Wednesday, October 30, 2013

5 Easy Pumpkins for Fabric Lovers (There's still time!)

It's the night before Halloween, and OMG, you completely forgot to decorate! Me too! That's okay, if you're a quilter and have ten minutes, it's just enough time and more than enough materials to make these. Numbers 1-3 have to be the fastest fabric craft ever invented (not by me). 

Along with the supplies of which you have plenty (fabric scraps), you will need some kind of stuffing (bits of fabric/batting work in a pinch), plus string, ribbon, yarn, rick-rack, rattan, wire, etc - anything much longer than it is wide. 

# 1. Hippie Pumpkin Find something that you/your mother/your grandmother wore when orange and brown were trendy (such as, in this case, my mother's 1960s-era orange-and-brown psychedelic halter top outfit:)
Can you imagine wearing this fabric? Fortunately, my mom looked good in everything. So do pumpkins.

To make: Cut the rectangle to 15" x 6". Fold the strip in half wrong side out (if it has a wrong side), and stitch the two short ends together. Then hand stitch a loose running stitch all the way around the bottom, in a circle, with strong thread, and pull tight, gathering it. Knot and cut off the thread. Turn right side out, insert stuffing. Locate vintage rick-rack and wind wedges into the pumpkin and around the stem. Tie off, and done.  

2. Finished Stem Pumpkin. Same idea, but with a one-sided print fabric . Because the back is different than the front, cut this piece wider: 15" x 10" high.  Fold down the long top edge, to the back, by about 3". Stitch the short ends together, gather at the bottom as for pumpkin 1, and find something to wrap to create wedges and the stem. Note that at the top of the stem, the wrong side doesn't show! I'm easily impressed. 

3. Treat Pumpkin: Use a woven homespun plaid (both sides are the same and it may have a  fuzzy selvage at the top edge.) Fill the pumpkin with small treats (ideally chocolate) and/or containers of dental floss, wrapped with tissue paper to fluff them out. Tie off with a ridiculous amount of shiny rat tail. Give it to someone who will appreciate it (such as another quilter who loves woven plaid scraps almost as much as chocolate). 

It's fun to experiment with different windings, such as 'Compulsive' 
And 'Uninhibited': 
4. Flattened Pumpkin Coaster Now we're moving into quiltier territory of 2-D:
Obtain a 4" x 6" piece of stiff interfacing with fusible on one or both sides, such as Peltex (any thick interfacing is fine); and scraps of an orange batik with lots of variations in it. (Felt works if you have nothing else.)

Cut the Peltex into a pumpkin shape. Cut the fabric into smallish pieces and press them to one side of the interfacing. (Do it on top of a nonstick press sheet to protect your ironing board on bottom, if you're using two-sided interfacing.)

Where the fusible doesn't show, or if there's no fusible, use a plain glue stick to adhere the pieces.

On the reverse side, adhere a single, different pumpkin-ish piece of fabric. When both sides are fused or glued in place, free-motion quilt vertical arcs from the pieced side. Finish the edges with a tight zig-zag (cord the edging if you have time).

Find a stem-colored streaky batik (I used green, you could use brown, or your imagination; grosgrain ribbon would be nice too) and rough-cut a 1.5" x 6" strip. Fold it into a loop, gather it underneath a button. Stitch down the button. Nice coaster, wall hanging, or bookmark. Kids can make a face on it, cutting shapes from black fabric backed with fusible web. Or, they can cut holes to make the facial features. You can also adhere it to a postcard. And speaking of postcards:

5. Freeform Modern Liberated Pump Kin (sic) Postcard (Shown at the top of the page).  Start as in project 4, with a piece of  sturdy interfacing (ideally with fusible on one or both sides) cut to 4" by 6".  Cut a square of orange fabric to 3" x 3". Polka dots are always the perfect choice. Center it on the postcard and press in position. Cut four 1.5" grey squares. Set them, one by one, on top of each corner of the pumpkin fabric and stitch along their diagonals. Fold the inner corners of the grey fabric outward along the stitching line, and press down.  Now the pumpkin has 8 sides and softer angles. Cut two squares of grey fabric that are approximately 2 1/4" x 2 1/4". Using a quarter-inch seam allowances, stitch one, face down, along the right edge of the pumpkin-and-triangles. Stitch the other one, face down, to the left edge. Open them outward, and press flat in position. 

Now cut a strip of grey fabric that's 2" x 6.5", and stitch it horizontally along the bottom of the pumpkin unit. Fold it open and down, and press. 

Finally, cut another grey strip to 2" x 6", cut it in half, and insert a piece of brown (or other stem colored fabric) that's about 1.5" wide by 2" high. Stitch the three pieces together with the stem in the middle. Align it along the top edge of the pumpkin unit, face down, and stitch along the top edge. Press up and open. 

Trim all the top fabrics back to the size of the interfacing underneath, i.e. 4" x 6". 

Free-motion quilt a message. I wrote "Pump Kin Post Card." It's for sending to kin? To pump them for homemade pie? For Thanksgiving? Or Thanksgivvukah? OK, it's yet another wallhanging/bookmark/mug rug! 

Extra credit (and a few extra minutes): If you won't be putting the postcard in the mail as is (but might send it in a padded envelope) add a row of orange-ish buttons to the bottom. 

Adhere a light colored plain fabric on the back (for messages). Use fusible web if the back doesn't already have fusible. When both sides are covered with fabric, and all edges are cut even, zig zag around the edges to finish. 

You're done! Strew these things about! Your home is now adequately and creatively decorated! Happy Halloween! 

Update: #6. Pumpkin fabric decoupage. People do it. Really - just Google it. If you use a fake pumpkin as the base, you never have to throw the pumpkin (and, more importantly, its fabric) away. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Interactive Crocheted Turkey Menorah for Thanksgivukkah!

Is it a bird? Sort of. Is it a peacock? Almost.
But wait, of course! It's an Thanksgivukkah menorah!
Are you looking at me quizzically? Or are you nodding knowingly? Sometimes it's hard to tell.

If you've chatted with Jewish people lately, are one yourself, or you watch Colbert, you may be aware that Thanksgiving this year falls on the first day (second night) of Hanukkah, causing a clever person to dub it 'Thanksgivukkah.'

Alternatively, one of my favorite machine embroiderers, Sue Warshell of Stitches by Sue, is calling it Thanukah, which is definitely less of a mouthful for a holiday that's all about eating. (What about Hanugiving? Or Thank-u-kkah?)

Whatever you call it, the calendrical coincidence only happens once every 77,000 years (if ever), so it is a sort of a big deal. Happily, it has generated waves of creativity, not just linguistically, but also with fusion foods (pumpkin challah! pumpkin kugel!), crafts, decor, (many at Buzzfeed), and even fine art.

There are also amalgamations of the respective holidays' major symbols, turkeys and menorahs. For example, there is the menurkey, designed by a 9-year-old and funded on Kickstarter; a turkorah, by a wood artist; and a nameless candelabra made by arranging a flock of identical ceramic turkii (back at that Buzzfeed page), which could perhaps be dubbed a Turk-o-flock-o-Hanukkah-thanks.

I've been pondering this unique holiday in the midst of my personal crocheting jag. So, the other night, I was moved to make the following thing, complete with removable Pilgrim/Hasid hat and "lightable" tail candles.

Before lighting:

I suggest permanently lighting the middle candle, the shammes. Then, to light the nightly candles, while sitting at the festive table, simply pull out your handy Hanukah crochet hook (also good for spearing latkes) and hook a picot in yellow yarn. Here's the shammes and the first night only lit up (far lower right):
 The third night:
 The fourth:
 The sixth:
The final night:
Note the blue star on the removable Pilgrim hat/yarmulke (Pilgrims: Lost tribe?) It also has a tiny ball of yellow yarn as a fashion accessory.
For my second Thanksgivvukah menorah, I stitched a pocket on the back of the tail, to hold the beginning and ending yarn balls, as you chain stitch through the holiday (and for storage).
When the holiday's over, simply pull out all stitches, roll the yarn back into a ball, and put it in the the pocket, and bury it in a platinum time capsule until the year 79,811.

How did I make it? I can't give you an exact pattern, but I can give you a somewhat detailed strategy. Download the free 4-page sheet here.

To work with my strategy, you must understand working in rounds in crochet, and know how to increase and decrease. If you are experienced at crochet, especially amigurumi, this pattern will be a breeze. (My favorite amigurumi learning and pattern site is

Since I did this project this rather quickly, it has NOT been tested. That's why the strategy sheet is free! If you give it a shot, I would welcome comment and suggestions, and maybe a picture or two wouldn't hurt, to cathy (dot) perlmutter (at) gmail (dot) com.

So Happy Thanksgivukkah, or whatever you call it! And don't forget to cook a turdonut! (I just made that up. It's sufganyot/jelly donut stuffing for the turkey! The jelly inside the donuts inside the turkey makes it a triple cardiac threat, just like a turducken!)

I'll try to stop now. 

UPDATE: I can't stop. Pumpkin Latkes = Plotzkes.
UPDATE: Many more mashups are here
UPDATE: Not all Thanksgivvukah things are kitschy! Extraordinary artist/illustrator Flora Rosefsky has made four gorgeous art prints to celebrate the festive table (the last four prints on this page.) Use the contact form to purchase inexpensive 8" x 10" or 11" x 14" prints. 

UPDATE: 11-16-13 A sequel to the Turkey Menorah saga is here

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Most Fun, Environmental, and Inexpensive Coffee and Tea Quilt Ever!

If you've read this blog before, you might have read of my addiction for combining quilting with coffee and upcycling

Well, I had a chance to indulge that passion bigtime two weeks ago, at the Pomegranate Guild biannual convention. I was extremely excited to take a class with designer/author/quilter extraordinaire Eleanor  Levie, whose innovative work I've long admired. The class was called "Recycled Art Hamsa," and Elly brought along all the raw materials, which for the most part were: 
  • Used, clean, foil coffee bags
  • Used, clean, foil tea bag envelopes
  • Glue sticks
It immediately became apparent that Elly and her donor friends do not suffer from dehydration. She brought a large suitcase filled with  foil beverage wrappers. Our assignment couldn't have been more entrancing. We glue-sticked shapes cut from the colorful side of the wrappers, onto a  6" x 9" silver rectangle, which is the back of a coffee bag. Here's my arrangement:
Elly made many helpful suggestions. That's how the purple got there!
The hand shape is called a "hamsa"; it's an ancient Middle Eastern good luck symbol, and often appears with an eye, for extra protection in warding off the evil eye. Elly had given us each a 4" shrink plastic hamsa (unshrunk), and we used that to trace and cut the central foil hand. 

Gluing everything into position is about how far we got in the two-hour class.  Once home, I machine-stitched the pieces down with invisible thread. Basic secret of working with foil bags: use loooong stitches; otherwise the holes can rip through. Also, don't make stitching mistakes. Holes are forever. No pressure.

The central silver panel was stitched onto dark green felt, which in turn was glued to another layer of felt for extra strength. I hand-stitched a row of buttons along the bottom, in accordance with Elly's design, 
...and stitched a shiny green button in the middle of the hamsa. 
The finishing touch is the bottom fringe made from plastic beverage bottle lids, plus buttons.  They are so fun and make a lovely soft clatter.  
I think Elly told me she used a drill to make the holes in the lids - in a much more dangerous procedure, I used a sharp awl. (Aim the awl away from yourself. or you could hurt yourself badly. Set the hole nearest the open edge of the cap, where plastic is thinnest.) 

See the decorated little white hamsa on the upper left of the picture above?  That's how small it shrank, from about 4" to about 1", after a brief baking in the oven (and after decorating it with "chai", the Hebrew word for "life," with felt tip markers.)

Would you love to make your own? Elly shares the project instructions for free on her website! The PDF is here. Her blog post showing the design variations that my classmates created is here.

And so, in conclusion, my fellow quilters, ask not what your quilts can drink for you. Quilts can't drink. Instead, ask what you can drink for your quilts.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Going Bananas, Crocheting Again

The past few weeks, I've been too stressed out to quilt. To tell you the truth, I've been going

...bananas. Life and Time are not only giving me age spots, but also...
(Medusa pattern is from the book 'Creepy Cute Crochet' by Christen Hayden)
...a black eye. When the government office unexpectedly closes (or reopens); when dear friends depart; when nuthin', as James Taylor sang, nuthin' is goin' right, it's time to locate the crochet hook, sit down on the couch, and knot the nearest fiber. If you have no yarn, but there is an empty shopping bag and a pair of scissors on your coffee table, perfect. Cut strips of plarn and make something simple:
Quick, tiny basket made from white and pink plastic shopping bags plus blue nylon hardware cord.  This is about 3" tall. 
If you happen to have a beautiful variegated yarn and a mother-of-pearl button lying around, even better...
Easy wrist cuff made with Versa yarn by Berroco. if you sew up the sides, it's an electronics case.
This type of therapy works winter, spring, summer, or in the present case, fall:
Worked as a plain sphere, then wrapped to create the ridges. Inspired by
Back loop only single crochet, alternating with regular sc, creates the ridges in this pumpkin worked as a rectangle, then base and top drawn in. This approach was inspired by Planet June's donation-ware pattern, well worth the small donation you're encouraged to make if you use it. 
Yes, it's a floppy improvisational menorah, crocheted from self-striping sock yarn. Candles were made on a spool knitter. They're not removable or lightable, alas. Start crocheting now: Hanukah this year coincides with Thanksgiving. 
 Or something elaborate,
I learned to make the crocodile stitch from It's very challenging. I'm not sure what to do with this piece I've made, which is about 20" long.  (I'm almost out of the yarn, Lang Yarn's Tosca. which is out of production. If anyone has some extra skeins they'd be willing to sell, please email me!)

Or, best of all, something that will make you laugh.
(Felt face stitched on by my DD. If at all possible, find a collaborator and you'll both be surprised). 

If you want to see more of my recent crochet therapy, go to

Sunday, October 13, 2013

A Birthday Quilt, Well Used

Fabric companies should put a message on the selvages: "Warning: Quilting Makes Life More Poignant." Poignant in a good way, enriching celebrations of birthdays, weddings, holidays, of course; but sometimes poignant in a fall-to-your-knees, rend-your-garments, rage-at-the-Creator sort of way.

Warning: This posting involves both kinds of poignant.

This past Friday night, we lost our very dear friend Jeff - (he's the one on the left, with my husband Alan on the right) - after a one-year ordeal with cancer. He was 52.
Photo is circa 2005. You can't see it clearly in the picture, but my husband is wearing a yellow felt crown and Jeff, on the left, has a fluffy pink feathered hair accessory on the back of his head. They were temporarily wearing them while their costumed daughters were in a jump house during a synagogue Purim party.

When you look in the dictionary under menche  - Yiddish for 'fine human being' - there's a picture of Jeff. He was a devoted husband - no, devoted doesn't even begin to cover his love and respect for his wife Alison. He was a Ph.D rocket science who loved his work. He was a hyper-indulgent father - "The children have chosen to eat at McDonalds today!" he would happily announce when we picked our kids up from preschool in the late 90's, where we met. We visited McDonalds a lot in those days, but don't worry, the kids ate very little - it wasn't the McFood they were after - it was the play structure and the ball pit, and Jeff always sided with the kids' desire for fun.

Contradicting to his willingness to visit McD's, he was an enthusiastic gourmet chef. His annual Chanukah latke (potato pancake) parties were anticipated all year. Jeff would spend the entire party stationed at the stove, patiently doling out perfectly-cooked sizzling latkes to the hungry hordes - some traditional style pancakes, some with hitherto unheard-of ingredients like sweet potatoes and zucchini (well before the sweet potato/zucchini latke fads). He also made a delicious and varied assortment of briskets. And once he made a beet-mozzarella-spinach salad that I recall as one of the best things I ever ate in my entire life, and how many non-chocolate substances, let alone a salad, gets that kind of a compliment (from me)?

I could go on about Jeff, so I will, just a little more. Kind, selfless, calmmmmmm.  One autumn morning in 1998, he met us at the hospital at 3 a.m., when I found myself, rather suddenly, giving birth, with my four-year-old still in tow (my lightening-fast labor didn't give us time to drop him off at their house). Jeff caught up with us in the hospital corridor, as we were sprinting towards delivery (every so often I stopped to writhe on the floor with a monster contraction, so Jeff was able to catch up); he gracefully extricated our confused preschooler, reassured him, and took him home to sleep and await meeting his new sister. I wouldn't be surprised if they had breakfast at McDonalds. (They didn't, but I wouldn't be surprised if they did).

Jeff also had a miraculous head of thick black hair that remained ungreyed and undiminished, not only through early middle age, but even through the chemo.

If there were a list of people who deserve a particularly horrible form of cancer, he would not be anywhere on it.

Friday afternoon. Alison sent out an email saying that Jeff was unresponsive, and could go at any time. So my husband and I went over there that night. he was unconscious and his breathing was uneven.

To my astonishment, he lay under the quilt I made him for his 40th birthday, 12 years ago. I hadn't seen it in a long time, but  I was glad it was there.

(It was basically a quickie novelty fabric birthday quilt, with giant squares, rectangles and strips of fabrics reflecting his and his kids' many interests - dogs, cooking, Pokemon, etc. And especially games. If something involved a dice and points, Jeff was all over it. In the center of the quilt, I put a Monopoly fabric panel. I had inserted a picture of Jeff, holding his daughter in a front pouch, with his son peeking over his shoulder. I faked the font to rewrite the word as 'Jeffopoly', quilting his age into the yellow 'community chest' rectangle, and the year, 2001, into the 'chance' square.)

(I also set in a cheater checkerboard panel with "checkers" made from his kids' faces.
There was a fabric envelope stitched into the quilt to hold the pieces. I also made pieces with Jeff's and Alison's faces, to serve as kings and queens.)

Back to Friday night. I took Jeff's hand and I thanked him for being such a dear and wonderful friend, for being in our lives. He made some little sounds, but otherwise, as we'd expected, nothing. We drove home and I went to bed around 11, praying furiously.

Saturday morning Alison called to tell us that he died, peacefully, during the night.

Under my quilt.

When we went over there later that day, Alison showed me that the quilt has a couple of tears in it, and she gave it to me to fix.  She told me that it had been "well used," before and during Jeff's illness.

That made me happy, in a miserable sort of way.

So it's in my house again right now, far softer and more faded than when it departed a dozen years ago.

There are so many things wrong with the world that I cannot repair. Fixing this quilt is the least I can do. It's pretty much all I can do.

Contributions in Jeff's honor can be made to the Sequoyah School, where Jeff served a term on the  board of directors. The donations can be made to through the school's website,, or by personal check (note in the memo line that it's in honor of Jeff Stern), sent to: Sequoyah School, 535 South Pasadena Ave., Pasadena CA 91105

Sunday, October 6, 2013

One More Improvisational Quilted and Crocheted Basket

A couple of weeks ago, I explained a quilted basket with a crocheted lid (here).  This past week, I finished  a second in this amusing obsession series. 
It started as a batiky landscape, made in an improvisational manner that could be described as Scribbly Rectangular Psychotherapy. This detail shows how incredibly relaxing this can be: 
When everything is an accident, there are no mistakes! (That's deep. I have to think about that.)

At the time I made it, I put a a tiny loop at the back-top-center, suitable for hanging as is. Three buttons and buttonholes on opposite edges make it work as a cuff:

With a jar inside, it can hold treasures or a votive....

More is better! So last week, I crocheted a lid:
That's an inexpensive touristy shell necklace around the edge, still on its original string (but shortened).

The middle button down the side is a shank button with another shell glued on.

The battered (so to speak) fish comes from a deeply cool vintage necklace (The hole in his rear fin has long since broken through).

To make the lid, I started by crocheting a circle of 1" mottled pink batik fabric strips, then switched to the lavender yarn.

The fish is hot-glued to a clear glass button. Now I think it's a holder for my finest shells!