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Swag-a-thon 2002

September 30, 2002

This past weekend at my house was a flurry of manipulating graphics, printing, choosing fabric, ironing, cutting, sewing, and cursing. Yes, the time had come to get serious about swag for JournalCon. (“Swag” still sounds funny to me in this context, since the first thing I see when I think of that word is drapery, not promotional gifts, but it’s the word all the cool kids use to describe the little bits o’ stuff they’re bringing to give away, and I’m hoping through repetition to make a new path in my brain.) By the time I started the swag-a-thon on Friday night, I had done the following: decided to bring swag, asked for permission to use one of the JournalCon banners (which Ryan, who created the banners and runs Diarist.net, was kind enough to grant), designed a logo (that’s it up at the top of the page; the site redesign I wanted to do to go with it has been delayed indefinitely due to my less-than-mad HTML skillz and other priorities, so I ended up just slapping it on the current layout so that my site and swag will at least have some similarity), developed my vague vision of quilt-themed magnets into a slightly less vague plan to make mini-quilts with magnets on the back, bought inkjet printer fabric and magnets on a roll, decided on a quilt block and dimensions, counted up how many I’d need to make in order for everyone to have one, and panicked at the thought of having to make that many in a week.
I thought about abandoning my plan, just buying something and pasting my URL on it. That would surely be easier and have a much higher chance of success, which I define as getting to JournalCon with swag for everyone without having to pull an all-nighter or work on it on the plane. But what kind of person would I be if I took the easy way out? (Hey, who said “a smart one”? No swag for you, missy.) I dove in. Maybe I wouldn’t finish, maybe people would have to survive without my fabulous quilty swag, but I was at least going to make an effort.

My first challenge was adjusting the JournalCon banner dimensions to match its assigned spot in the quilt block. Sounds like a job for Photoshop, except I don’t have Photoshop. I have Microsoft Works, an ancient version of Lotus SmartSuite, the image management software that came with our printer, and the accessory programs that came with Windows. It took a little experimentation, but eventually I got the banner printed in the right size with reasonable clarity on the inkjet fabric. Printing my logo for the center of the block was pretty simple in comparison, since it was already the size I needed. Next, I needed my journal name and URL printed on the same background color as the banner. I thought that would be easy, but the software I had used to tweak the JournalCon banner was not cooperating. It pretended it was, and let me put the text on the blue background and displayed it all pretty, but when it came time to save the file it maliciously claimed to know nothing about how I wanted the text to look and made up its own format. Very vexing. When I was just about ready to think up plan B, I discovered we had Microsoft Draw, which was actually happy to give me letters in a font and location of my choice on the background I wanted. I worked out how to layout multiples of each image on the page to make the best use of my limited supply of inkjet fabric and went to bed pretty happy with my progress.

Saturday, I chose fabrics and made a test block. My quilt projects usually don’t have multiples of the same block in them, so this “make one before you cut the fabric for all ot them” concept is not something I have much experience with. Thank heaven I remembered it, because when the test piece was done, I found that one of the prints didn’t look right in the design. I also needed to make some changes to the JournalCon banner so the end of the words wouldn’t disappear into the seam allowance and print a colored border around both that and the URL piece so it’d be easier to assemble the blocks without leaving glaring white space around the edges. It was too bad that in my excitement that the inkjet fabric was going to work, I’d already printed a full sheet of the JournalCon banner, but at least I hadn’t done them all. I went back to the computer and tweaked and printed and went back to the fabric closet and picked some other possibilities, cutting little pieces and laying them next to each other until I got a combination that pleased me.

I also worked out how to get the magnet part attached, because a tiny quilt alone is pretty useless without a tiny bed to put it on, but a tiny quilt with a magnet on it is art and therefore much more desirable. I decided to try putting the magnet in the quilt layers because I thought that would look better. It would also save me the step of having to attach it to the back and avoid the potential problem of the magnet falling off. During this part of the process, I was reminded of something I knew, something that should be obvious but that had somehow slipped my mind: magnets have a right and a wrong side. My first attempt at magnet insertion led to a shy quilt, which hung very nicely with its face to the fridge. Oops. Once I took the magnet out and turned it around, I was in business. A little glue to seal the open edge and I had swag. Well, prototype swag, anyway.

Sunday, I started in on the serious construction phase. I ironed the raw materials and cut them to size. I had to be very careful with the inkjet fabric, because I’d used up all the sheets I had; fortunately, I didn’t have any slips of the rotary cutter. I realized I wasn’t going to have enough of one of the fabrics and had to find an alternative. I still really liked the original fabric, so I decided to use it in half the swag and the new fabric in the other half. I can only hope that people who get one version won’t be jealous of ones who get the other, like on the airplane when they run out of turkey sandwiches and the people in the last few rows grumble because they have to eat the corned beef. (Yes, I realize that people will have other things to do at JournalCon besides discuss my swag, but these are the kinds of thoughts my brain concocts when I’ve been slaving over a hot iron and a sharp rotary cutter for a few hours).

Then I sewed and pressed seams and sewed some more. I took a break when it was time to let Bubba run around to get his daily exercise. It’s a good thing we don’t have the kind of lifestyle where we give dinner parties a lot, because the dining room not only doubles as my sewing room, it triples as the piggy playroom. When I went to collect him and put him back in his cage, Bubba was all snuggled into his litter box and didn’t want to come out—usually, he will hop out and follow me in the direction of his cage when it’s time to go back—so I figured I’d start sewing and just keep an eye out for him to stir. Before he roused himself, the phone rang. I was expecting a call, so I got up to answer it. When I got back to the dining room, my heart sank. There was Bubba, sitting next to the foot pedal for the sewing machine, chewing. He’d eaten two holes in the hose that connects the pedal to the machine. Stupid, stupid Karen. I know guinea pigs chew. I always pick up the cord and pedal before I let him out to run around. Why had I thought it’d be okay to leave them there together for even a few minutes? I was relieved that the electrical cord was out of his reach, at least. That could have led to tragedy instead of just frustration.

I gathered up little Mr. Plastic Eater and put him back in his cage before I tried the pedal. Of course it didn’t work. I got some tape and covered the holes in the hose as well as I could and tried again. Initially, that worked, but before very long the machine ran slower and slower and stopped; the tape wasn’t sealing very well. I’d press it back down and sew a few inches, then press the tape down again and sew a more inches. I tried cinching the tape tight with rubber bands, which made no difference. I pondered taking the tape off and using the chewing gum in my mouth as spackle, but decided that was just a little crazy. I couldn’t think of any sewing machine repair places open on a Sunday night, so I called it a day and a weekend.

Today, I took a long lunch and went to a shop that I’d called in the morning; the woman I talked to was sure they either had a replacement pedal or could get one for me by tomorrow. I was a little concerned when I got there and the clerk looked at my old pedal with a skeptical expression, as if she’d never seen one quite like that before. Maybe it was my repair job that caught her eye. Soon another clerk appeared and knew just what it was and how it worked and whipped a little box out from under the counter with a replacement. Thirty dollars later I was on my way back to the office. The new pedal is not quite the same as the original, and I’m really, really hoping it will work, because if it doesn’t, I’ve got nothin’. I’ve got one prototype and a big pile o’ unfinished blocks. I might just have to spend the flight there gluing the strips with my URL on them to sticks of gum—they’re about the right size. Next year, someone remind me to start earlier.

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