Pinwheel Quilt Blocks

Sewing quilting blocks on the bias (diagonally across a piece of fabric) can be REALLY frustrating. Let me fill you in on why...

The nature of a bias seam on woven material, such as quilter's cotton, is way more elastic than when you are sewing with the direction of the weave. That bias can be a great thing when you are easing a curve in a wearable garment, but when you want exact quilt blocks with straight seams...well, that takes some finesse.

For the quilt I am making, I wanted to add some blocks with angles. After experimenting with a few slightly complex designs, and getting mixed results, this newbie opted for to go simple. Discovering that I needed to master my skill level with the bias and go on from there.

After doing some digging around in books and online, I decided that my solution was a pinwheel block. It's cute, colorful, and great for beginners.

Some of my finished 8"x8" pinwheels.

This is how I did it:

For an 8" block, cut two 4-7/8" squares of 2 different fabrics.

Take one of each of those squares and place them right sides together with the light fabric on top:

Using a water-soluble marker and a ruler, mark the diagonal from point to point. Place pins on either side to hold in place:

At your sewing machine, using a straight stitch and a presser foot with a 1/4" seam allowance, stitch on each side of your drawn line. (Note the placement of pins.):

At you cutting mat, slice through both layers on your drawn line:

With a hot iron, press open with the seam allowance toward the darker fabric side:

Back at your cutting table, make sure that your block is square and nip off the two little "dog ears" of seam allowance sticking out:

Do this same process until you have four 2-color blocks. Lay them out in the pinwheel pattern that you prefer:

Take the block in the upper right hand corner and turn it over top of the block on its right. At the sewing machine, using 1/4" seam allowance, stitch the seam indicated in photo below:

At the ironing board, press the seam allowance toward the darker fabric. Bring the block back and put in it's spot in your design:

 Repeat the same process for the bottom two blocks. Then you will have 2 strips:

Flip the top strip down over the bottom strip and sew a 1/4" seam indicated on the photo below:

Press open with a hot iron....viola...a pinwheel block!

The success of a block such as this means the center points of the pinwheel all come together. If you are of a little bit off on the points, it could be your cutting, seam allowance, or maybe your fabric is slipping around a little bit when you sew. Don't be afraid to rip a few seams out, press and resew. No one is looking! :)

Good luck!


P.S. -For more quilty fun, check out my log cabin block tutorial and staggered strips block tutorial.

Friday Finds: Williams-Sonoma Agrarian

Those who have spent any time in my kitchen know that I love Williams-Sonoma. I know, I know. It flies in the face of the simple gal I am trying to be. But now they even have something else that is getting me giddy with excitement, an agrarian line of goods. I'm only human!

Beekeeping supplies are so pretty.
These products totally speak to the "gentle(wo)man farmer" in me. Beekeeping, cheese making, sour kraut fermenting, all sorts of planting supplies, and much more. All pretentiously beautiful.

You can buy tools that look like they are 100 years old already!
I'm not sure I like the work involved with raising chickens, but I think I like the look of them prancing around my yard. Yeah, I'm showing my true colors here.

If I had this, I could look out the window and say "hello ladies". Then make the kids scrape the poop.
In their usual way, they also have a lot of hands-on information included on their site. I was especially impressed with their pdf downloadable "Plant-A-Grams" that help raised bed farmers plan their 4-foot square raised beds. (they also sell you everything you need to make that happen, including the plants) The good folks over there sure know how to get you to stick on their site with relevant content.

Go out and take a peek, maybe dream a little.


Summer Blockbuster Movie List

Last week, Cassandra provided you with her Summer Reading List. What she didn't tell you is that she "reads" through her ears... It's really her summer listening list because her hands always have some kind of work in them (knitting, quilting, etc) so she can't turn actual pages. Her audio book consumption impresses and inspires me and I am going to make an effort to move from page to headset. I love being able to multi-task but I haven't mastered this version of it quite yet. I'm prone to mind-wandering when I listen to books.

I do read in the summer but usually in a prone position on the patio with numerous impromptu naps interrupting the actual reading portion of the activity. However, what I REALLY love is Summer Blockbuster Movies.

What is better than going to a lovely air conditioned movie theater during the heat of the day and watching a completely entertaining story - preferably one that's action packed and has some eye-candy in it - with a big, cold Coca-Cola and a bucket of popcorn at your side? Nothing that I can think of really...

So, to that end, I provide you with my Summer Blockbuster Movie List. For those who may be new to the Mighty Distractible party, it will become immediately evident that I'm a giant geek and have no qualms about letting that freak flag fly. I guess what I'm saying is that many of these movies definitely have a "theme" that may not be to anyone's taste (except for a 14-year old boy, other nerds, and me.)

The Avengers

It's been out since May 4th. If you haven't seen it yet, shame on you. Probably one of the most satisfying comic book movies ever made - and available in 3D (I like the extra D) if you're into that sort of thing - this movie sports an all-star cast and Joss Whedon at the helm. It's a small slice of perfection.

Men in Black III

Okay... so it's questionable when a franchise takes a decade off. However, Josh Brolin as a young Tommy Lee Jones is worth the price of admission alone. Add Jermaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords fame as the villain and you've pretty much guaranteed that I'll spend real money to see this at the theater, regardless of my fear that Will Smith is going to ham it up so badly that he could, potentially, ruin the movie. Also available with an extra D.

Snow White and the Huntsman

I'm not sure how it always happens that multiple movies on the same subject seem to get released at the same time but it's happening again with the dueling Snow White movies. There's the Julia Roberts version which looks pretty Disney-fied and kind of lame and the Charlize Theron version that looks dark and evil and really, really good. I'll be going to see the Charlize Theron version (obviously). Bonus points for having hunk-of-the-month eye-candy Chris Hemsworth (Thor, The Avengers, Cabin In The Woods, and about 80 other movies this year) as the Huntsman and Ian McShane (old-school eye-candy and now just awesome actor) as Caesar.


Ridley Scott's new outerspace sci-fi epic. Starring the triple-threat eye-candy of Michael Fassbender, Idris Elba, and Charlize Theron (something for EVERYONE!) "A team of explorers discover a clue to the origins of mankind on Earth, leading them on a journey to the darkest corners of the universe. There, they must fight a terrifying battle to save the future of the human race." Yeah... that. Also available with an extra D.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Don't judge me. Also available with an extra D.

The Amazing Spiderman & The Dark Knight Rises

Comic book movies ARE summer blockbuster movies. In a perfect world, these will show as a double feature at the drive-in at some point. I'm not completely convinced that either is going to be particularly good but I'll go see them because, well, they're comic book movies. Spiderman has an extra D and Dark Knight will be in IMAX (without an extra D)

Total Recall

Yeah. I'm not really sure WHY this movie is being remade already but the cast is pretty great - Colin Farrell, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston, Kate Beckinsale, and John Cho - and I guess that, with new effects technology, it could be a better movie than before. No extra D's though... which I think is kind of odd since this type of movie seems ripe for it.

The Campaign

Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, and Jason Sudeikis in a political comedy? Yes, please!

The Odd Life of Timothy Green

I saw the trailer for this on IMDB the other day and I'm kind of looking forward to it. It seems sappy and sort of lame but, by the time this comes out, I'll be "action movied" out. Might was well end the summer on a sweet note. Let's hope it doesn't totally suck.

So, that's what I'll be watching this summer. How about you? Are you a Summer Movie Blockbuster kind of person or would you rather be outside on a sunny 85 degree (F) day? (If that was C, we'd be dead and movies wouldn't be an option.)

- Alex

Dark Shadows

I have lots of crafty stuff I could write about today. Quilts, a new sweater on the needles, some embroidery I am fixing to start. But I really want to talk about Dark Shadows.

No, I don't mean the movie with Johnny Depp. I haven't seen that yet. Oh sure, at some point I will but I'm sort of disappointed in the way Tim Burton made it into a 70's spoof. I thought this subject matter was ripe for something spooky and ethereal like Sleepy Hollow and that's why I'm bummed about the fact it's a comedy. But I digress...

The cast of the original Dark Shadows.
The Dark Shadows I love is the Gothic soap opera that aired from 1966 to 1971. By some stroke of luck, the original tapes of the show were not destroyed (or taped over) as was the custom for that sort of program back in the day. All of the episodes are available on DVD, including the pilot where the main protagonist (Victoria Winters) first comes to town.

Victoria on the train from New York to Collinsport, Maine.
The story is set in a fishing village in Maine called Collinsport. The biggest business in town is a fish cannery owned by the Collins family (yes the town was named after them 200 years ago) and they sort of run the show in Collinsport. Thus, due to class envy, everyone in the town hates the family who lives in the spooky house on the hill.

Victoria gets into town and is advised to "stay away from that house" by the locals.
And a spooky house it is. There are ghosts, vampires, con-men, time travelers, etc. in residence at one point or another. The house and the host of (mostly) supernatural crazy is really the star of the show. All of the madness is sort of seen through the eyes of Victoria Winters. She is a governess (of mysterious parentage) who is brought in from out of town to tutor the youngest member of the family in the big house. We sort of see the goings-on through her eyes. She helps bring perspective to the odd story lines.

The breakout star of this series is the character Barnabas Collins. He is a 150 year old vampire (and actual Collins) who passes himself off to the rest of the family as a cousin back from England. He has a fancy walking stick and a family resemblance so they welcome him to the estate with open arms.

I'm Barnabas, your cousin from abroad.
The whole show is great fun. So many of the characters are likable. Even though the show is dated by way of fashion, the story lines are still intriguing. I think I gravitate to this show for some of the same reasons I do to the movie Rosemary's Baby.

This show has quite a cult following. I even belong to a chat group about Dark Shadows on Ravelry.

I am fortunate enough to have this DVD series available here in our library system. But I know it is also available on Netflix rental (there are some episodes on Netflix instant streaming but they do not start at the beginning). I encourage you to give it a look. Start with The Dark Shadows: The Beginning, Volume 1, Disk 1 though so you can watch them from way back to the pilot. This show is a serial so if you miss the beginning you don't get all the back story. If you want to skip right to the episodes that stream on Netflix, get caught up with this recap first:

My geek is really showing today, isn't it?


Friday Finds: Gorgeous Things

This week on Friday Finds, I bring you my worst-kept secret -, the site where I've spent more of my "disposable" income than is healthy.

The site is a weird mash-up of Living Social/Groupon, Amazon, and Etsy. The way it works is this - a company or artist or designer (someone with a beautifully designed product) offers a limited range of products at a discount for a limited time. Each day, you can go to FAB to see the featured products for the day (in various product categories) as well as get a "last look" at items that are about to age out. Since there are only a limited number of each item, sometimes the coolest things sell out before the sale is finished. That's a huge bummer - but I fix it by going out to the designer/artist/company's website to buy the product directly - and at full price.

I think I'm their favorite customer.

The key to FAB is that everything is gorgeous. Whether you're buying a spatula or a piece of furniture or (I swear to god) a vibrator, the DESIGN of the object has to be exceptional. That's their brand and their mission - to bring beautiful design at discount prices to the masses. I tend to buy in the $50 or under category but you can, easily, spend thousands of dollars on a handmade sofa or a gorgeous piece of art. FAB has become my "spontaneous gift" source since, nearly every day, I find amazing things that my friends and family would love - so I buy it and gift it for no reason. I love doing that.

So... here are a few of the items I've purchased from FAB recently.

We should all shop in style

A necklace for me

I'm wearing this bracelet today

A gift for my son's cat (my son is a DJ)

A gift for my son because, really, these are totally cool.

A gift for my son's girlfriend, the artist.

You can thank me (and curse me) later.  Enjoy!

- Alex

Summer Reading

I have no idea why, but I get the idea every summer that I am going to tear through a pile of books. Weeding, chasing my children, commitments, excessive knitting and sewing, etc. all suck up so many free hours, so sadly I usually only get about a quarter of the way through my list.

But hey, I don't let this reality stop me. I make my list and envision myself sitting on the chaise on my deck, reading in the shade. Because in my imagination, my life is way less chaotic.

Here is the 2012 Summer Reading Dream Team:

Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick
A contemporary look at the lives of average North Korean citizens over a 15 year period.
This book is actually Alex's pick for our book club. Everyone who has started it says it is amazing so I can't wait to get going on it this week.

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness
Vampires, witches, demons, time-travel, and genetics. 
This new book isn't released until July 10. I recently finished the first book in this trilogy called "A Discovery of Witches" and it hooked me enough to want to find out what happens next.

Let's Pretend this Never Happened by Jenny Lawson
A mostly true, and hilarious memoir.
Jenny Lawson (better known as The Bloggess) has been cracking me up online for quite a while now. I am so excited to read chapters like "My Childhood: David Copperfield Meets Guns & Ammo Magazine".

Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne
A wager makes the stuffy Phileas Fogg have an adventure.
A classic I've never read. Need to make time for this one from the Godfather of Steampunk.

This Time Together: Laughter and Reflection by Carol Burnett
Autobiography of Carol Burnett.
I love Carol Burnett. And I love reading about old Hollywood.

Where Women Create: Book of Organization by Jo Packham
Does what is says on the tin, organizational ideas for the crafty gal.
This is fodder for the craft-room I am manifesting.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone by J.K. Rowling
Do I really have to tell you what this one's about?
No, I've never read any of these. (I can hear your gasp through the interwebs) I saw the first movie though and found it seriously charming. I would like to get through this entire series at some point.

I'm stopping here...past experience tell me there is no need to overdo it. This is usually one of the books in my hands:

What are you planning to read?


Advanced Gardening & Your Golf Swing

Gardening is like golf. The first time you get out there, you may (like me) discover that the basic game isn't really all that hard. But then (like me) you play for a bit and discover that there's always something new to learn - some trick that might make your game better or some piece of knowledge that you didn't know the last ten times you played. And you realize that you're really not as good as you thought were were - and you may never actually master the game. That's the kick in the head, right there.

I'm not sure why I love gardening - the same way I'm not sure why some people torture themselves with golf year after year (I gave up the game) - because every year I find some new challenge that makes me wonder why I put so many hours into digging in the dirt.

A number of years ago a huge windstorm blew over my beloved lilac tree. The tree was very old - it was probably planted when the house was built in 1908 - and it had been badly pruned over the years, resulting in top-heaviness that didn't bode well. It was creaky and fragile but I loved it because it would bloom these huge, amazing flowers every spring and I could smell them through the kitchen window or when sitting on the back patio.

When the wind took down the tree, I thought that maybe I could salvage it by staking it back up and letting it re-root itself. But my wise gardening neighbor said that wouldn't work and offered to help remove it. He brought over his chain saw and I watched as my backyard companion was dismantled and hauled away.

Obviously, this left a gaping hole where the tree used to be. Suddenly, I could see WAY too much of my neighbor's yard and house. So I went on a hunt for a replacement.

In the end, I settled on a dwarf, grafted cherry tree as this was the best of both worlds - I'd get sweet smelling cherry blossoms in the spring and then I'd get sweet fruit to eat for a number of weeks in the summer. I found Raintree Nursery in Washington state that sold trees that, by grafting different cherry types to one common trunk, would produce multiple varieties of cherries on the same tree - in my case, two types of sweet cherries as well as montmorency pie cherries. Also, because it was grafted, it wasn't necessary to have two trees (a male and female) in order to produce fruit. The tree is, by definition, a hermaphrodite.

The tree came, tiny and sort of puny looking. I followed the enclosed planting instructions. I read multiple articles on caring for fruit trees. And I anxiously awaited my first year of fruit.

The third year the tree was in the ground, it started to fruit in earnest. I made a small pie with the sour cherries and would simply graze off the tree when I was working in the yard. The forth year, the birds and squirrels discovered the tree and I did battle for season to see who would actually get to enjoy the fruit. Year five brought a bumper crop - more cherries than I could eat! I was, literally, giving them away to neighbors. It was the sweet smell of gardening success. But with this success also came a new problem... some of the leaves on the tree were curling in a weird way.

One of the great benefits of living in a town that has an Agriculture school at the local college is that you can call them for advice. I called the botany department and happily discovered that there was actually an "arbor hotline" that I could call for tree emergencies. So, I called. I described the problem. I sent photos in. The entomology department was consulted because there was the possibility that it was a bug of some sort. In the end, I was told to wait a year and see what happened in the next season. That was very unsatisfying.

The following spring (last year) the leaf curling started again. However, I had bigger fish to fry - an infestation of Japanese beetles that were destroying the leaves. These things are relentless. Happily it turns out that they're very easy to eradicate. Early in the morning, while the beetles are still slow moving from the chill of the night, take a bowl of warm soapy water out to the infested plant and pick them off and drown them. It's a bit labor intensive but it works like a charm. As for the curling leaves, most of them were at the ends of branches so I just cut them off and hoped for the best.

Drown them in soapy water when they're sleepy. Bwahahaha!

This spring, like clockwork, my lovely cherry tree (now at full height) bloomed and made a mass of cherries. I didn't pay much attention to it because the weather's been odd and my garden attention as been elsewhere. Then one afternoon, my neighbor was visiting and she mentioned the payload of cherries waiting to ripen. For the first time this year I REALLY looked at my tree - and it looked like someone had taken a curling iron to all the branches. I grabbed a curled leaf and turned it over only to be horrified by the GIANT MASS OF APHIDS on its underside. GACK!  Those of you who know me well know that I don't do well with certain bugs and, folks let me tell you, these things are disgusting! They're small and black and sticky - and they were everywhere.

At least I finally discovered the cause of the problem.

So, in case you're interested in "what I learned about gardening this year"...

Cherry trees get these things called Black Cherry Aphids. They're insidious little buggers that are actually "ranched" by ants. In other words, the ants help the aphids in order to harvest the sweet, sticky stuff that the aphids secrete. The aphids mortal enemy is the ladybug, which is awesome because I love ladybugs and now I have another reason to encourage them in my garden. So, the reason the infestation has gotten worse each year is because the ants have increasingly helped the spread of the aphids and I've done nearly nothing to stop the spread.

And, what does one do to eradicate Black Cherry Aphids, you ask? Surprisingly, it's not all that complicated. First, you have to stop the ants from getting up into the tree by wrapping the trunk in this stuff called Tanglefoot or, if you're feeling particularly frugal, double-sided tape. Then you have to get rid of the aphids you do have. If you're like me and you don't want to use chemicals, you can spray the tree with soapy water. The soft-bodied aphids will suffocate and die. However, it's hard to reach the aphids once the leaves have curled around them so this tactic has mixed success. I also don't like the idea of possibly killing other, beneficial bugs that are on the tree. Alternately, you can buy lady bugs and release them on the tree. Of course, you run the risk that your newly purchased lady bugs will just fly off to some other tree or yard because, you know, they don't really have a contract with you or your particular job. I found a number of ladybugs already feasting on the aphids on my tree so I took extra special care to leave them to their task. This year, I decided to simply cut off as many of the infected leaves as possible and hope for the best. We'll see...

Chow down, little lady!

Next spring I'll have the knowledge I need in order to ensure an aphid-free cherry crop. Unlike my golf game, my garden game just keeps getting better. I think I found the right way to spend my warm-weather months.

- Alex

FRIDAY FINDS: Hey Girl Part 2

Back in February, I decided to make my own George Clooney meme in the spirit of "Hey Girl, Ryan Gosling" phenomenon. I can' help myself, I needed to make more, 'nuff said.

Have a great weekend!

In Defense of Swatching

Most knitting patterns (and knit designers) highly encourage the knitting of a gauge swatch - that little piece of knitted pattern that will tell you how many stitches and rows are needed to make the finished piece the right size. From the swatch, the knitter can adjust needle size, yarn type, number of stitches or rows, or even tension to ensure that the piece turns out exactly as the designer expected.

Photo stolen from - awesome blog!

Swatching is particularly important when making something that needs to fit - a sweater or skirt, for example. However, you can usually get away without swatching a scarf or hat. Adjustments can be made while knitting to correct any minor size issues and, frankly, these are not items that generally need to "fit".

Because I don't, generally, knit clothing that needs to fit, I always found swatching to be an unnecessary chore. Honestly, I've probably only swatched a few things - most recently the pattern that Cassandra and I designed for What (Else) Would Madame De Farge Knit?. Swatching was necessary there because we had three people test knitting and we needed to ensure some consistency in the size.

So... there was one reason to swatch: to ensure gauge while designing your own pattern.

Then, almost by accident, I stumbled on reason number two for swatching - figuring out if you like a particular yarn for a pattern.

Not my actual swatches. Kudos to whomever did them.

Now, truth be told, I was testing various yarns and needles sizes in order to create a particular "look" for another thing we're designing. However, it occurred to me that I could do this with EVERY pattern. How many times have I picked a yarn because I loved it and a pattern because I loved it, but then disliked the finished product because it didn't drape right or the fabric was too stiff?  How easy would it have been to spend some time knitting up a bit of the pattern in a few different yarns to see which one I liked best? Just so you know... I'm totally doing this from now on.

I'm sure that some of you seasoned knitters out there are chuckling at my sudden swatching enlightenment. You know I still consider myself, at best, an intermediate knitter. I'm constantly stumbling on this kind of stuff - ideas that make knitting easier or better in some way. And I'm always surprised when someone says, "Oh yeah... I've been doing that for years!"

So, hopefully, there are a few of you out there who, like me, didn't give swatching its due and will now, at least, see some value in the process.

- Alex

Regrets, I've had a few...

...but then again, too few to mention.  - Frank Sinatra

I make mistakes when I'm creating. Time-consuming, frustrating, and occasionally boneheaded mistakes. Sometimes I think that blogs like ours celebrate the finished objects and make the process seem so beautiful and seamless. But it never is. Sweaters get frogged and reknit, sewn seams get ripped back, and even designs are flawed. Trust me.

The 2 quilt block fails from last week.

I am addressing this because I hear a lot of very smart people tell me that they love my finished object, but don't think they could ever make it themselves. They think that I pick up needles and magically it's all done, without bumps in the road. And without that sort of wizardry, they have no chance of success. Of course, I quickly share with them the reality. The swearing, the disappointment, and even sometimes giving the project the silent treatment for a while.

The strips for my new block are supposed to be 6-1/2" long. Doh!

Then they ask me why I do it. Why subject myself to this self-inflicted torture? My answer is always the same. "Because I have to." If I didn't, I would go crazy. I don't have a choice. Making things keeps me balanced. And I'm guessing that if you are a regular reader of this blog, you probably know what I mean from personal experience.

Scenes from my lap yesterday afternoon:

Yea! Got a few inches knit on my Ishbel Shawl. Um...wait a minute...
10 minutes later...

So, you other makers of stuff out there, please don't think Alex and I are any different than you. Your mistakes and frustrations are ours. And, I am guessing that somewhere in New England, even Martha Stewart has balled up the gardener's apron she's been sewing and has thrown it in the corner of her tastefully appointed room. Because it's not always a good thing. The good thing is pressing on and mastering that project in the end.