Monday, April 20, 2015


 Inspiration for a quilt happens for me when a memory has found its match in fabric and design. I communicate the meaning behind my quilts when I write down the memories that sparked it. Combined with the pictures I take of the quilt, a blog post tells my story. In the feedback I received "From Hell to Breakfast," just one little word made me rethink everything. The quilt was termed as "art" and I froze. Crazy, right? All of a sudden I started thinking of everything I needed to do differently if I were making "art." In the end, I got things rolling again when I went back to the story. Derailed by a word, and put back on track by a whole bunch of them. The mind is a curious place.

alison glass handcrafted

When I was younger, we had the most awesome flannel quilt ever. It was a retro donkey with a little straw hat (complete with flower sprig) and a sign around its neck that said, "Smart Ass." I come by this trait genetically. I really can't help it. So, I decided to have a little fun with the idea of an "art" quilt for the Alison Glass mini swap.

alison glass handcrafted

What was my smart ass version of an "art" quilt? A flower study. Framed. I called it, "What's In a Word?"  My partner liked blue, green, gray, gold and orange and fell more towards the traditional end of the quilt spectrum. I pulled out everything I had in those tones and experimented again with a technique I tried out in my last post, inserting thin strips of pieced text fabrics between two triangles, then squaring down to the desired size. The center is half-square triangles without a  text print inserted. I drew out simple shapes for the flowers, vase and leaves and used needle turn applique to apply. I quilted it using So Fine! thread in #436 using a simple free motion design in the center and straight line quilting around the frames. It finishes at 16.5" x 16.5." It was therapeutic to make a quilt that made me laugh after all my self-imposed angst. I really hope my partner likes it.

alison glass handcrafted

Words can also be powerful transmitters of memory. My grandmother decided very late in her life that she would like to receive a doctorate in folklore. She completed her dissertation and was one class away from graduation when grandpa got sick. She quit without a second's thought, observing with her usual pragmatism that all that could be done was to carve the letters Ph.D on her gravestone. Her dissertation was published as a book called "Wood Stoves and Woolen Stockings" about her experiences growing up in a remote pioneer community. She began her book by owning the word "isolated." She expressed that each person had a word (or more than one) that was a key component in the definition of self. I've spent more time than I'd care to admit wondering what my words were.

I discovered one by accident when I lived in Boston. I love, birds, trees, so it was easy to understand why I'd joined a garden tour. At one point, I was even moved enough to exclaim, "Oh my, that peony bush is spectacular!" Seeing the profusely blooming plant immediately took me back to my childhood. Our neighbor across the street had the most glorious peonies, and they always seemed to bloom at just the right time for Memorial Day. She saved her coffee cans all year for us, and we would make beautiful homemade peony bouquets to take to our family's graves. We'd load up the car with the flowers and make our loop of the cemeteries. My mom and dad could always tell who had been there before us by what was left at the gravestones. My grandpa had been a Boy Scout leader who had taken extra care to be good to a boy that had lost his father, often taking him fishing. Every year that boy brought a half-scale fishing pole that he'd made to leave on grandpa's grave. I never met my grandpa. That fishing pole was one of the only ways that I knew him and it meant a lot to me to know that his memory was still cherished by this boy decades later. Remembering was part of the ritual and we remembered with peonies.

 I was thinking of all this when I made my comment during the garden tour. I guess the only problem was the way I said it. I pronounced the flower "Pee-oh-nee" just like I had for my entire life. The person who heard turned to me and quickly (and with more than a touch of condescension) drawled, "You mean, "Pee-uh-nee?" The regular Jill would have laughed and rolled her eyes. The reminiscent Jill who had just subconsciously identified one of her defining words was not so jolly. "No," I snapped. "I mean 'pee-OH-nee,' which is why I said it that way." Kind of a conversation-ender.

I thought of peonies while I was deciding what to make for my Anna Maria Horner swap partner. She told me lots of things about herself, but the thing that stuck with me the most was that she had just moved to a place a large distance from her hometown. I get that.

So, I made her a bear. A bear named "Peony." This is the Big Bear pattern from Tartankiwi. I printed the paper pieces at 75% and trimmed down the center even more so I could add an improv element to the borders. It reminded me a little bit of fences, which also reminded me a little bit of my home. It is also quilted in So Fine! #436 thread in a straight line pattern and finishes at 23" x 23."

 My advice (for what it's worth)?  Remember your words (or find them). Take your memories (and your ACCENT!!!) with you. Be open to new experiences. Add to what you have, but never change who you are.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

From Hell to Breakfast

I never realized that I spoke a foreign language until I moved to Boston.

I am from rural Idaho and knew on an abstract level that I had a twangy accent, but I never thought that it made me indecipherable. Humph. Within moments of my first telephone call with my future husband, he was twittering about the "git"s and "agin"s. Luckily for me, he found it charming and didn't tease me too much about it.

After I moved out to Boston, I soon grew used to the puzzled or shocked expressions I received whenever I opened my mouth. For awhile I worked at a bank. Once when a mother came in with her young daughter, I held out the basket of treats and asked if she'd like a sucker. The mother recoiled as if I'd slapped her. My co-workers barely held in the explosion of laughter until the mother and daughter cleared the front door. Apparently they are called "pops" there. A "pop" is something I consume with a hamburger and french fries, but fine. I may have had a millisecond pause to translate every time I held out the treat basket, but I never made that mistake again.

This quilt is made in honor of the first time I opened my mouth and shocked my brand-new husband. As we sat down to dinner, I apologized about the mess in the kitchen. "It will take us forever to clean up," I said, "I've got stuff spread from hell to breakfast in there." I knew from the look on his face that I'd gone and said something outrageous again. Luckily for me (again), he is a great connoisseur of colorful euphemisms and now uses that particular one as often as I do.

I sketched out a road map for this quilt on graph paper before I started. It is helpful for me to visualize where design elements are before I begin so I can just have fun with the piecing and not over think too much. I approached this like a giant log cabin, beginning with a center unit and then adding slabs of piecing to build outward. Once I had a design framework, it was easy to let the improv piecing just happen. In addition to its title, I can see a lot of my humor in this. I accidentally pieced a skull into my "Hell" quilt. I had a good laugh at that one. I had also planned a series of different elements of piecing to help pull the eye through the quilt and I was concerned that I hadn't emphasized the top piece enough, so in the next row I added to the quilt, I made some arrows to point at it. Problem solved, Jill style. Ha!

Since I was making this as an entry to the Pantone Quilt Challenge, I knew that I needed to make Marsala a major color component. I gathered all the fabric I had that closely resembled Marsala, then added shades of gold, brown, teal, blue, red, plum and green. The fabric I selected to be my main Marsala color is an interweave chambray in berry. To make sure that I ended up with a Marsala quilt despite the addition of all the extra colors, I made sure to include a piece of that fabric in every chunk of improvisational piecing that I did. Marsala is literally the glue that holds this quilt together. (In case you are wondering, in the picture above, it is the center square directly above the skull.)

The worst part of this quilt was the number it did on my sewing room. I once taught with a woman who had a sign on the door of her first grade classroom that said "Learning is NOISY." Well, improv piecing is MESSY. Every horizontal surface was littered with snippets, thread (I used linen blends, chambray and peppered cotton which all shed thread like crazy) and little triangle pieces from constructing the flying geese units. In the spirit of cleaning up, I made a bonus mini with most of the little scraps that were left over. I pieced the snippets into thin strips and sandwiched them between two triangles. I squared the units to 2.5" and pieced them together in rows. I love the movement that emerges. I would like to make more of these someday. Maybe another time when I should be cleaning up?

Taking the pictures of this quilt was definitely an adventure. We took our kids out to a nature park that we love on a warmish day. Unfortunately it was warm and windy. In some of these pictures, my oldest son is sitting on his dad's feet holding the quilt down. Son #2 rode his scooter and our just-turned-two year old daughter waited not so patiently in her stroller. I looked up from the camera in surprise to see her sprinting down the path. Little Houdini had gotten out of her stroller while leaving her securely fastened seat belt still securely fastened. We put her back into her seat, under protest, and sat back to watch. She slipped her arms out from the shoulder straps, placed her hands on the seat of the stroller and used it like a pommel horse to lift her legs out of bottom straps. Thirty seconds, tops. We decided that any little girl that creative and enterprising deserved to run, so we let her.

It didn't hurt that she ran down the path shouting "agin" with relish and triumph. That's my girl!

This quilt top measures at 54" x 66."

Linking up to Finish it Up Friday at Crazy Mom Quilts.

2015 Pantone Quilt Challenge: Marsala

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Mustang in the Sky with Diamonds

I am married to a man who looks remarkably similar to John Lennon, so I guess I shouldn't be too surprised that I often have a Beatles soundtrack running through my head. I won't embarrass him by posting it, but I have a picture of him taken at LaGuardia airport after returning from a study abroad semester and backpacking trip across Europe. Pea green army coat, shaggy dark get the idea.

I was feeling pretty proud of myself when I had all the quilt blocks up on the design wall, so I dragged "John" in to take a look.

"Like it?" I asked, smiling at him expectantly. "I am going to name it 'Mustang in the Sky with Diamonds' after that Beatles..."

"...LSD song?" he asked, eyebrows raised.


He may have a point.

I started with the idea that I wanted to do another Mustang quilt, but this time with a more pop art feel (my first Mustang quilt was pretty western). I started with the idea for oversize diamonds, so I drew out this block on paper and made myself cutting templates. I chose fabrics from my stash in citron, orange, violet, teal and emerald in a quick burst of inspiration, but then stalled when I went to choose a background color. Finally I had a "what if" moment and laid out a block with a citron background. I am ashamed to say that my first thought was, "People are going to hate this!" Redemption came when I laughed and did it anyway. I added indigo blue to the mix for a little gravitas and went with it.

I went with it on the fabrics, too. I didn't buy one piece of fabric for this quilt. I chose fabrics from my stash for the color alone, so I have some interesting combinations. Unicorns, bees, text, arrows, flowers, ships, stars, kind of makes me want to burst into song just thinking of it!

"Picture yourself in a boat on a river
With tangerine trees and marmalade skies
Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly
A girl with kaleidoscope eyes."

 My favorite part of the process was quilting it. I chose to quilt it in a large "greater than" pattern that used the angles of the pieced diamonds as a guide. I experimented with color and thread and I ended up with a very cool texture.  I used a combination of 50 wt. and 12 wt. Aurifil threads for the top in a variety of colors (4093, 2150, 5015, 2235, 1148, 2588, 2535, 5005, 5018). I varied the width of the quilting by subdividing lines, and then sometimes subdividing again. I used a 90/14 needle and fiddled with the tension a little bit for the 12 wt. thread, but had no problems running it through the machine. 

I backed it with Washi, by Rashida Coleman-Hale.

....and just in case it isn't in your head already, here is Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.

Linking up to Monday MakersMain Crush MondaySew Cute Tuesday, Let's Bee Social and Can I Get a Whoop Whoop.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Red Letter Day

Red Letter Day

When I was a fourth grade teacher, there was a book that I read aloud to my students every year called Night of the Twisters, by Ivy Ruckman. This is from the introduction:

"When I was a little kid, I thought a red-letter day was when you got a red letter in the mailbox. Pretty dumb, huh? It finally dawned on me that a red-letter day is when something terrific and wonderful happens to you. Usually something unexpected.

Now that I'm older and more experienced, I know there are black-letter days as well as red-letter ones. Those BIGGEES, the real blockbusters that mess up your life, aren't marked on a calendar either. You never know ahead of time when you're getting one of those...It's those black surprises that get to you, those things people call acts of God because they have to blame someone."

I made this quilt to acknowledge a black-letter day. I could feel the annual gloom descending a few weeks ago, and then I saw this meme on my Facebook feed.

For some reason, it spoke to me. Maybe it was the birds I had just experimented with in The Lovely Woods. Maybe time had given me more perspective and healing. Maybe I was just tired of gutting my way through February when there are so many happy things to experience. This year I decided that it was time to be brave--to lift my head up and acknowledge it.

Red Letter Day

The little birds in this quilt are free-pieced. I had a lot of time to think about things and process my experience while I put the birds together. Improvisational piecing really connects you to your quilt because so much of YOU ends up in there. When I looked at this finished quilt top, I smiled. I also had a teary moment. Why? Because it doesn't feel sad.

Red Letter Day

I used my favorite neutral (Cotton Couture, stone) to select fabrics for the background. I love it because the color is not quite gray, and not quite tan. Plus, it makes Marsala look good. I got lucky at my local quilt shop and found quite a few friends that coordinated with stone. The birds are made out of fabrics from my stash and from a Marsala FQ bundle. My mom found the stack at the brick and mortar location of Suppose, but the Marsala bundle is also found online in their Etsy shop. My favorite Marsala fabric is the background of the large bird. It is an interweave chambray and none of my pictures even come close to capturing the depth of the color play in the weave.

Red Letter Day

I quilted this with three different weights of Aurifil thread in six different colors. I hand quilted three lines of 12 wt. thread in grey, black and red. The rest of the matchstick pattern is quilted in a combination of 40 and 50 wt. threads in greys and reds. I like the unique texture achieved with matchstick quilting and the special meaning that the thread colors have for me.

Red Letter Day

This quilt finishes at 24" x 24." The tiniest bird is a 3" square. If you are interested in doing a bird quilt of your own, earlier today I published a tutorial for improv birds.

2015 Pantone Quilt Challenge: Marsala

Improv Bird Tutorial

First off, I want to thank Lynne from The Patchery Menagerie for the inspiration. Reading her "Bird How-To" was the first step in making my own little flock.

You will need two fabrics for the wing/body of the bird, a scrap of orange, two brown scraps and a background fabric. I chose to make the background scrappy.

Here is a road map for the birds:

Choose a background piece of fabric and a "wing" fabric and cut them into a square or a rectangle of the same size (this decision will impact the shape of your bird). Stack them with right sides facing up and eyeball a diagonal cut.

You will end up with fabric for two birds.

Choose a coordinating strip of fabric for the bird head and body. Snip off a section for the head, for the body and two pieces to notch the wings.

Position the two pieces of fabric on the wing for a stitch and flip. Sew, then press open. After pressing, trim the shape back to a triangle and then snip off the excess wing fabric from the back. Doing it that way means you can just use your scissors while you sit at the sewing machine!

Sew the wing piece to the background piece. Next, use a scrap of background fabric to make a notch on the bird's body.

Stitch, press open and then trim using the method described above.

Choose a strip of background fabric and a small orange scrap for the beak.

Stitch, press open and trim. Attach the strip to the body section and choose two background scraps to add to the corners of the head. (NOTE: when I made a cardinal, I just used one background scrap and made the angle more severe.)

Stitch, press open and trim. Repeat for the other corner.

Choose another background strip to sew around the head.

I lined the background strip up with the top of the head when I sewed it on because I knew that the head was looking a little large and that I would end up trimming it down.

Better. Match the seams to the body, pin and sew.

Choose a background strip and two brown scraps for the legs. Eyeball the placement of the legs and make two cuts into the background strip. I like the way it looks when the legs are angled.

I pressed all the seams one direction so I could get a narrow leg without a lot of bulk.

Straighten the edge of the leg section and body section and sew together.

Trim the edges, and you have a finished block!

I turned my little bird into a new pincushion.

I've used these birds in two projects: The Lovely Woods and Red Letter Day. I'd love to see how you use
 them! Have fun making your own little flock.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


This might seem like a strange thing for a history major to say, but my favorite class in college was floral arrangement. That class was just the "doing" break I needed from thinking and studying. The professor would lecture on principles of art, show us pictures of inspirational floral arrangements and then turn us loose to create our own designs. This quilt is based on one of those design principles called the Hogarth Curve.


The culmination of this year long course was a difficult project. We were asked to go to the museum on campus, choose a work of art and design a companion floral arrangement for it. After we sketched out a proposal, we could turn in a request for the flowers and the university would purchase them. In the turmoil of the end of the semester, I missed the deadline. I wasn't too nervous about my mistake until I actually went to the museum to choose my inspiration piece. There was a lot of contemporary, black and white stuff that I just wasn't feeling. In another wing of the museum, I found a piece that I really connected with. It was an oil painting by a Mexican-American artist depicting two children playing on a beach. The colors were vibrant and saturated and it was painted with simple lines. The older boy, wearing a fuschia shirt and lapis pants, was standing. His younger brother, wearing a purple shirt and lapis pants was bending over, playing in the sand.


 To compound my good fortune, a way out of my flower mess appeared on the walk back to the main part of campus. A much appreciated landscape artist had planted masses of fuschia and purple tulips that were just coming into bloom. I came back later with a smile and a Swiss army knife. I pooled my meager resources together and bought two 6-packs of bluish violets, a shallow wicker bowl and some floral medium and drove home to my mom's house to put it all together. My plan was working out brilliantly.....until I ran out of flowers. I was out of money and literally out of time. In frustration and desperation, I walked out onto the porch to clear my head. There I saw the cheerful dandelions peeking out (sorry Mom) from the lawn and ran back in for the knife, the whole time telling myself that the heresy I was about to commit would work because: a.) sand is yellow and b.) the theme of the painting was youthful exuberance. The dandelions would be fine, perfect, in fact. Right. Right?!?!


In the end, I discovered that if you prepped a tiny hole in the floral medium, and impaled the dandelion with a toothpick to stabilize it, everything would work out fine. My tall fuschia tulips swirled down to the purple tulips down to the sweet violets and it all ended in a puddle of happy yellow dandelions. I was satisfied and pleased with my creativity.....until I walked into the museum and saw that nearly every one of my classmates had chosen the contemporary black and white pieces. There are several arrangements that I can recall through the horror. The one with 5 dozen red roses, a gilded Phantom of the Opera Mask, rolled up scores of music and artfully arranged feathers comes to mind. As does the arrangement with red birds of paradise that suspended a gracefully turning mobile with origami cranes on thin monofilament wire. I wanted to throw up. I set my arrangement next to the playing boys, silently apologized to them, and walked out of the museum mentally rehearsing how to break it to my mother that I had managed to fail a flower arranging class.


Our class was scheduled to meet the next day. I walked in to see a crowd of my classmates excitedly chatting around our teaching assistant. The teaching assistant who was holding a stack of sealed envelopes. Any sense of peace I had come to overnight fled as I waited for her to call my name and seal my fate. When it came, I took my envelope quickly and headed for the door, ready to escape and be done. "Wait," she said, halting my flight. "Aren't you the one who used dandelions?" I turned, and tried very hard to give an attempt at a confident nod, acutely aware all conversation had ceased and that everyone was unabashedly eavesdropping. She smiled. "He liked the whimsy," she said. With shaking hands, I ripped open my envelope just outside the door.



 A-!!! How I love that man. How much? Enough to remember this lesson 15 years later. Enough to make a quilt that has flowers with dandelion-yellow centers dancing down a Hogarth Curve. It's okay to be do it see it differently.


Although I've had this design in my head for awhile, the colors were chosen with the Pantone Color of the Year Quilt Challenge in mind. If you haven't heard yet, the color this year is Marsala. I would describe Marsala as the love child of raspberry and brown. The background fabric for this quilt is one that I picked up at my local quilt shop. It is a Marcus Brothers shot cotton. It felt pretty close to Marsala since the two colors that make up the weave are brown and maroon. For the flowers, I used other shot cottons, a peach chambray and a few solids from my stash. To make the flowers, I read through the free-pieced flower tutorial from House of Krom to help me visualize the process. The flowers I made finish in the range of 4" to 8." Even though it really stinks and feels boring and purposeless, I highly recommend pressing all of the seams open. My Strip Stick was my best friend for this project, and I really patted myself on the back for pressing them open when it came time to quilt it.


I quilted this with a 50 wt. Aurifil thread in #2230. I used Leah Day's Wiggle-Wiggle Spiral. I thought the spirals would be fun for the large open spaces and the "wiggle-wiggle" would save me when it came time to go around the flower petals. My children were excellent practice subjects and didn't mind at all when their backs were rubbed in this pattern for a solid week before I started quilting. The quilt finished at 44" x 58."

Special thanks to the family who gave me permission to take pictures on their farm. I am glad that I live within walking distance (I didn't walk though...WAY too cold) of an Iowa farm and gladder still for the Iowa people who give you permission to wander around with a camera and quilt and don't think you are the tiniest bit strange for asking.

2015 Pantone Quilt Challenge: Marsala