Monday, 23 May 2016

Unbroken

This quilt was inspired by the Ring Around the Posies quilt pattern that appeared in the fall 2013 issue of Fons & Porter's Scrap Quilts. 
 

While I liked the pattern, I had a couple of issues with it. First of all, it called for 28 fat quarters of fabric! That's in addition to 2 more yards of fabric for the top and 3-3/4 yards for the backing. Wow, that is a lot of fabric for a quilt that is only 60" square. And why should I use 6 fat quarters for something that should only require 2? I would end up with lots of miscellaneous pieces of fat quarters, and I really don't like that. If I can, I like to use as much of my fat quarters as possible. Unless I'm going for a really scrappy look, why would I want to use so many random fabrics? And that's my second issue. I really don't like how ultra scrappy this quilt looks in the magazine. I can barely discern the pattern. It just looks like a bunch of random triangles thrown together. I like some continuity in the pattern so I can actually see it. There's really no place for the eye to rest on this one. So I switched it up quite a bit to make my version. 
Since the centre of each block was 4 pink triangles forming a square, I decided to make it a solid square. Whether you're doing it my way or according to the pattern directions, you still only need one fat quarter of pink, not 6 as the directions state. Maybe 2 or even 4 if you want some contrast. 
I cut nine 4-3/4" squares from one fat quarter (finished size 4-1/4").
From the light pink patterned fabric, I cut 18 squares 3-7/8". These are for the corners on the centre squares. 
I chose three different light fat quarters and three different dark fat quarters for completing the basic units, plus one green fat quarter. Because the lighter fabrics I chose had a more definite pattern, I chose to use tonals for the darker ones. 

These could have been done as flying geese units as well. 
I used the same light fabric to complete the corner units for each block. Remember I'm using three different light fabrics in these blocks. I also chose to pair each dark with the light that I felt it looked best with, and used that pair consistently throughout the quilt, but you could switch it for the different blocks if you wanted more variety. Alternatively, you could use three fat quarters of the same light and dark to have a more homogeneous appearance to the quilt. 
This is my version of the basic block unit. I'm sure it's named some kind of star, but I don't know what. The actual pattern is a version of Broken Dishes, set at an angle, but since I made the centre solid, I guess my dishes aren't broken. LOL! Hence, the name I gave this quilt: Unbroken.
I had to decide what to do about the other greens I needed in this quilt. I had two fat quarters of the same green which would have been sufficient to do all the other points on the block, but I also wanted to make sure that I could carry some of the same colours into the green part of the border, so I used three different fabrics in these points. Here's the actual (un)Broken Dishes block:
As you can see, it's the same block as in the above picture. I just added more pieces and then folded back the portions that weren't part of the broken dishes block. Here's the whole section: 
This is a rather complicated quilt to assemble, making sure I've got all of the right pieces in the right places. I ended up assembling it in 9 - 18" sections, like the above, laying out one section at a time on my cutting table. 
If you look carefully at the finished quilt, you can see that there's a secondary block - I call it a wreath block - in between the Broken Dishes blocks. It probably has another name, but I'm not about to spend a lot of time looking it up. 

Here's the backing: 

I'm still not entirely pleased with the end result. While I do like it better than the one in the magazine, I still think maybe it's a little too scrappy for my tastes. But, since I'm giving it away, as long as the recipient likes it - that's the important thing. 
And speaking of the recipient, this is going to a friend who has gone through a lot - physically and emotionally - so the name of this quilt is my wish for her: that she remain Unbroken. 
I actually finished this quilt top in 2014, but quilting it has been an adventure. After spending $150 (ouch!!!) to quilt Far Above Rubies on the longarm, and taking a machine quilting course, I decided to try quilting it on my domestic machine. I basted it using a quilting gun, which was very quick and successful, except where I basted it to the carpet. (That was the one and only quilt I used the quilting gun on, because the next time I tried to use it, it went kaput. I didn't know it was a single use quilting gun). I used a stencil to trace a pattern on the centre block to start. The quilting results were disastrous and I labouriously picked out every stitch. I set it aside as I had other projects to work on, and didn't get back to it until I discovered that my LQS rents their machines for $35 per quilt. I then had to cut out all of the quilting gun tacks I had put in because I didn't need those for quilting on the long arm. I decided to try computerized quilting, selecting a butterfly pattern (actually I used 2 separate butterfly patterns in this quilt) and let the machine do its work. I only had to cut off the thread and then punch the button to start the next butterfly. Really lazy quilting. Or so I thought. And I didn't really like it. It was actually slower than I could do on my own and I didn't find the pattern really any neater done by the computer than when I use a pantograph. That was back in March and I didn't get around to putting the binding on until today. When I flipped it over to trim off any loose threads, I discovered that the top thread tension had not been great and there were several sections with big, long loops of thread tangled up on the back. Ugh! More stitch-ripping to do, plus re-stitching on my domestic machine. I doubt I will do computerized quilting again. 

Essential Guide to Modern Quilt Making: A Book Review

To me, a lot of modern quilts look like a dog ate the fabric and threw it up again. They remind me of something I might have found in a 60's hippie pad: no rhyme or reason, no beauty or symmetry. I can't figure out why someone would waste good fabric on something so ugly. However, I really wasn't sure what exactly defined modern quilting. Not every quilt I make can be considered strictly traditional. Take, for example, Stars Over Africa: I used a traditional block in a non-traditional setting, and used bold colours with high contrast. Was that modern or traditional?  So, I googled a definition and found a good description on Craftsy. Characteristics which help define a modern quilt are "the use of bold colors and prints, high contrast and graphic areas of solid color, improvisational piecing, minimalism, expansive negative space, and alternate grid work. 'Modern traditionalism' or the updating of classic quilt designs is also often seen in modern quilting." Based on that definition, I guess a lot of my quilts would fall under "modern traditionalism." And maybe not all modern quilts have to be ugly. 
Having said all that, however, none of the quilts in this book really appealed to me. I do try to make at least one project from any crafting book I review. And I did intend to do that with this book, but I couldn't bring myself to waste good fabric/time/money on something I really didn't like. The paper piecing section looked the most interesting of any of the projects, so I started with this fedora: 
I was originally planning on making five of the paper-pieced blocks and using them in a tote bag, but after finishing this one and starting on the Sunny Dress, I decided I really didn't want to waste my time sewing microscopic pieces of fabric together. Seriously! I have much better things to do with my time. 
Do I recommend this book? If you really like Modern Quilt Making or want to learn it, then it is likely worthwhile. Each workshop is set up really well, with detailed instructions and lots of pictures. I didn't read the whole book, but I did glean some interesting tips in the "workshop" on colour. In the paper piecing workshop, I also found out about a seam roller, a tool which I hadn't known existed. Overall, however, this book is definitely not for me as this type of quilting is definitely not for me. 
I received a free advance digital copy of this book from Net Galley for review purposes. I borrowed a hard copy from the library to use the paper piecing templates. 

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Handbag Workshop: A Book Review

When I first requested this book on Net Galley, I thought it would be fun to make my own purse. That way I could customize it exactly how I wanted it. Then I read Clutter Free. One of the things Clutter Free discussed was hobbies and the fact that for every hobby you have, you need to have all of the paraphernalia associated with it - and a place to store it. And you need to evaluate whether or not you are actually going to pursue that hobby seriously before purchasing all the requirements for said hobby. And having to figure out where to put it all. And how many hobbies does one woman need? Especially one that works full time outside of the home. I crochet, I knit, I quilt, I read. Sometimes I garden and occasionally I blog about my hobbies and books. I do like to cook as well. And then there are all those acrylic painting supplies...
I generally like to make at least one project from every hobby book review I complete, but when I looked at the basic toolkit required for making handbags and the specialty items that I wasn't even sure where to purchase (zipper tape?), and thought about all that new clutter I would have to accumulate, I decided to forgo the attempt. I did, however, give the book a good "look through" in order to review it.
This book has an introductory section which includes a list of basic tools and supplies required for making handbags. The rest of the book is divided into beginner, intermediate and advanced bags, so you know where to start. There are detailed instructions and lots of photos for each bag, plus patterns to copy. I think for anyone determined to make handbags, this book would be a great place to start.
My one complaint: As an animal lover, I'm not too impressed with the liberal use of leather and definitely not with the use of rabbit fur - BOO! However, it would be very simple to replace this with fake, animal-friendly stuff. After all, why else would you make your own bag?
I received a free advanced digital copy of this book to review from Net Galley. I borrowed the hard copy from the library for a better look at the pictures and patterns.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

A Heart for Freedom: A Book Review

I received an advanced digital copy of this book for review. I am not receiving any compensation for this review.
My heart has been heavy, thinking of the wildfires in the Fort McMurray area and the resulting evacuations.  Reading a story based around the Tiananmen Square massacre may not have been the wisest or most uplifting choice at a time like this. But I'll still try to be fair in my review of this book.
I was born in Canada, and have lived here my entire life. I can badmouth Rachel Notley (our provincial premier), Justin Trudeau (our prime minister) or even the queen and not have to worry about persecution, imprisonment or even death. I can attend the church of my choice. I can choose my own college and career. I can have as many children as I want and send them to the schools that I want them to attend. If I "step out of line" with the government in power, I have no fear that I will lose my job and home and be sent to some remote, impoverished location to perform hard labour. So, no matter how hard I try, I really can't fathom living without all these freedoms. It's inconceivable to me. 
The Tiananmen Square massacre happened at a time when the youth of China awoke to the realization that they were being deprived of so many of the basic rights that a lot of us in the western world take for granted, freedoms that are as elemental to us as breathing. What they wanted was a peaceful dialogue with the government, but the reply was tanks and guns. Chai Ling was one of the leaders of the youth movement and this is her story. She gives her background from childhood, and how she became involved in the search for freedom. This book details her life through the massacre, her escape from China, and her new life in the United States. Through many ups and downs, she finally got to the point where she apparently was living the "good life:" a loving husband, 3 children, a promising business opportunity. But she still felt something was missing. And that's where I'm going to leave this review. You'll have to read the book to find out the rest. 
It was not a bad book, but maybe it's because my heart has been tied up with the Fort McMurray evacuees that I found it a little lame. What happened in Tiananmen Square was a terrible thing, but this book really didn't move me like I thought it would. 

Monday, 9 May 2016

Vegan Pizza: A Cookbook Review

I received a free digital preview copy of this cookbook from Net Galley. I have not received any compensation for this review. 
I remember one time going to Toronto with a friend to give her moral support during a hearing regarding her son's custody. After the hearing, she took me to what she regarded as the best pizza place ever. She was pretty aghast when I ordered pizza without cheese, however, but I have to admit that it was pretty awesome pizza, cheese or no cheese. And the best thing was that the restaurant had an extensive list of toppings from which to choose. Within the parameters of the vegan/vegetarian diet, I like being adventuresome. If I remember correctly, I chose eggplant and broccoli. And it was great. So, having 50 different pizzas to choose from in this cookbook was pretty exciting to me.
Before reading this review, you might want to click on the Cookbook Criteria tab above to see what I look for in a cookbook as I'm going to refer to those points in this review.
1. Plant-based or vegan: The title of this book is Vegan Pizza, and for the most part, that's 99.9% true. But vegan purists would not use granulated sugar, brown sugar or confectioners' sugar because generally they've been bleached using charcoal made from animal bones. Yes, there are some vegan substitutes, but the odd thing is that the author states specifically vegan margarine, when it's called for in a recipe, but doesn't do the same for the sugars. She does, however, point out the difference in the Pantry section under "sugar." And most vegans are aware of the concerns regarding sugar and can make their choices accordingly.
2. Whole foods: Vegan Pizza definitely fails on this category. None of the crust recipes utilizes whole grain flour, with the exception of the 1/4 cup of brown rice flour in the gluten free crust.
3. Limited use of meat (and cheese) analogues: This also fits under the whole foods category, as most of these are not whole foods. And, once again, Vegan Pizza is a definite fail in this category. While the author does give a few recipes for home-made cheeses near the beginning of the book, the majority of the actual pizza recipes call for "shredded vegan cheese." There is a fairly liberal use of "fake meat" as well.
4. Limited use of obscure, exotic and specialty ingredients - check.
5. Easy to follow instructions, simplicity of preparation - check.
6. Limited use of ingredients I don't like - yes, lots of recipes without mushrooms! (Why does everyone think pizza has to have mushrooms?)
7. Awesome food photography - no, very disappointing food photography. The only photographs of pizza are on the cover. Inside are only occasional "greenscale" (is there such a thing?) photos of ingredients.
8. A glossary of unique ingredients and cooking techniques - yes.
In order to review this cookbook, I chose 2 crust recipes (each recipe makes two 14" pizza crusts) and 4 pizzas to go on the crusts. I have to admit that I was really tempted to make my own whole grain pizza crusts, and just follow the pizza recipes from there. However, in order to do a more complete review, I decided to use the recipes in this book. I chose the Easy-Peasy Pizza Dough and the Cornmeal Dough. I followed her recipes, instead of my good sense, and I really regretted it. The author tells you to just stir the ingredients together and then let it rise for 2-3 hours: no need to knead. Ugh - a wet, sloppy, sticky mess that I had to grease my hands liberally in order to be able to spread out. I have no idea how the author was able to spread it out into a pizza shape, transfer it to parchment paper and then transfer it to a pizza stone in the oven. I would have been peeling pizza dough off the floor. Initially, I tried spreading the dough out on the parchment paper, but the dough stuck to it so badly that I was convinced the paper would bake right into the crust. I then tried wax paper and it was no better. That's when I greased the pizza pans and my hands and just formed the crusts in the pans. The most successful crust was the very first one that got stuck to the parchment paper first and then the wax paper. I finally set it aside, deciding to use it for my last pizza as I wanted to get at least one into the oven before I started fighting to separate it from the paper. I believe that all the handling it received developed the gluten more fully and it had a little more substance when I finally got it into the pan. I definitely would not use her crust recipes again.
The first pizza into the oven was the Garlic, Sausage and Onion Pizza. In order to assemble this one, I first had to make a recipe of Sausage Crumbles. I have used TVP numerous times over the years, but never have I had such a tasty result. I didn't have the sweet rice flour and it was not available locally. I did a quick google search and found that potato flour can be substituted, and it worked. I was very pleased with this pizza.
Up next was the Sweet Potato and Kale Pizza - really healthy ingredients, but not a great pizza. This was the only pizza I tested that had a home-made cheese on it: Smoky White Cheese Sauce. The cheese sauce was good, but one odd thing about the pizza recipes in this book is that the instructions say to put the cheese directly on the sauce (or crust, in the case of the Sweet Potato and Kale Pizza), underneath the toppings. The author's rationale is that vegan cheese melts better this way. However, I found it difficult to keep the toppings on. And in the case of this pizza, the toppings really started to dehydrate. The Kale turned into dry flakes and the sweet potato got more dehydrated than cooked. It ended up being rather tasteless and unappetizing. This particular pizza is actually in one of the cover photos on the cookbook and I'm wondering how the author managed to keep her kale so moist. Perhaps drizzling a little olive oil on might have helped. Without a mandolin slicer, I'm not sure how I could have made my sweet potato slices any thinner so that they could have actually cooked. In the cover photo, they look like they might have had a dash of olive oil as well.

Finally came the Cowboy Pizza, which included making a batch of Sweet and Smoky Soy Curls. I just have to say that this author's treatment of both TVP and soy curls really impressed me. If nothing else, this cookbook is likely worth the price to know how to use these products "tastefully." My grandson was quite delighted with the "chicken" on the pizza and was picking it off the pizza and nibbling away before I even had a chance to cut him a slice. This pizza was also a hit with my daughter. I think it won the vote as family favourite of the 3 savoury pizzas.
Last, but not least, I made a dessert pizza: Babka Pizza, substituting carob for the chocolate/cocoa. While it was delicious, it was definitely not healthy: too many refined products and much too sweet. Eat sparingly. And, as the recipe says, this pizza is best eaten the day that it is made. It's still delicious the next day, but it hardens up a little too much. Best eaten warm.
While I have some definite issues with this cookbook, I really like the fact that it presents a lot of unique and out of the ordinary ideas for pizzas, not just the same tired old toppings. I also like it's treatment of TVP and soy curls. I'd definitely make my own whole grain crust and maybe switch back to putting my (mostly home-made, rather than store-bought) cheese on top, but there are still a lot of interesting ideas to try in there.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

365 Vegan Smoothies: A Cookbook Review

I received a free digital preview copy of this book from Net Galley. I am not being compensated in any way for this review.
First off, I have to say that the cover picture in the ad above is certainly not as appetizing as the cover picture displayed on Net Galley. On Net Galley, it's a berry smoothie - a nice purple colour, which to me is much more appetizing than a green smoothie. I'm not really a green smoothie kind of person. However, I still like this cookbook because it is just chockfull of smoothie ideas, many that I would have never dreamed of myself.
It's got some nice food photography, with the exception of the green smoothies. I'm sorry, but my taste buds just shout, "Yuk" when I look at them. I would have liked more pictures, but it's a pretty hefty cookbook as it is (over 300 pages) and I understand the rationale behind not adding more pictures. There are, however, some other useful sections in this cookbook. The author shares a couple of recipes for plant based milks that can be used as base ingredients in the recipes rather than purchased soy/nut milks. She provides a glossary of ingredients, as well as tips on making smoothies. The recipes are divided up into 12 months, with a health focus for each month: Detox Smoothies for Month 1, Healthy Heart Smoothies for Month 8, for examples. The recipes all come with a "Boost It" suggestion that will increase the nutritional value of the smoothie by adding antioxidants, increasing protein, etc.
I believe that the "proof is in the pudding," or in the smoothie, in this case, so I taste-tested 3 recipes with my family, all from the "Strengthening Smoothies" section. I apologize for my unimaginative food photography. I was too busy blending and sampling to fuss with food styling.

Peanut Butter Dreams was really delicious and the family favourite of the three samples. I never dreamed of adding cinnamon to peanut butter, but the result was awesome.
Chocolate Pecan Pie Shake was next. It too, was very well received. I substituted roasted carob powder for the raw cacao powder.
We completed the trio with the Raspberry-Cashew Cheesecake Shake, also quite tasty.
Did you notice I didn't sample any green smoothies? LOL!
My objections to this cookbook (besides green smoothies) are the occasional use of obscure/hard to find ingredients (see my Cookbook Criteria page), such as vegan yogurt or Agave nectar. I also question the use of raw rolled oats in some of the smoothies. I'm not sure that they are readily digestible to the human system and I would especially caution those with any digestive issues (Crohn's, IBS, etc.). However, these are relatively minor, and I still think it's a great cookbook with a lot of unique flavour combinations.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Clutter Free: A Book Review

I received a free digital preview edition of this book from Net Galley to review it. I am not receiving any compensation for this review.
What can I say? As the daughter of a hoarder (my father) and the granddaughter of a hoarder (my paternal grandmother), hoarding is in my blood. As the daughter of parents who went through the great depression and the second World War, I learned that "it might come in handy someday." So, yes, I have my share (more than my share) of clutter. And honestly, as part of that clutter, I have several books on being organized and conquering clutter. So far, it hasn't happened. You have to both read them and apply them. I have done a little of both, but obviously not enough. So once again, I got a book on conquering clutter. Only, at least this time, it isn't adding to my clutter since it's on my Kindle. No matter how many books I put on my Kindle, it doesn't get any bigger. Maybe that's a start to being clutter free. 
I honestly love this book. It was written by one of us - people with clutter, not some superior form of human life who never so much as left the day's mail on the kitchen table. And it's real and it's practical. And it also gives some of the psychology behind why we clutter. And it's very readable. I actually enjoyed reading it. 
Now, I just have to apply it.