Friday, January 31, 2014

Putting Pieces Together

The start of a new year makes for a good opportunity to develop some new skills. For me, it's probably no surprise to anyone that a number of the new skills that I have learned this year related to quilting. Three weeks ago, I had the wonderful opportunity of attending a 2-day quilt retreat hosted by Village Dry Goods in Brigham City, Utah. This year's teacher was Pam Buda whose quilt designs and fabrics are rooted in prairie life of the 1800s. You can see more of her quilting designs and fabrics at her website: Heartspun Quilts. Pam's Prairie Women's Sewing Circle Club series feature stories and quilt designs from this era of history. Needless to day, these themes resonate with me and my favorite quilting styles.

Here is a short summary of the projects and skills that I developed during the course of the retreat. Part of what I enjoyed the most about these projects was the process of organizing the pieces together and then combining them into patterns that were much more than the sum of the individual parts. 

The first day, we worked on a pattern called Settlers Puzzle. You can see from the picture to the left that the early stages of putting the pieces were a bit tedious and not exactly remarkable at first glance. As we continue on, however, triangles are added, strips are sewn together, and a small block is completed.
After four small blocks were completed, it was time to arrange them together to create the larger pattern that will be repeated throughout this quilt. Here is a picture of how mine turned out. When I purchased the fabric for this project, I hadn't fully thought about the consequences of the strip pattern. As things turned out, I was rather pleased with the subpattern that was created when the four blocks were put together. What do you think?
Part of the fun of participating in classes like these is seeing the fabric choices of the other ladies and how they work together. Here is a picture of the blocks that our class created. I like how some chose to reverse the light and dark fabrics within their quilt blocks. You can also see that one participant created her block with a variety of red fabrics as the dark color rather than the same one.

The second day saw the class working on techniques for improving our accuracy using some of Pam's "make it bigger, cut it down" tips. Part of the fun of this class was seeing fundamental quilt block components such as half square triangles, four-patch blocks, quarter square triangles, and square-in-a-squares come together to make the center block for a lap-sized quilt. The center block is featured in the picture below. See if you can identify the smaller subunits within this block. 
My final "new skill" for the month of January has been learning how to use a rather nifty triangle ruler. I came across this ruler at Quilter's Haven in Bountiful and then ended up buying fabric for a baby quilt so that I could test it out. The picture below shows how you cut strips of fabric to the specified height of the triangle and then rotate the direction of the ruler to cut the triangles.

To create the blocks for this particular quilt, you sew a smaller white and a larger colored triangle together like this. You then sew two 2-triangle units together to create a 4-triangle unit.
The next step is sewing two 4-triangle units together and trimming the block so that it is a square. 

For the particular pattern that I used, I also added a machine appliqu├ęd square in the center as you can see on the picture of the completed quilt top. I am excited to get it to the quilter and then to its yet-to-be-born owner.
Arranging pieces within a quilt has parallels within both the Old and New Testaments as to how God designates roles and responsibilities for His people. While some pieces in a quilt may catch a person's eye more than others, each is essential to bring harmony and completeness to the quilt. Even so, each believer is essential to the unity of the body.
In the book of Numbers, God assigns specific responsibilities to the families of the tribe of Levi in relation to the service of the tabernacle. Some families had  responsibility for the furnishings of the tabernacle associated with worship. Others were responsible for the tent pegs and cords - not the most glamorous of roles. At the same time, without these individuals to carry the tend pegs and cords, the tabernacle would not have had a supporting structure where worship could occur.
In the New Testament, Paul reminds believers that while we are all baptized into one body by one Spirit, we are many members of that body, each with a distinct role and function. Paul also reminds believers that the purpose of these different roles was so "… that there should be no division in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another," 1 Corinthians 12:25.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Time For Tea … and Downton Abbey

In a recent post, I had mentioned something about not having time to follow a television series with any regularity. As it turns out, that is really only a partial truth. For me, there is one exception to that claim, and that is Downton Abbey. Although I am a bit of a latecomer to the series (began watching Seasons 1 & 2 right after Christmas last year), I have to admit that I am rather enamored with the show. I love the costumes, the manner in which historical events are incorporated into the show, and the screenwriting, especially Lady Violet's lines. 

Since the close of Season 3 last February, I have been eagerly counting down the days to the start of Season 4 (well, maybe not literally, but you get the idea). Now that the start of Season 4 is upon us here in the US, I thought it only fitting to mark the day with an English-style tea party. My tea parties most likely don't exactly meet Downton standards, but here are a few pictures and recipes that you may wish to use in creating your own tea party.

Dill Dip
Since discovering this recipe, it has become my "stand by," and I can't remember the last time I made dip using Hidden Valley Ranch mix. The exact amounts will vary based on how much you make, but part of the fun is seasoning this dip to fit your tastes.

  • Equal parts sour cream and mayonnaise - for the most part, I don't measure these but rather eyeball the amounts. Often I will start with roughly 1/2 cup of each.
  • Dried dill weed. I typically start with about 2 teaspoons and then can add more if needed.
  • Garlic powder. I prefer powder over fresh so that I get just a hint of garlic flavor rather than have it overpower the other flavors. I tend to use 1/8 teaspoon or less.
  • Dried parsley. I tend to start with about 1 teaspoon and then adjust as needed.
  • Dried onion flakes. This is optional based on your tastes. I typically take about 1/2 teaspoon and crumble them a bit more in my fingers before adding them.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.
Stir all ingredients together. Chill for an hour or two so that flavors can meld together and serve.

Cucumber Sandwiches
What would an English tea party be without cucumber sandwiches? Although easy to make, these sandwiches do take some time to prepare. 

  • Peel a cucumber and slice it very thinly. Place the slices on a paper towel-lined plate and sprinkle with salt to allow the cucumbers to "sweat" for about 1/2 hour or more. Blot the excess liquid from the slices.
  • Spread the bread of your choice with a thin layer of cream cheese. I prefer to use a heavier bread that won't fall apart when I spread the cream cheese.
  • Place a double layer of cream cheese on the bread. Top with another slice of bread that has been spread with cream cheese. Cut into small squares or triangles prior to serving.

Deviled Ham Toasts

I discovered this recipe a few years ago in one of my English tea books. I am providing the American adjustments to the ingredients and measurements.
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • One 5 oz can of smoked ham, drained
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • Cayenne pepper (to taste)
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp dried parsley
Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Stir in the remaining ingredients and warm through. Spread meat mixture on bread as either an open-faced or traditional sandwich. Cut into small squares or triangles before serving.

Shortbread Cookies

Shortbread is actually a traditional Scottish dessert comprised primarily of butter, sugar, and flour. Shortbread is traditionally shaped into a large circle which is divided into wedges, small circles, or oblong rectangles. As you can see from the picture, I have topped the cookies with a dollop of sweetened whipping cream and fresh raspberries.

  • 1.5 cups butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3.5 cups flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
Mix the butter and sugar together in a mixing bowl. Mix in the vanilla. Mix the flour and salt together and combine into the sugar/butter/vanilla mixture. Mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together. You may also need to mix the dough together with your hands. Note that it will appear very dry and crumbly. Once the dough is thoroughly combined, wrap it in plastic and allow it to chill for about 30 minutes. 
Roll the dough out until it is about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Cut into shapes as desired. I used the rim of a drinking glass to cut my dough into circles. Bake on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet for 20 minutes at 350 degrees until edges begin to turn brown.