Don’t Stint—Do Your Stint!

When can a little mean a lot? When can doing tiny bit add up to a ton?

When the tiny bit you do is done regularly, every day.

When you do your stint.

Stint is a funny word. As a verb, “stint” means to be sparing or frugal, to use or give something in limited amounts.

As a noun, it means an allotted time spent at a task. This is the stint I’m talking about!

In my world what it means is that a little time devoted to a task each day—a daily stint—adds up to a satisfying sense of accomplishment.

I’m a big believer in stints. I have to be because, left to my own devices, my life would prove the principle that a body at rest stays at rest.

Inertia would rule.

And because my days are unstructured by outside work, I often don’t feel any pressure to begin a project—I always feel like I’ll get to something soon. But . . . I don’t.

I love to be productive but I often find it difficult. I find myself sitting and reading mindless novels; they’re engaging but the literary equivalent of junk food. I find myself sitting and playing endless games of Words with Friends. And sitting and adding ideas of cool projects to Pinterest, ogling other people’s creations instead of making my own.

Time just evaporates when I’m doing these things . . . and then I am disgusted with myself at the end of the day.

So, I’ve identified my stints, my allotted time I say I will spend on a task each day, the time I will commit to spending on the things I know I want to do!

For me, a list-maker, driven by this need to feel productive but often victim to inertia as well as overwhelmed by wanting to do so many different things, having a list of daily stints works wonders:

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See those little black sideway arrows, next to the words “today”? Those are stints–when I check them off for today, they get scheduled automatically for tomorrow

My little list app on my phone is always ready, to guide me and remind me. The daily stints sit there, along with any other errands or appointments, and I can check off each item as I go. When I check off one of the stints, it automatically pops up again, for the next day.

For my stints, I set myself a minimum—and there’s no law against doing more! For example, I often do more than 10 fabric yoyos a day or spend longer than the allotted time on weaving. It’s just a matter of getting started—a body in motion stays in motion.

There’s also no law that everything gets done every day. I rarely exercise every single day but I usually do more than 30 minutes when I do, so having the stint in my mind keeps me on track.

And during candy season or on days when I need to shop and run errands, all bets are off. I might just pick one or two of the items and be content with those. My app lets me “put off” items for a day or more, with no scolding or penalty.

I find that, for me, spelling out a specific amount of time I will spend on a task, or a desired outcome I want to achieve each day, makes it seem manageable to me.

For instance, when I wrote about my making of fabric yoyos recently, I told you that I figure I need over 1300 of them to make a coverlet. If I sit around and think about 1300 yoyos, it is all too easy to pick up my phone and lose myself in Words with Friends.

But, if I say I will make 10 yoyos? Easy!

And guess what? It works! I started doing the yoyo stint a couple of weeks before I did the recent post asking you to guess how many yoyos I had done. At the time of that accounting, December 7, I had made 400 yoyos, and it had taken me about 2 years of plodding along.

Since then, I’ve done over 200 more, in about 3 weeks! And it’s been utterly painless. I’ve learned that it takes me about an hour to make 10-12 yoyos and it’s an hour, late in the afternoon, when I can justify sitting in front of the fire, with a drink, to relax and sew.

Thirty minutes of exercise? I can handle 30 minutes of anything! No big deal! Thirty minutes of weaving? That means 5 or 6 more inches on my current project and, as long as I’m sitting there, I think I’ll do more . . .

This works for me.

How do you handle finding motivation to get started and make progress, when there’s no outside pressure? Are you a self-starter, who jumps out of bed, excited to pick up your current projects? Or do you need to find strategies to help you get going?

Do you do any stints?

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A Time To Every Purpose, in the New Year

 

watch handsFor everything there is a season, so it’s said.

This season we are in, these winter holidays, is the time for indulgence and extravagance and living large, for being social and busy, and for lighting the darkness of the longest nights with family and friends and laughter. Enjoy!

But, in the new year, the season and its purposes change. And I look forward to this season, too, very much.

A time for quiet.

A time for introverts to recharge their social batteries and a time for even extroverts to turn to introspection.

A time for more fruits and vegetables, less sugar and, yes, less chocolate. A time for moderation.

A time for budgeting and cutting back and assessing. A time for making do and feeling virtuous about it.

A time for resolutions and the best of good intentions.

A time for building homely nests of blankets, and crawling in.

A time for creative play, choose your medium. I’ll choose sewing and stitching and weaving and thread and yarn, and punctuate it all with hot chocolate and naps.

A time when everything seems possible, when we can make big plans but not feel the pressure! There’s time to do it all—we have a whole year!

A time where the year to come stretches out, unsullied, like a new fall of snow, waiting for us to walk in it and slog around and fling ourselves down for snow angels. A time to make our mark.

And, as always, in the words of Pete Seeger, one can hope this new, precious year is “a time for peace, I swear it’s not too late . . .”

English Toffee: For Yanic and You

english toffee-5A little while ago, I posted a photo of English toffee I make and sometimes sell.

Some of you reported drooling and wanting to lick your computer screen. One blog pal, Yanic, did the more rational thing:


Yanic: Would you share your English Toffee recipe? It looks amazing.

Kerry: I’d be happy to share my toffee recipe but it’s really the same as every recipe you’d find on allrecipes.com–except instead of using chocolate chips, I temper real chocolate and put it on both side of the toffee. The only ingredients in the toffee itself are sugar, butter, water and vanilla. The only other thing you need is a reliable candy thermometer. Let me know if you want the specifics from the recipe I use.

Yanic: I would love your recipe… since I’ve never made any, even if it’s a classic, I’d rather have a recipe from someone I know. 🙂 Thank you!


So, Yanic (and all lovers of English toffee), this blog’s for you.

First, because I know you have children you love, Yanic, you absolutely must do one of two things if you’re going to make toffee. EITHER make it while they are out of the house or napping OR tell them firmly to put their bottoms in the kitchen chairs and not move until you tell them it’s safe, until the hot syrup is cooked and spread and cool.

I mean it, Yanic—scare them a little because nothing will burn them worse than 300 degree syrup that sticks to the skin.

Okay, now that we have that out of the way, collect your many exotic ingredients. That would be sugar, butter, salt, water, and vanilla extract, and whatever you will use for chocolate coating. Candy coating or “melts” are easy but not really chocolate at all. Chocolate chips would be preferable, in my book. Or, if you know how to temper chocolate, use the real thing!

The most exotic necessity for making toffee is the candy thermometer! Be sure you have one!

Here is the recipe I use, which comes from the book that taught me all I know about candymaking, Chocolate and Confections at Home, by Peter P. Greweling.

English Toffee

  • Servings: about 1 pound 14 ounces
  • Print

8 oz. (1 cup) sugar

8 oz. (16 tablespoons; 2 sticks) butter, melted

2 oz. (1/4 cup) water

½ teaspoon salt

½ oz. (1 tablespoon) vanilla

12 oz. (1 ¼ cups) tempered dark chocolate OR dark compound coating, melted

6 oz. (1 1/2 cups) chopped toasted pecans or almonds

  1. Line a large sheet pan with parchment paper.
  2. Combine the sugar, melted butter, water, salt, and vanilla extract in a 2-quart saucepan. Bring to a boil, over medium high heat, and stir constantly with a heat-resistant silicone or rubber spatula.
  3. Place your candy thermometer and continue stirring until mixture reaches 300 degrees F. For me, on my stove, this takes about 18 minutes from start to readiness.
  4. Pour (carefully, Yanic!) onto the prepared pan and spread quickly to the edges of the pan with an offset knife—be very careful not to get the syrup on your hands! Don’t ask me how I know this. I just do.
  5. If you are using chocolate chips: wait until the toffee has cooled just a bit and sprinkle the top liberally with the chips. Wait a moment or two and the chips will get melty. Use an offset knife to spread the melty-ness and then promptly sprinkle with the nuts you choose. You can really only coat one side of the toffee with the chocolate chips so you should keep it in a tightly sealed container—the uncoated side will be susceptible to humidity.
  6. If you are using candy melts or tempered chocolate, wait until the toffee is completely cooled. If there is oil on the surface of the cooled toffee, wipe it off with a dry paper towel. With your melted coating or tempered chocolate, cover one side and quickly sprinkle with nuts. Give it a few minutes to set, then flip the whole thing over, using a cutting board or another baking sheet. Coat the second side and sprinkle with nuts. Because this approach coats the toffee on both sides, it will probably hold up longer than toffee coated on one side only.

The toffee can be broken with your hands or with the point of a chef’s knife. All those little pieces that split off are super-good over ice cream or mixed into chocolate chip-style cookies!!


And there you have it! The recipe, with both sides chocolate-coated, makes almost two pounds of toffee. I stack pieces in cellophane bags and add a ribbon and . . . no one ever turns it down!

If you make it, let me know!

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Quilting On A Firm Foundation

Have you been intrigued by quilting but you’re not sure where to start?

A little intimidated by yards of fabric and the idea of cutting it up, just to sew the pieces back together again?

Overwhelmed by the idea of sewing all those straight lines straight and getting all the corners and sections to match up?

I recently took a workshop that I wish I had taken years ago, as a beginning quilter. The workshop was in what’s called “foundation” or “paper” piecing and, while experienced quilters often use this technique to tackle very difficult piecing of very tiny quilt pieces, it seems to me a fine way for non-quilters to dip a toe in the water and find early success.

I think, if you are at all interested in learning to quilt, this might be the route for you!

I am not going to teach you how to do it—I hardly know myself! I only want to tell you about the approach so you can consider whether it might be something to explore, whether at a local workshop or through online videos on YouTube or Craftsy.

Basic idea behind paper piecing:

You start with some sort of foundation that has the design marked on it; the foundation can be as simple as plain white paper or as fancy as specially made and expensive transfer paper.

To this foundation, the quilter stitches pieces of fabric, in a particular order, by sewing on the marked lines. Along the way, pieces of the fabric are also being stitched together, not just to the paper. Because everything is done on a marked pattern, everything goes together in a specific and controlled way. The foundation adds body and substance to the fabric.

When the design is finished, the foundation can be removed or, in some cases, might just be left as a component of the finished project. The paper ends up on the back so it doesn’t show.

So, this sounds complicated—what’s the point?

For me, one of the most frustrating, daunting, and difficult aspects of making a pieced quilt is cutting all those pieces. Yards of fabric flop around and I need hundreds of inch-size pieces from it.

Even with the use of a rotary cutter and good rulers, my pieces seem to end up a little out of square, a little small, a little large. The mistakes might be tiny in each piece but, as I try to sew them all together, the mistakes are magnified and my blocks end up wacky.

I try so hard and still make mistakes (could it be my astigmatism?)—this just sucks the fun out of starting a new project.

Paper piecing solves that.

When prepping for paper piecing, you might cut your fabric into manageable pieces but those cuts are rough cuts and precision isn’t the issue. You cut more precisely after the stitching has been done and the cut edges of the fabric have nothing to do with the stitching. With paper piecing, you aren’t ever going to have to cut your fabric into tiny, fussy triangles that have to be exactly, precisely right in order for the finished product to work.

Let me say that again: With paper piecing, you aren’t ever going to have to cut your fabric into tiny, fussy triangles that have to be exactly, precisely right in order for the finished product to work.

YAY!

Another aspect of piecing that I have struggled with since day one of quilting is getting corners and points to match up. Look at a pattern like this one and consider all the corners and points and seam lines that need to be aligned.

This was the Santa sampler* we made in the workshop. This is the instructor’s finished piece:

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made by Jean Welch

And here are some of the happy Santas we made:

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SO many corners and points and tiny stitches!

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Unmatched corners and points were the bane of my quilting existence. Much of the reason I’ve done so much piecing by hand is that I couldn’t get corners and points even close on a sewing machine—pinning the fabric together made things shift and everything was just a mess. Sewing by hand let me handle the joins with more finesse but, needless to say, it slowed me down!

So discouraging. I began to just tell myself that imperfection was okay and that nobody noticed the mismatched points.

But with what I’ve seen so far, paper piecing means that precision is easy. You can use very few pins, if any. Since you are stitching on lines, if you follow the lines, you’ll get the predicted outcome. Very precise, very satisfying!

Paper piecing has made me pretty happy so far because it eliminates two of the big problems that took the fun out of quilting—cutting fabric precisely and stitching pieces together precisely.

Isn’t it ironic that, by looking for a technique that allows me to avoid precision, I actually end up with a much more precise product?!

This is not to say that paper piecing is all lollipops and rainbows and sweet songs of liberty—I think it has some drawbacks, too, and for me, it’ll be a question of whether the benefits outweigh the costs as I explore the technique more.

One of the drawbacks is that the technique really does take some time to get your head around. It is different from every sort of straightforward sewing you’ve ever done. I can’t imagine learning it from a book. It’s not that it’s difficult but it can be confusing.

In the workshop I took, the participants were valiant and focused, the teacher was well-prepared and patient, and . . . we struggled. It’s just a confusing technique to get a handle on so if you decide to try a) find a class (and there seem to be excellent ones available on the internet, if you can’t find one where you live) and b) don’t beat yourself up if this doesn’t come to you right away!

Two other issues to be considered: so far, paper piecing seems to waste fabric. I am told by my teacher that, in the long run, once a person gets more proficient, the opposite can be true, and you’re able to use up very small scraps of fabric. I hope so.

Also, in most cases the foundation, which was so helpful along the way, needs to be removed . . . I took the paper off the back of my Santas last week. The sewing stitches create a perforated line that makes removal pretty easy but it can still take a lot of time and you end up under a mountain of paper scraps.

For me, another issue that may play a role in whether I continue is that paper piecing is tied to a sewing machine. I like sewing by hand and am most likely to work on quilting in the evening, in an easy chair, with a cat on my lap . . . but I can’t really imagine sewing through paper by hand. Having said that, I CAN remove the scraps of paper in an easy chair and the cat in my lap thinks that’s great fun!

I am going to stick with paper piecing for a while. The red and white block I played with is done with this technique; my guild is having a challenge this year to make a red and white quilt so I’m thinking a lot of these stars would be pretty cool . . .

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Love the colors . . . but I still have one imperfect point!

As I look for more information on the technique, it is evident that paper piecing should never get boring—as the quilter grows in confidence and expertise, the paper piecing patterns get more intricate and the pieces of fabrics get tinier . . .

I’d love to hear about the experiences of other quilters on this topic. Are there benefits or drawbacks of the technique that I haven’t learned so far? And, if you aren’t a quilter yet, can you imagine trying this approach?


  • The Santa quilt pattern came from Favorite Foundation-Pieced Minis by the Editors of Miniature Quilt magazine

 

Many, Many Yoyos–And A Winner!

IMG_9773So, you guessed, 25 of you did, the number of fabric yoyos I made. And I counted.

And I admit that, as I was counting, I was rooting for the people who guessed the highest numbers because, if they won, I won.

After all, the point is to get enough of these little things made to make something big and impressive out of them. According to my calculations, I will need over 1300 1.5-inch yoyos to make even a twin-bed sized coverlet! Yikes!

So, I was very happy and considered myself to be the big winner when I found that I had made exactly 400 yoyos!

No one guessed exactly that number but Kate, from Maison Bentley Style, had faith in me and guessed 399!

Kate and I have been blog pals since almost the very beginning of my blog—she has been loyal and supportive all along. I am so pleased to be sending her the beautiful kitchen towel! (Kate, I sent you email, asking for your address!)

Thank you all for participating—this exercise lit a fire under me and, in fact, I have added 40 more yoyos to the pile since I made the original post. Only 860-some-odd to go!

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Snapshots of Busy-ness

It’s that time of year, when loving hands are busiest! Our house smells like chocolate and looks like a place where lots of fun is being had.

Several projects I’ve been playing with but nothing is finished . . . I’ll tell you more soon!

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And a pretty scarf is still on the loom–slow going but I like it!

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And, of course, there’s candy everywhere.

This is one of the big sellers this year–English toffee!

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I’m sure I know the answer to this question but how busy are your loving hands these days?!