Friday, July 31, 2015

Fit for a Princess

 My stories end up being my quilts (and vice versa). This one is no different. I made this quilt for someone that loves following Kate Middleton, so it started out being kind of an inside joke. I grabbed handfuls of scraps and fat quarters in blue, pink and low volume and packed it out to my mom's house so I could work on it while we were visiting. Once we were there and I started cutting, I realized that I hadn't brought enough low volume fabrics with me. On our way to a swimming pool one afternoon, I ran into a local quilt shop and grabbed some fat quarters. One of them was a print that looked like vintage feed labels from Sweetwater Fabrics.

 I had half the quilt pieced when I noticed what had happened. I gasped. I groaned. Then I laughed and laughed and laughed. I heard my brother yell, "What's so funny?" from the couch, so I brought the quilt out and waited for him to notice it. When he did, he laughed and laughed and laughed.

I checked the uncut fabric and found the label advertising MOLASSES and knew I'd found the culprit. I contemplated ripping the square out, but I decided not to. I also didn't mention it to the prospective parents when I mailed it yesterday. I figured the quilt would be two gifts for them. The first would be when they opened the shipping package, but the second would be someday when they were holding the new baby on the couch, fall-down exhausted with sandpaper eyes and one of them said....

"Wait a minute...." (peering closer)

"Does that say....?"

Yes. Yes it does. And when they look at each other and laugh, that quilt will become a story for them and I will be satisfied. That is why I didn't rip it out.

Here's another gem. CLOVERSEED turned into...

I went back to the store and bought yardage of that fabric. After all, serendipity happens to the prepared quilter!

The quilt finished at 44" x 54." It is based on a sketch I made of the Union Jack on some graph paper. The whole thing is constructed from squares and half square triangles. It ended up being a massive amount of seams, but I divided the piecing into quadrants and did a single line at a time assembly-line style. That way I could make sure I was pressing the seams in opposite directions so they'd nest when I joined the rows. I used up a massive amount of scraps.

The block in the pieced backing is called Hearth and Home. I figured that would be fitting for a baby quilt.

 I quilted this in a stipple pattern using Aurifil thread. I used a pale pink, dusty blue and off-white.

All the jokes aside, I really do hope they find this quilt is fit for their little princess!

Back in May I was nominated for a One Lovely Blog Award from Kaja at Sew Slowly. I am sorry that it's taken me so long to pass it along on my blog! I really appreciate the nomination.

I am supposed to tell you 7 things about myself and pass along a nomination for other blogs. Here goes.

1. I despise liverwurst. My husband loves it and I will buy it for him, but if he puts any of that stuff on a sandwich I need at least a six foot buffer zone. Gross.
2. I am six feet tall.
3.  I grew up in Idaho/Utah, but I usually just say Idaho because it's a complicated story and that's where my mom lives. I live in Iowa now.
4. I love spicy food. I put crunchy jalapeno bits on my salad, salsa on my eggs and when I'm in denial about sugar I love to eat chocolate covered cinnamon bears.
5. 3 kids, 2 cats, 1 husband.
6. Pretty much every piece of jewelry I wear has a piece of turquoise on it. I especially love turquoise and pearls together.
7. My kids love to sing and one of my favorite things to do is listen to them murder lyrics. My younger son came home from preschool this year singing, "Oh Who-Sana, oh don't you cry for me! Well I come from Ala-banjo with a [something, something, trail off.....] knee.

I nominate:
Kelly at Pinkadot Quilts
Sarah at Smiles Too Loudly
Kate at Thread Everywhere

And if we're talking about recommendations for great resources, I would check out this page from Michele Bilyeu at With Heart and Hands.  It is an index of liberated/improv piecing tutorials and ideas. I dare you to take a look and not be inspired to try something new.

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

Thursday, July 23, 2015


I decided to join the "Our Neighborhood" challenge, hosted by Angela from The Green Apricot, on a whim.  The gist of the challenge was to make blocks (smaller than 8.5") that represented your neighborhood. Send them to Angela and she'd send you back the same amount of blocks made by others. Turn your blocks into something and post pictures. Easy, right?

Reading about the challenge immediately made me start considering different things, so I joined. I love the challenge of thinking in new directions and doing things I might not do if I were left to my own devices. I sent 2 cardinals, 1 oriole and 2 ears of corn. I received 3 houses, a dog, a cat and a bonus tree. I added a lot more of my own blocks and turned it into an ode to my Iowa neighborhood.

I am not a native Iowan, so there are many things about my new home that surprise and delight me.

 You can't go for a drive in the Iowa countryside without seeing many barns. What I dearly love are the quilts that adorn a lot of the barns. When I was planning out the quilt, I searched for pictures of barn quilts and found one with a Churn Dash that I really liked. The block in the center is an improvisational copy of my favorite. Above the Churn Dash block is an improv interpretation of a traditional block named Tulip Ladyfingers. I included this in honor of Pella, a Dutch town famous for their tulip festival. Beside that is my version of a daylily patch. Daylilies naturalize like crazy here and you see them growing in many ditch banks alongside the road.

 My mother enjoys growing flowers, and one that I remember her planting in front of a wagon wheel (at our house in Idaho) was a clematis. We babied it and it did grow, but kind of gave up around hip height. The clematis in Iowa explode with flowers. People plant them underneath their mailboxes and sometimes you can't even see the box! My favorite ones are purple varieties, but I felt that red worked better on the quilt so I took a little artistic license. Also included in this photo are two of the blocks that were sent to me. The Carolyn Friedlander house on the bottom and the house with the peekaboo window.

 I used log cabins to reference home and pineapples to reference hospitality. Iowa is a friendly place! The little kitty in this picture was one of the blocks I was sent. The corn isn't just a joke, either. I can see a couple of different cornfields from our neighborhood.

 While I was piecing this quilt, I listened to some quilting podcasts. I enjoy hearing thoughts about quilting from a variety of voices. I think it's fascinating to hear why others quilt and the purpose it serves. I had to laugh when the discussion on one podcast turned to expressive, statement (often political) quilts and I looked down at the tractor I was piecing. Despite its whimsical feel, this is an expressive quilt for me and reflects my perception of my surroundings. Even the tractor!

There are also personal details. These are my children. I also included some of my favorite Iowa birds. Some of you *may* have picked up that I have a thing for cardinals. I don't think I will ever be able to ignore a cardinal song no matter how long I live here. I don't see too many orioles, but we discovered a place they seem to congregate on one of our nightly walking routes. The Carolyn Friedlander 'Grove' tree was a bee block.

I couldn't have a neighborhood quilt without including our house! Our house is not actually blue (more artistic license), but it is a 2-story. When we built our house, my husband and I had a hard time deciding what color siding to use. We had it narrowed down to an olive brown and a dusty blue. After a lot of considering, we ended up choosing olive brown. When construction began on the house across the street from us, we mentioned to the contractor (our neighbor) that the neighborhood sure could use a dose of dusty blue....and they did it!!! I love that the house I received from the swap (the one with curtains) matched the color of our house so closely! I also included the trees we've planted, including the two mismatched pines in our front yard.

I do love a good joke, so I put the Grant Wood American Gothic house on the Iowa quilt. I free pieced the cathedral window and used needle turn applique to attach it to the house. I put some snarky caption on a picture of the block when I uploaded it to Instagram with #bringyourownpitchforks. I think people thought it was a church. #ohdear #thejokewasonme

Also pictured is a puppy bee block and another Tulip Ladyfingers.

I almost never buy wide quilt backs, but I was totally going to for this. I cut the timing really, really close. The finished quilt was due on Friday and I hadn't even finished piecing the top when I went to the quilt store on Tuesday. I was tired from too many late night/early morning combinations. To be honest? I was done with piecing. (#theheresy!) Then I saw the Happy Home line from Art Gallery Fabrics and happily pieced a back to include my two favorite prints.

I quilted this using Aurifil #2600 (Dove) and the scallop stitch (112 on a Janome). This is my new favorite texture.

One of my favorite quotes is, "In all of living, have much fun and laughter. Life is to be enjoyed, not just endured." --Gordon B. Hinckley

Life is good here in Iowa.

Linking up to Finish it Friday at Crazy Mom Quilts.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Cancer Sucks

I got the call on June 30th. "She found a lump," he said. "It's cancer."

I didn't know what to say then. I definitely don't know what to say now.

So I made a quilt.

It's a gift. It's a hug. It's a plea.

Cancer sucks.

This quilt finishes at 56" x 68." I constructed it all with improvisational piecing based on a sketch I made. Special thanks to Lynne Tyler at Patchery Menagerie for her tutorial on the letter 'K.'

I quilted this with stitch number #112 on my Janome (a scallop) using Aurifil #2783 and #2606. I quilted the whole quilt in one direction, then subdivided my lines going in the opposite direction. I love how it looks like a chunky, beaded necklace. The texture was worth the extra work.

Linking up to Finish it Friday at Crazy Mom Quilts and Let's Bee Sewcial at Sew Fresh Quilts.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Finding Jade

When I was a little girl, I loved to play in my mother's jewelry box. My favorite piece was a small jade pendant that had been hand carved into the shape of an elephant. I had no special affinity for elephants then (or now), I just knew that the color was perfect and that I liked running my fingers over the smooth, cool stone. I asked my mom once if I'd ever be able to find a piece of jade that I could keep. She assured me that I could and in those hot summers when we lived in a tiny travel trailer on our farm, she would send me out into the gravel driveway to look for some. I must have picked up every green rock in a hundred yard radius. Twice. I would carry in handfuls for my mom to look at while she was making supper "No," she'd say. "Not quite. Try something lighter/darker." I wonder how many suppers she cooked with me out in the driveway scanning for the perfect shade of green. Maybe that's when I fell in love with color. I know for sure that's where I became an optimist!

That memory popped right into my head when I was gifted a bag of narrow scraps from a Kona Cotton Grecian Waters collection. I haven't spent a lot of time out on the water, but I have spent plenty of time with a small jade pendant in my hand, so that's immediately where my mind went. I pulled out every solid and shot cotton I had and held up each piece next to the scraps. I sorted quickly and tried not to think too much. I ended up with two piles. "Maybe" and "Put it Back in the Cupboard." I played with the "Maybes," eliminating rogue colors and colors that were too similar. I also experimented with tints. I enjoy buying solids on sale and will purchase a half yard of pretty much any color I can get my hands on. That strategy paid off with this quilt since I ended up having the kryptonite greens and lavenders in my stash. Neither of those colors are ones that I would be excited to purchase in a store off the bolt, but they are the colors that make this quilt sing.

My birthday present each year is a day away. My husband takes one of his personal days at work so he can watch our children and I can go to a workshop. My guild does a great job getting amazing instructors. In the last three years I have been to classes taught by Amanda Jean Nyberg (Crazy Mom Quilts), Bill Kerr (Modern Quilt Studio) and Jacquie Gering (Tallgrass Prairie Studios). This year it was Jacquie Gering. She came to teach a class on improvisational log cabins. I didn't go into the experience with any great master plan, I just figured that I would listen to what she had to say with an open mind and be inspired. As soon as she mentioned that pineapple blocks were part of the log cabin family, I got excited and wanted to get to work as fast as I could. I loved the radiating arrows in the pineapple block, and somehow those arrows felt right at home with the concept of "Finding Jade."

I don't have any magic strategy tips for how I set the quilt. I made sixteen blocks of different sizes before I joined any together. Of those sixteen blocks, I put four of them aside (one ended up on the back of the quilt). The four rejects weren't ugly blocks, they just didn't fit with the direction the other twelve were going in. Making a bunch of blocks in the beginning was a freeing experience. I tried to do something a little different each time I made a block, and it took me in some interesting directions. I would stop and look at the design wall after I finished each one, and I could see where I needed to go next. I keep a Post-it pad near my sewing machine and I would make notes to myself so I would remember what my impressions were if there was a break in my concentration (like needing to feed my kids breakfast and get them out the door for school on time!). Those notes helped me make work more efficiently because I didn't have to waste time reorienting myself the next time I had some time to sew. When it came time to start joining blocks, I squared the pieces down and made a note of the size. I  kept track of the sizes as I built. Once I built my first unit, I knew its measurements and could build other units in appropriate sizes.

I am very happy with the piecing in this quilt. Even though it is a pineapple quilt, I made sure to put in each kind of log cabin block that Jacquie mentioned in her lecture. When it came time to quilt it, I knew that I wanted the piecing to take center stage. It had to be matchstick. It took forever and my triceps are still a little sore, but I know it was the right call. This quilt deserved a matchstick! I used four different colored Aurifil threads in the top and in the back in a combination of 40 wt. and 50 wt. Not that I was counting or anything, but this quilt took 25 bobbins. I *may* have kept a tally on that Post-it pad every time I put a fresh one in.

The quilt finished at 50" x 60."

The thought I wanted to leave you with is this. I never found jade in that driveway. I did find a lot of great green rocks. I discovered that if I ran them under the hose, that the color changed and patterns would emerge. Somewhere along the way I figured out that I could carefully paint them with clear nail polish so that they'd stay beautiful even when the water dried. By the time I was done picking out all of the green rocks in the driveway, I had quite a collection of beautiful stones.

I know that if you go out looking for beauty, you'll find it. Keep looking! It's there.

Linking up to Finish it Friday at Crazy Mom Quilts.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

From Hell to Breakfast: Blogger's Quilt Festival

Quilting has made me much more observant. I notice things now that I never used to. I notice how the windows in the Habitat ReStore near our house make the most fascinating, asymmetrical log cabin quilt blocks. I notice colors and shapes in the landscape....and I notice public places where I could take some great quilt photos! I spotted this old truck in a parking lot behind the Eagles Lodge where we basically live during the Fish Fry/Lenten season. I thought it would be a great place to get a good shot of this quilt. I was wrong.

It turned out to be a great place to get a photo of my husband! I've held up my fair share of quilts and I know how sore it makes my shoulders, so I try to be mindful of his arms when he holds for me. I had my shot ready when he had to take a break. I think I'll frame this one.

My own arms got pretty tired when I quilted this one. I started quilting a radiating square in the center of the focal point. I did it with my walking foot, so every time I got to a corner I had to shove the quilt around in my machine to turn it. It was a pain, but I am happy with the result.

I did have *some* fun with the quilting. There aren't a lot of perfectly straight lines in the piecing, so I tried to echo that idea when I quilted it. Every once in awhile I purposely put a giant wiggle in the lines. I tried to do it often enough so that everyone would know it was on purpose and that I hadn't just sneezed. The result is organic and interesting. I quilted this with Aurifil #2452 (dusty rose) on the top and Aurifil #5011 (rope beige) for the back.

The back is pieced with the scraps I had left from making the quilt top. Lately I have been thinking of more efficient ways to store my scraps and I've come to the realization that one of the best solutions is to use them. I am full of other profound insights, should anyone require them.

Here is my original post, back when From Hell to Breakfast was a quilt top entry to the Pantone Quilt Challenge.

Linking up to Amy's Creative Side.

Blogger's Quilt Festival: The Lovely Woods

Last year I was lucky enough to participate in the New Quilt Bloggers Blog Hop. I had just barely started this blog and I learned so much from the other participants. I also got the chance to join my first bee. I started worrying about what block I would have others make for me months in advance. I had Gwen Marston's Minimal Quiltmaking book on my nightstand and was inspired by her beautiful tree on the cover. I referred my bee mates to the Free Pieced Tree Tutorial on Pinkadot Quilts. For some of my bee mates, this was their first attempt at improvisational quilting.

I received blocks of many different sizes, so my first challenge was to set them. I used graph paper to help me. I set my outer boundaries for the quilt to finish at 96" x 96" and roughly drew in outlines of where I wanted the trees, birds and sparkly stars to appear. As I constructed the quilt, I chose trees that were similar in size to my sketched boundaries and either trimmed or added more to arrive at the size I had made on my scaled piecing map. I made the background in slabs using my piecing map as a guide for dimensions. I marked off sections that I had completed with a highlighter as I went, or I would show a picture of my map. The good news is that it helped me end up with a queen size improv quilt that is square.


Here is the link to my original post on The Lovely Woods. I talk a little bit more about the story behind the quilt and the way I set it. Also, I had a lot of feedback about the little birds from this quilt. I didn't feel quite finished with them either, so I made another bird quilt, Red Letter Day and also wrote an Improv Bird Tutorial.

My bee mates:
Cheryl at Meadow Mist Designs
Pam at Sewing Wilde
Lin at Lin's Quilts
Debbie at Quilting Makes My Heart Sing
Christina at Wips and Tuts
Kate at Thread Everywhere
Afton at Quilting Mod
Stephanie at Late Night Quilter

There is another round coming up for the New Quilt Bloggers. If you have been blogging for less than two years, please consider joining. The information I received was invaluable. I also will be lurking along this year because I feel like I still have so much more to learn! Signups start on May 18th.

Inline image 1

Linking up to Amy's Creative Side.

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.

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