Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Illustration Friday - Winter

Copyright © Cheryl Coville 2010
What could say "Winter" more than catching snowflakes on your tongue?
Friday, December 24, 2010....Winter

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Little Christmas Rant

Grandma Coco has a love/hate relationship with Christmas. She loves the Norman Rockwell version with the Coca Cola Santa Claus. She loves Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. She even likes the movie (with Alistair Simm). She loves the decorations, the lights and the music. She loves the food. She actually loves Christmas.

In theory.

It's just making it all come together that gets her down. All the hustle. All the bustle. It's just so .... pointless. Running here. Running there. There seems to be an unwritten rule that families (who've somehow managed to avoid each other all year) absolutely must get together in spite of the fact that in Canada, it's  pretty dicey weather-wise for travel at this time of year. Who thought that up? You see people crying in airports, for heaven's sake, because a freak storm has grounded all the planes. I repeat: It's December. In Canada. It shouldn't come as such a shock.

Grandma Coco also has a bone to pick with news reporters who must constantly remind us that any disaster is somehow made worse by happening "only days before Christmas!'" As if the death of a child, for instance, would be more easily borne in the carefree days of summer or workers would be better off if their lay-offs occurred in January (when the Mastercard bills start rolling in). Humbug! 

And speaking of credit card bills, there's the absolute orgy of gift-buying and debt. People going into debt to demonstrate their affection for each other does not spell Christmas to me.

Now, lest you worry that Grandma Coco will be visited tonight by a trio of ghosts, I should hasten to point out that she has made her peace with the season. Oh, it's taken a few years but it's true what they say. With age comes wisdom. Here's her strategy: Take the best. Forget the rest. From the smorgasbord of Christmas offerings, choose those things that resonate with you and....quite simply....ignore the rest.

For example, chez Coco, we don't decorate. It's so much easier to get those pine needles out of the carpet without a tree. This year we're cooking the Christmas dinner and we're really looking forward to hosting our family at our own table. (See how cleverly Grandma and Mr. Coco have figured out how to avoid that Canadian travel issue?) We'll make a pretty simple meal and other family members will bring dishes to add to it. There won't be any Martha-esque decorations. In fact, the plates won't all match but all the guests will be very welcome. There will be warmth and peace in our home. And music.....but no Little Drummer Boy, please. That's just lame.

When Grandma Coco was a child, her mother, a typical 1950's stay-at-home mother, would bake her heart out every year. Martha Stewart had nothing on the mothers of the '50's. My mother would kick off the season in early November with the first of two different fruitcake recipes. Then there'd be squares and bars and drop cookies and shaped cookies with chopped nuts and jam. But the star of her show...and the one treat my father actually acknowledged she made better than HIS mother...was her Shortbread cookies. She'd take an afternoon to mix them and roll them and cut them out with fancy shaped cookie cutters and decorate them with cut-up cherries and sprinkles. Buttery and rich, those cookies speak of Christmas to me...and of course, they remind me of my mother. So, in honour of the season, and with my very best wishes, here's the recipe. Enjoy!

Grace's Shortbread Cookies
1 cup real butter (no substitutes) softened
1/2 cup fruit sugar (NOT icing sugar. Fine sugar. If necessary whiz some regular sugar in the food processor for a couple of minutes)
2 cups sifted flour

Cream the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Add 1-3/4 cups of flour, reserving 1/4 cup for rolling out the cookies. Knead the dough on a floured surface. Roll out and cut with cookie cutters. Mom liked them thin, about 1/4 inch thick, and Dad likes them thick, about 1/2 inch thick. Place them on an ungreased pan and bake at 300F for 30 -35 minutes or until lightly browned around the edges.

Copyright 2010 Cheryl Coville 

"And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!"
- A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, 1843

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Winter Solstice

Today marks the shortest day of the year and of course, the longest night as well. Pull your chair up a little closer to Grandma Coco's woodstove. Have a cup of hot chocolate and enjoy.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Pillow Gift Box Tutorial

Some of the people on Grandma Coco’s list this year are getting gift cards. I hope they’ll like them but they do look a little boring in their plain white envelopes. I was inspired by some gift boxes that Karen (of Sew Karen-ly Created) made. If you haven’t seen her tutorial, you can find it here: http://sewkaren-lycreated.blogspot.com/2010/10/applique-outside-box-literally.html You really should look. I’ll bet you’ll be inspired, too.

I decided to follow her lead but put my own Grandma Coco spin on things (as usual).

If you’d like to make some Pillow Gift Boxes, too, click here to download the template

First, we'll make the base box. Cut a rectangle out of card stock or lightweight cardboard the same size as the downloaded template. Make a separate scoring template out of cereal box cardboard. 

Using a knitting needle, trace around the cereal box template to score the card stock, scoring the curved lines and the straight lines that connect the points. 

Crease all these fold lines ...
... then smooth the card out and apply fabric using Wonder Under or some other fusible web to the  back side of the card stock. 

Trim the extra fabric close to the edge of the card stock all around EXCEPT for one of the straight edges (an edge without the curves) where you should leave ¾ inch of extra fabric and web. This is the glue that will hold the box closed. 

 Fold the 2 sections over and iron all 3 layers making a good bond with the fabric flap. 

When that’s cool, bend the end flaps down on their scored lines. 

That’s it! Pillow gift boxes. Fill ‘em up and ship ‘em out!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Motorcycle Madness

Copyright Cheryl Coville 2010

Someone close to Grandma Coco’s heart bought himself a motorcycle this year. It seemed like a silly purchase for a man with grey hair and high cholesterol. It seemed like the quintessential mid-life crisis. However, I’ve watched how much joy his bike has given him as he’s explored all the roads within a day’s ride of his home this spring, summer and fall. And I noticed how reluctantly he put his bike away for the winter.

When I saw some pre-printed motorcycle panels at Sew-Sisters.com, I just knew I had to make a quilt for him. The quilt is intended for him to keep beside his chair to curl up in as he dreams of next year’s rides. (And it's a secret (for now)! I don't think he reads this blog...)

The panel had motorcycles and speed boats and racing cars. I bought 2 panels to get enough motorcycles for my 20 block quilt. Then I fussy cut the motorcycles and used them for the centres of Attic Window blocks.

It seems to have the Cassie seal of approval.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Quilter's Secret Handshake

I think humans of every stripe have one thing in common. We seek contact with other humans.  And generally we feel most comfortable among people who share our interests and our cultural background. Quite simply, at school, the nerds sit with the nerds and the jocks with the cheerleaders. How we gravitate toward each other is a little more complicated.

Gay men are said to have gaydar…. a concept that I find fascinating since the penalty for misidentifying a possible contact could be pretty severe given the level of homophobia these days.

Women my age shepherding young grandchildren around the shopping mall give each other extra wide smiles in unspoken sisterhood.

Organized groups like the Freemasons….who included people like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Mark Twain…have a secret handshake.

So I guess it’s not surprising that when I see another woman knitting socks in the waiting room of my Toyota dealership, it feels totally natural to strike up a conversation with her. Oh, so what are you knitting? Oh, my, they’re beautiful. And who are they for? You know, that sort of easy introduction.

Several years ago, I was settled into the waiting room of the cardiology unit at a big hospital in Newmarket, Ontario. I’d been warned I’d be there for a while so I had brought along my knitting. Others came and went over the day. Most of them were silently worried. Some obviously bored, restless, not good waiters at all. But the knitting broke the ice for quite a few…both men and women. People wanted to reach out and make a connection. Women told me about their knitting projects and one man was intrigued that I seemed to be able to knit without looking at my work (which isn’t a very big trick at all….the totally blind knit, after all….but it’s fun to pretend we’re more accomplished than we really are).

The knitting is incidental to my story. It was the bag that held my knitting that tells the tale. I had made a quilted bag just the right size with just the right number of pockets for my knitting. I had appliquéd a design on the front of it and made the handles just long enough to sling over my shoulder. It was on the floor at my feet.

I can’t tell you how many women remarked on my bag over the 8 hours I sat there asking “Are you a quilter?”, each having recognized a kindred spirit. Once we made that connection, we could talk as if we were longtime friends just catching up.

A quilted tote bag. A quilted jacket or vest. These are the badges of our avocation. Like the silent nod or knowing smile, it’s the secret handshake that signals our membership in a very special club.

Copyright 2010 Cheryl Coville
In case you’d like to make a bag like mine, click here and you’ll be able to download a .PDF of the bird design.  I added 2 inch borders. The bird is appliquéd and the details are embroidered. The feather is embroidered and I embroidered Carpe Birdie-Yum! on the front…. a silly riff on Carpe Diem (Seize the Day). Now, go out and make a new friend!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Spare a tree, save the world CONTEST!

Copyright 2010 Cheryl Coville
Everyone’s going green these days…and that’s a good thing. More and more people are trying to do their part whether that’s by recycling or re-using or even going paperless altogether. It seems to me the more we can do away with unnecessary paper the better off we’ll be. I don’t know about you but in my studio there’s an awful lot of paper sitting around as magazines and patterns.

The knitting world has been out there in the forefront for a while now eliminating paper  with a couple of successful online magazines like Knitty and Knitchmagazine and Knitcircus.  Lately, even the big knitting magazines are going digital with the option to purchase digital subscriptions.

Ravelry is an extremely successful social networking site for knitters. They recently celebrated their one millionth member! Ravelry not only allows independent designers to sell digital downloads of their designs on its site but has actually provided the platform for those sales. Everybody wins in that equation.

In the quilting world, CQMagazine Online  has been around for a while but its focus is Crazy Quilting only. I used to enjoy Cotton Spice but it seems to have gone now. So, why has the quilting world been so slow to jump on the digital bandwagon?

Are we less tech savvy? Are we older? Less educated? All that seems doubtful.  Is there something about quilting patterns that make them so different from knitting designs? Well, I suppose there’s the fact that quilting patterns often involve templates but  .PDF’s are accurate and traditional quilting magazines are pretty much limited to the same page size as home printers. Why, Burda Sewing Patterns (which by definition are usually larger than 8-1/2” x 11”) are successfully sold by digital download for heaven’s sake … so what gives?

Could it just be that that’s the way it’s always been done?  Well, Grandma Coco says it’s time for a change. Here at Grandma Coco’s Designs we’ve gone completely digital. If you like one of our designs, you don’t have to search for it in the shops or wait for it to come in the mail. Oh, you may have to wait until Grandma Coco wakes up from her nap and gets to her email but that’s never more than a few hours. :)

And Grandma Coco is also happy to see that she’s not alone in this digital revolution. There’s a new online quilt magazine about to make its debut.  The Quilt Pattern Magazine  will be an online only ezine. It promises monthly issues with no fewer than 5 patterns per issue and a couple of interesting articles as well. All that for only about a dollar a month! Because that’s the thing, you see, not only is it better for the environment to go digital,  it’s also cheaper. They’ve got a sample preview up HERE so you can see how well it works.

The editors of The Quilt Pattern Magazine have given me a FREE year’s subscription to give to one lucky reader of this blog. If you’d like the chance to win it, just leave me a comment. Tell me what you think about digital downloads (good or bad).  I’ll draw the winner at random at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve and that lucky quilter will be notified during the first week of January 2011.

Just remember that even if you don’t win the year’s subscription, by going digital, we all win.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Rave Review for the Cosy Quilted Cap and Mittens Patterns

First of all, I have to confess that Grandma Coco's not the best of housekeepers. That's just the truth. Every once in a while, when cleaning can no longer be denied, I clean. Grudgingly. Recently when that happened I unearthed a magazine clipping that I had saved. It was the very first magazine review of my patterns ... the Cosy Quilted Cap and Mittens. And it's dated Fall 1994.

Obviously, Grandma Coco's no spring chicken. That's for sure. She started designing patterns way back before the age of computers....when all patterns were printed paper ones. And mail order meant waiting for the mailman. The world moved slower then and I remember how pleased I was that someone, anyone had taken notice of my designs.

Mary's relatives in their Cosy Quilted Caps
One evening, out of the blue, I got a phone call from a lovely woman, a writer named Mary K. Young, who had seen the patterns at a show in Toronto and made them up as Christmas presents for several of her relatives. She proposed an article to the Canada Quilts Magazine and she interviewed me for that story on a stormy January day in Perth ON. (How flattering to be taken seriously! Grandma Coco wishes that kind of experience for all her readers.)

On top of all that, Mary loved the designs.  She wrote,  "Every once in a while there's a good idea, a really good idea..........[the Cosy Quilted] Mittens and Cap, two great ideas."

I fear Canada Quilts Magazine has now gone the way of the dodo bird but I still have my magazine clipping ... and the memory.