, the only bed that is more or less square is the king size bed. And most of us don't have one of those. So it's fine to make a square quilt for a king size bed. Square is also fine for a throw quilt. Most of my throw quilts are square. But if you get any bigger than 70", it's really no longer a "throw-sized" quilt then, is it? Just what is an 80" square quilt considered? That's pretty large for a throw, but it certainly wouldn't fit any standard-sized mattress. Here's a table on mattress sizes from The Mattress & Sleep Company

Width x Length
Crib28 x 51"71.1 x 129.5 cm
Half Queen30 x 79 ½"76.2 x 202 cm
Twin/Single38 x 74 ½"96.5 x 189 cm
Twin/Single Extra Long (XL)
(Also known as "Twin Long")
38 x 79 ½"96.5 x 202 cm
(Also known as "Standard")
53 x 74 ½"134.5 x 189 cm
Queen RV
(Common in recreational vehicles)
60 x 74 ½"152.5 x 189 cm
Queen60 x 79 ½"152.5 x 202 cm
California King (Western King)172 x 84"183 x 213 cm
King (Eastern King)
(Standard CDN/USA King)
76 x 79 ½"193 x 202 cm..................
Super King285 ½ x 84 ½"217 x 215 cm
Nearly all mattress sizes are rounded up. For example a Twin bed in real-world dimensions is usually 38 x 74" or a Double is 53 x 74". Queen and King are almost always 79 inches long. Most mattresses today are still primarily hand made, which will always lead to variances. Foam mattresses tend to adhere to sizing guidelines more accurately than spring mattresses.
So an 80" square quilt would offer lots of overhang on the sides of a twin bed, a reasonable amount on the sides of a double bed, but insufficient on the ends of either bed. And what about a 90" square quilt - that is definitely not throw-sized! Again, it would have a good overhang on the sides of a queen-sized mattress, but not much on the ends. While I know that a lot of quilt patterns work better with a square design, I just prefer them to actually fit the bed they're made for. A guideline for standard quilt sizes can be found here. Mine tend to fall into the "commercial coverlet" size in this chart, which allows for a generous overhang on all 4 sides. Since most mattresses are now at least 12" deep. my personal preference is to make bed quilts with 15" overhang on all sides. That gives the recipient the option to tuck the quilt in at the bottom and/or tuck it under and over the pillows at the head. 
Double size quilt with generous overhang and pillow tuck
Having said all that, I do find it frustrating when there's a quilt I want to make, but I end up having to figure out how to "un-square" it - how to make it a more appropriate size for a bed. I had to do that with this swoon quilt. It actually called for 9 blocks, for a 90" square quilt. It's from the Craftsy Pre-Cut Piecing Made Simple Class. I am making this one for my sister, Judy, for her 65th birthday, which was nearly 3 years ago. 😁 And she has a queen-sized bed. 
I think this block is awesome, and I really appreciate all of the work Camille Roskelly put  into designing and making it "user-friendly," but I didn't want a 90" square quilt. Judy may be short, but her bed isn't, so I didn't want her quilt to be either. Fortunately, I had purchased 2 packs of 12 fat quarters - each block requires 2 different fat quarters - so I had enough to make 12 blocks. I had to play around a little with my math, and ended up with a quilt top approximately 90 x 111". I had to add an extra border on the sides, using up some of the HSTs I made from the flying geese trimmings. 
Swoon quilt on my queen-size bed: generous overhang on 3 sides, plus a pillow tuck on the head end.

This is a large (24") and rather labour-intensive block. On the 6th block, I more-or-less kept track of my time. Not including cutting time, it took me 2 hours. And likely it took me much longer for the first block or two. And the actual cutting is the more labour-intensive part. It's not simple, straightforward cuts. And if your fat quarters are not perfect, you might end up without enough fabric for the Fabric 1 cuts. It's a very tight fit. Fortunately for me, I had 2 fat quarters of each fabric - one I would use as Fabric 1 in one block and the other as Fabric 2 in another block. The Fabric 2 cuts did not require the entire fat quarter, so I was able to take the necessary Fabric 1 cuts from the second fat quarter for at least a couple of the blocks where I ran short. Otherwise, I would have been very frustrated. I ended up cutting all of my fat quarters out together to make sure I had enough of each. 
If you plan on making this quilt, unless you want a scrappy look, I recommend that you use yardage instead of fat quarters. I think it will make the cutting much more efficient and you won't end up running short. 
By the time I finish this quilt, I guestimate it will have taken me at least 50 hours. Even at Alberta's current minimum wage of $12.20/hour, that would be $610 for labour alone. And I think I'm worth more than minimum wage! 
By the way, I'm entering this quilt top in the 2017 Pantone Quilt Challenge. So head on over to No Hats in the House or Bryan House Quilts to check out the entries. 
Here you get to see some of my apple blossoms, along with the quilt.

Sunday 21 May 2017

45 Country Quilting Projects

It's a holiday weekend and I had great plans for getting lots accomplished at home: yardwork, housework, etc. But then my back decided to go out without me, and my ability to get much done went out the window. I will be paying my daughter to mow my lawn, and that's about the extent of any physical labour that will be accomplished around here. I was able to finish stitching the binding on this pillow and that means it's done. 
My goal is to work my way through this book, completing every project. Or at least my version of it. Completed today is the Shamrock Pillow, from pp. 102 ff. I made some major changes, some of which were not the most intelligent choices. Let me tell you about it. 
The instructions say to stitch the strips of fabric together for the shamrock, but I opted instead to stitch them down onto a piece of muslin and then cut the shamrock shape out. After I had traced the shamrock onto the muslin, I realized that I was supposed to enlarge the shape first. I briefly debated on that, which would require copying it onto an enlarged grid. That was more time consuming than what I wanted. The other option was to make an enlarged photocopy of the pattern, but it would actually need two photocopies, as the shamrock was supposed to be 10-1/2" finished size, which wouldn't fit on one sheet of standard letter-size paper. No, I decided to keep the smaller shamrock and fill in the corners with more fabric strips. 
I machine appliqued the shamrock using blanket stitch, rather than needle turn applique, as instructed in the book. So far, so good. I have a pantograph called "Luck of the Irish," so I traced that onto gold quilting paper, and pinned the paper onto the pillow top after machine basting the quilt sandwich together. I'm not really a big fan of quilting on my domestic machine and haven't done it for quite a while, and the stitches came out uneven and "jerky."
Nevertheless, it wasn't horrible. The book does not say to quilt the pillowtop, but I decided to anyway. as I prefer the finished look of quilting. 
I debated on what to do for the pillow back, and remembered I had some extra pieces from the Celtic Ballad quilt (which may be given a different name by the time I've finished it).
So I appliqued those onto a square of green, gave it a purple border and quilted it as well. I suppose if I quilted more on my domestic machine, I might get better at it. But since I rarely make pillows, and anything much bigger than a pillow gets quilted on the longarm, it's not likely I'll ever get very good at it. 😉
Then came time to put the pillow together. The book says to put right sides together and sew a seam that would go on the inside of the pillow. I opted to do an outside seam with binding. I stitched around the pillow, leaving an opening in the bottom to insert the pillow form. I considered whether I would machine stitch the other side of the binding in place before stuffing the pillow. I was concerned that it might be difficult to do once the pillow form was in place, but I was also concerned that it might be difficult to apply the binding to the opening if most of the binding was already in place. And I reasoned that I had made the pillow cover bigger to allow for shrinkage should I need to wash the pillow in the future. So, I decided to stuff it and then finish the binding. I was to regret that decision. 
I had bought two pillow forms at a thrift store (washed before I used them). One was unpackaged, but I was "sure" the label on the other one had said 12". However, I had a real struggle getting that pillow form into that pillow cover. I tried the second one, thinking it looked marginally smaller, and ended up having to rip more stitches out to make the opening larger. Partway into this, I wondered if maybe I should use stuffing instead (I bought a LARGE bag, since I'm also working on a biscuit quilt) of the pillow form. I actually measured one of the pillow forms and edge-to-edge, it's about 16", not 12. Still I decided to stuff it in, another decision I was to come to regret. I now had to apply the binding to close the opening and turn and finish the binding on the whole now extremely overstuffed pillow. Try fitting THAT under your pressure foot. It didn't work very well and that's probably the worst binding job I have ever done. The opening was an even worse disaster - I just couldn't get the stitching close enough and through all the layers. It kept grabbing the very edge of the purple fabric on the back, leaving it frayed and loose. I tried zigzagging it, and still ended up with not all of the edges caught as firmly as I needed them to be. I ended up handstitching to at least hold it all in place until I could get the machine stitching done. I was finally able to get it done, with repeated problems catching the wrong parts of the fabric, resulting in puckers, and having to rip out stitches, and finally decided it was closed acceptably enough - albeit not really to my satisfaction. Meanwhile, I had run into continuous problems trying to machine stitch the binding in place. I tried different feet. I even considered wetting the pillow to squash the stuffing. I finally finished the remaining part (almost half) by hand. I wish I had done the whole binding by hand - it would have looked much nicer. However, I'm still pretty happy with my pillow, even if it is "morbidly obese." 
Here's the back.
Hoping my back will feel much better by Tuesday as I have booked time on the longarm after work to quilt the Celtic Ballad quilt.

Tuesday 9 May 2017

Lakeshore Adventures Quilt

When I found out that Brad, the physiotherapist, is leaving the hospital where I work, I determined to make him a quilt. I asked the Rehab Assistant what Brad's favourite colour is, but he didn't know. So, one day I jokingly asked Brad, "Is blue your favourite colour? You seem to wear a lot of it." Yes. So, I at least had a colour to start with. I toyed around with different ideas of what pattern I was going to use, and finally settled on the Disappearing Hourglass 2. Here's the Jenny Doan/Missouri Star Quilt Company video tutorial. 
I ordered a Timeless Treasures Tonga Treats layer cake in Lakeshore from Sew Sisters for the patterned fabrics. But I decided that I didn't really want all one colour in the solid fabric. So I purchased the Boundless True Blue layer cake from Craftsy, which is in different shades of blue. 
Mystery, the Quilt Inspector, at work
I don't intend to ever use this pattern again. While the blocks worked up quite quickly, all of the edges ended up being on the bias. I don't know about the rest of you, but I have a hard enough time keeping my edges even without working with all bias edges. When you're working with stretchy edges and trying to keep your cuts even so that when you rotate the squares, the edges match up...

I also found that it was pretty much essential (at least for me) to have a rotating cutting mat. After mis-cutting two blocks, rendering them unusable, I finally ordered this one on Amazon 
 and set this quilt aside until the cutting mat arrived. 
Even using the cutting mat, I still managed to ruin one more block because I had cut on the wrong line. I finally did what Jenny suggested and added tape on the correct measurement on my ruler. 
Here's the hourglass: 
Another thing I found that worked better was to cut it the way Jenny does in the video, measuring 2-1/8" on either side of the centre lines. 
I have a hard enough time keeping my blocks square and even, but you add those bias edges, and it just wasn't working for me to measure from the outside edges. 
Here's the block after cutting and rotating the squares that needed to be rotated, but not sewn yet. 
If you look again at the picture with Mystery on the quilt, you will see that I neglected to rotate the centre square on the 4th block on the bottom row. I never even noticed it until I took that picture. It might not be the same as the other blocks, but it still looks good. 
After all those ruined blocks, it was a good thing that I wasn't planning on using the whole layer cakes in this quilt. 
Once it was finished, I took it to the local park for a photo shoot. I then used Google Photo Assistant to make this video.

Tomorrow, I will give the quilt to Brad as this is his last week of work. We've worked well together and I'll miss him.

Floating Stars Quilt

When my nephew Bradley bought his first home, I offered him Stars Over Africa as his housewarming gift, or gave him the option of me making a different quilt with colours of his selection. He wanted one in red, blue and either black or white and I chose the Floating Stars quilt from this book: I reviewed it last summer and made the Fractured Pinwheels quilt from it. I really like this book because it has patterns for quilts that are both quick and attractive. 
I took the finished quilt top with me to my LQS when I quilted Stars All Around, as I intended using the same thread and pantograph for both. Well, first of all, I didn't end up using that thread for Stars All Around as it was polyester and I didn't know if I should mix it with cotton in the bobbin, and I didn't have a polyester for the bobbin. And after finishing Stars All Around and seeing how big the stitches were even though I had the quilt speed at the maximum (that's when I finally realized that machine was not stitch-regulated), I decided I didn't want to do Floating Stars on that machine as well. 
I ended up taking it in to Central Sewing Machines when I took in the "On Guard For Thee" table runner. The table runner went fine, but when I switched to this quilt, I had continuous problems with threat breakage. I had someone from the store check the machine numerous times and try different suggestions and adjustments. They finally concluded that it was the thread I had brought along with me. It's a spool of Aurilux from my thread stash. As far as I know Aurifil doesn't even make Aurilux any more, but it's still good quality thread and I couldn't figure out how that could be the problem. Nevertheless, it was too frustrating to continue as I was, and I bought a similar colour Affinity thread from the store.
Affinity on the left, Aurilux on the right

Unfortunately, it still didn't solve the problem. And I had to get someone from the store to help me out once more. He finally took the bobbin out and was able to determine that it was not feeding evenly. So he rewound it onto another bobbin, and I had much fewer problems after that and was able to finally finish the quilt.
Now I have two spools of red, white and blue thread. Fortunately, one of my nieces has informed me that she wants her quilt to be red, white and blue as well. So, I have at least one more quilt that I can use them on. 
Oh yes, I didn't mention that between my first disastrous attempt to quilt the Bluenose II at Central Sewing Machines and this time, they had decided to provide thread and prewound bobbins (none of the provided threads were variegated, so I opted to use my own) as part of the rental price. Of course they increased the rental price to $20/hour. The prewound bobbins are magnetic so you can't put them in the wrong way. However, it was these that seemed to be causing all the problems. Once rewound on a metal spool, it seemed to stitch more smoothly with less breakage. 
Left: Stars All Around; Right: Floating Stars
Moving on to the actual quilting, above is a picture of the quilting on Stars All Around and that on Floating Stars, both done on a Handiquilter, both using the Becker's Shooting Star pantograph. However, as I mentioned, the Stars All Around was done on a non-stitch regulated machine. And I don't think I'll be using that machine again - the stitching is just too big and sloppy. It's too bad because my LQS only charges $35 per quilt, whatever the quilt size. But this is the only machine set up to use pantographs. And I'm really not big on free motion. 
Tinker, one of my QI's (Quilt Inspectors) had to inspect the backing on the Floating Stars quilt.
Close up of the quilt (and my foot)
One more quilt done and sent to it's recipient.