Monday, July 14, 2014

Hand Work

I am not so good at just sitting. I have learned from countless drives from our home in Iowa to my mother's house in Idaho (1,250 miles), that I arrive at our destination in better spirits and my husband arrives loving me more if I have something to do. This year I was thinking about my guild's mini quilt challenge so I looked for an English paper piecing project to hand stitch while we were on the road. I found one called Star Hexie on Sew Mama Sew. I reduced the pattern pieces (it IS a mini, after all) and packed myself a charm pack of Mama Said Sew.

I hadn't been sewing very long before I started thinking about how to set the hexagons for the finished quilt. I can say with confidence that the only reason I finally settled upon appliqué was that I knew my mom would help me. My mom is the undisputed queen of needle turn appliqué.

I can prove that last claim, too. This is a quilt that my mom made for my youngest daughter. Mom planned a spring visit around an applique workshop by Angela Lawrence and the birth of my daughter. Both of those events were SUPPOSED to occur within a week of each other. Instead, Mom ended up doing an extended baby watch with me and I ended up with a 9+ pound baby! Needing something to do (maybe it's genetic?), she started a pattern that she'd gotten at the workshop. The awesome thing is, she was forced to use my fabric. Mom calls my fabric "wild." I think that the real wild thing is to see Loulouthi (top middle, if you're looking for it) in this context!

 This picture was completely an accident. Mom got distracted by a darling baby girl while she was laying out some of her finished blocks for my inspection. I am beyond pleased to have Miss E and the beginnings of her quilt in the same shot!

I made hexies the entire way to Idaho and the entire way back to Iowa and I STILL had a few more to do once I got home. I marked out where the hexagon middle would go on my background fabric so I could have help on the needle turn appliqué. Before I left, my mom showed me a technique that helps give each leaf a sharp, pointy tip. Mom stitched on two of the black leaves for me.

You may notice that her right hand is not like yours. When she was 14 years old, Mom was in an accident. A group of friends from her school were driving up the canyon to have a barbeque and a bonfire. Mom was sitting in the back of a grain truck with some of the others and her older brother was driving ahead in a Jeep. Going for a laugh, the driver of the grain truck started purposefully edging the tires up the walls of the canyon. There were screams and yells and laughs as everyone in the back of the truck was thrown off balance. The last time he did that, the motion was severe and abrupt enough that everyone was violently thrown to one side. That time the screams were real. Feeling the vehicle starting to tip over, Mom grabbed on to the side of the steel bed and hung on. The heavy truck fell directly on her right hand, severing an artery and crushing her wrist and thumb. Hearing the thump, her brother turned the Jeep around and arrived at the scene so fast that the dust still hung heavily in the air and the tires still slowly spun on the overturned vehicle. Her brother and friends dug her hand out from under the truck in blood-soaked clay. One of the boys had just received a life-saving merit badge from the Boy Scouts and put it to use. He used a handkerchief and a belt as a tourniquet and stopped the bleeding. He saved her life.

Mom's brother drove the Jeep home to wake up their dad. Her father arrived at the small hospital in the next town over and watched the doctor working on his daughter. Dr. Smith tried to reattach the tendons and stop the bleeding. He attempted to place stitch after stitch to no avail. The doctor turned to her dad and told him that the damage was too severe and that there was just too much gravel in the wound. He had no choice but to amputate. "No," her father barked in his stern voice, "Keep trying." He saved her hand.

Over the course of a year, Mom had nine surgeries. She contracted an infection so severe she nearly died. At one point, to develop a skin graft, her hand was literally attached to her belly for six weeks. She had to learn to write with her left hand. Gravel and heavy black thread from Dr. Smith's stitches worked their way out of her hand for months after the accident. So much effort was expended in saving the use of her thumb that her wrist was not set and it knit together in a haphazard fashion, giving her only millimeters of movement in her right hand. When I was in high school, my dad took my mother to one of his appointments and asked the orthopedic surgeon to look at mom's hand to see if she could get back a little motion in her wrist and to have help mitigating some of the chronic pain. After looking at the X-ray, the doctor came back in the room shaking his head ruefully. "There is absolutely nothing I can do for you," he said. "Be grateful you have a hand."

And she is. I am, too. That so much much beauty can come out of a part of her that saw such ugliness is an inspiration to me. That she was brave enough to even attempt needle turn appliqué as a hobby, knowing that her injuries would change everything from the way she held a needle to the way she placed a stitch with a wrist that doesn't move is an inspiration to me.

What's holding you back?

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Emmeline Mini

Have you ever heard this rhyme?

 “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” 

As a young mother in the Great Depression, this saying typified my grandmother's experiences. Even though the time she spent in abject poverty was short-lived, it altered the way she looked at the world for the rest of her life. Grandma didn't throw much away. Bits of string were carefully wound around the old-fashioned bottle opener to save for later. Tinfoil pieces were re-rolled. Knee high nylons were mended multiple times. Margarine tubs became containers and the lids morphed into coasters for plants. Growing up, my mother never had a chest of drawers to hold her clothes, only a wooden orange crate that had been tipped on its side and fitted with a curtain on a spring to hide the contents. Every once in awhile, grandma would splurge and buy store-bought bread to use for a picnic. After the picnic, the sack was carefully washed for reuse.

Grandma had a great eye for beauty and painted amazing landscapes before her vision deteriorated. A travelling photographer came out to the farm to take pictures of the homestead. Grandma purchased a large portrait that showed the house, her gardens and some of the closer outbuildings. I looked closely at it one day and noticed that she had taken a paintbrush and added color in the section of the picture with her flower gardens. Apparently it wasn't yarrow unless it was yellow. It made me smile. Trust her to look at something and try to invent a way to make it more beautiful.

I had to channel that attitude to improve the disaster I was handed at our August quilt guild meeting last year. My guild holds annual challenges and this year our challenge was to make a mini quilt. The first option was to make a mini quilt with any fabrics we wanted. The second option was to make a mini quilt that used bits of all the fat quarters we shared with our table groups on the night of our opening activity. These are the fabrics from my table. Ugh.

You know how sometimes there are fabric groupings that just need one more fabric addition to unify the collection and make everything seem purposeful and harmonious? Yeah, this isn't one of those. There is only one thing you can do in a situation like this........and that's throw more fabric at it. LOTS MORE FABRIC.

Before I go any further, I should tell you why I shared the Great Depression stories about my Grandma. I am a saver too. I am able to control this tendency in most areas of my life that are outside of the sewing room. Inside the sewing room, all bets are off. Not only do I save EVERY scrap, I also have them broken down into various subsets.

1. 5 inch squares
2. 2.5 inch squares
3.  2.5 inch strips
4. Fabric strings (long strips narrower than 2.5 inches)
5. Triangles (from binding or scraps from making flying geese units)
6. Snippets (irregular pieces smaller than 2.5 inches)
7. Chunks (pieces larger than 5 inches)
8. Solids (all shapes)
9. Flannel (all shapes)

I went through every scrap container and pulled fabrics that I thought might work with my duds collection. With the exception of 3 fabrics, I did not repeat any fabrics in the project (I really regret those three times and can spot EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM). I used a quarter square triangle ruler to make templates out of newsprint from the Sunday paper and used them as a foundation for string piecing. Each of the little triangles are two inches tall.

I added an envelope backing to give myself a display option with this quilt. It finished at 14" x 14" so it can be a pillow or a wall hanging. I chose a print with yellow flowers as another nod to Grandma and bound it with a 30s feedsack reproduction print. I used a scrap of wool batting I had and quilted it with an off-white Aurifil thread from my collection.

I thought of Grandma the whole time I made this quilt, so I named it after her. This quilt didn't cost me one red cent to make. I think she would appreciate that.

Thursday, June 19, 2014


First of all, I have some housekeeping items to clear up.

1. Banana Runts are just plain nasty, and that's the truth.
2. My daughter is 15 months old and has very interesting grooming habits. Tonight she ate her portion of Mayocoba beans and promptly smashed the rest of them into her shirt, hair and various other crevices. My brother patted her curly head and said, "Hmmm, crispy," (just in case you needed independent verification). Bananas are particularly fun to smash.
3. I will eat a banana that is crunchy and kind of hard to peel. My husband dies a little every time he sees this. On the other hand, my husband will eat bananas that reek of ethylene. I gag a little every time I smell this. Together we cover the full banana spectrum.

#3 was the fib. I had a great time reading all of your guesses!

I also had a great time making this quilt. A friend of mine asked me to make a quilt for a special occasion. She told me that she liked a star in the middle. That's it. Isn't trust a beautiful thing?

Believe it or not, I do occasionally make quilts that aren't purple. Apparently I just haven't gotten radiant orchid out of my system yet. I have to say that I am thankful for my burgeoning orange stash. Orange fabric might not be fun to buy, but it is fun to use! Something magical happens in the pairing of orchid and orange. I really like this color combo.

This particular quilt is made from a variation of a Wheel of Fortune Star. I modified the block to make each solid piece in the original a nine patch and every half square triangle in the original into a split nine patch. Each completed block finished at six and a half inches. 

I started free motion quilting in December. My mom is a maker too (which also makes her a championship fabric and quilt kit buyer). I stole one of her quilt kits when I was visiting last summer to take home and do for her. I gave it back for her Christmas present. That quilt was my first attempt at free motion quilting and I am pretty sure I ripped more stitches than I sewed. Secure in my knowledge that mom would love me even if my quilting was marginal at best, I persevered. I am glad I kept trying. The hardest part about free motion quilting is letting go of any illusions of perfection you might be harboring...sort of like getting your first ding in the brand new car.

I tried a new design for this quilt. I threw a little loop and double loop into the meander. Some of it was pretty flippin' awesome.

...and some of it, well, wasn't. Whoops. Since the flippin' awesomes outnumber the whoops moments, I am counting that as a win. Hopefully I get karma points for showing extra large detail shots of the quilting.

Here is a picture of our sweet little "Sister" trying out the quilt. Check out the hairstyle! If you had hair that routinely looked like this, you'd try the banana gel too.

And this is a picture of the back. I contented myself with the simple heart. Not every note has to be written with (ransom note) letters.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

New Quilt Blogger Blog Hop

I know what you are thinking. Pie Lady? Really? I will let you in on a little secret. I am not the world's biggest fan of pie, but I am pretty good at making them. It has become an annual tradition for me to enter and win our local pie competition at the county fair. When I brought home some more trophies last summer, it was my husband who commented that I was turning into a "Pie Lady" and it just sort of stuck. If it were up to me, I would be Awesome Cupcake Quilts or definitely Warm Chocolate Chip Cookie Quilts, but Pie Lady just sounds better. Speaking of sounds better, here is a link for the best chocolate chip cookie (It's the Cook's Illustrated version, thick and chewy) you'll ever put in your mouth. Trust me, I've put plenty of them in my mouth.

These are the pies that I made for other people this Thanksgiving: 2 pumpkin streusel, 2 peach, 1 Dutched apple, 1 rhubarb, 1 cherry, 1 pumpkin and 1 blueberry
I approach quilts like I approach pie. I research the heck out of traditional methods, practice it, and then try to find some way to innovate or update it. I ask "what if?" a lot. I think about quilts the same way. I seem to think about quilts all the time. My little boys have seen these zone outs quite a bit. I never realized how much I did it until they started saying "that would make a great quilt" when we looked at illustrations in their picture books or they stopped to point out some colors to me on our walks. Both of them will sit on my lap for far longer than any normal 6 year old and 4 year old boy would, looking at illustrations of block designs. The ladies at my local quilt guild laugh at the way I check out book after book from the guild library. I am a self-taught quilter and I am hungry for knowledge. I don't care if the book has a modern slant or not. I look for techniques and inspiration everywhere.

I created a collage of the three entries I made for this year's Pantone Color Quilt Challenge (radiant orchid). These projects are a good representation of who I am as a quilter. I have full blog posts for these projects if you are interested in more information. The first is Radiant Triangles. Going through my drawer of rulers one day, I saw my Tri Recs ruler. I looked at it hard and wondered what else I could make it do. I had just finished an improv log cabin quilt and wondered, "what if I use the triangle as the center of a log cabin?" The second is Radiant Improv. I wondered what would happen if I combined a traditional block with improv piecing. The last is Radiant Circles. I love curves and wanted to try my hand at sewing them, so I folded a piece of typing paper and cut a curve. I made a pillow to practice sewing that curve, and when it worked, I committed to a quilt.

The next project I wanted to share was a quilt I made called Mod Boxes. I drew this out on graph paper with my feet dangling in the community pool last summer. I had a baby last spring, so I had a companion snoozing away in her carseat. My husband and I took turns watching her under the shaded awning and playing with the boys in the pool. The colors of the pool and shade seeped into the color inspiration of this quilt. I just love Kona Water. Pretty literal, huh?

Most of the time, I don't order specific fabrics for specific projects. I had a moment of clarity when I heard Bill Kerr from Modern Quilt Studio give a presentation at our quilt guild. He said, "Ugly fabric can be effectively utilized in a quilt." When I went home and looked at my stash, I realized that a.) he was right and b.) My stash reflected my personality TOO heavily. I had lots of splashy fabrics, but not enough of the understated, "drab," workhorse fabrics that make a cohesive quilt. Plus, I had glaring gaps in the colors. Apparently yellow, blue and orange fabrics are NOT fun to buy. I have worked hard in the last 18 months to correct that problem and develop a more well-rounded stash with added design possibilities. My solution? I've stopped picking out most of the fabrics myself. Scrap packs are a fantastic deal. My LQS in Hills, Iowa (Inspirations) has them and Hawthorne Threads has great scrap packs online. The other thing I do is put my mom on the case. She goes to her LQS in Preston, Idaho (Suppose Quilt Boutique) during their semi-annual sale and picks up the $0.99 fat quarters for me. So often, the most, um, "interesting" fabrics are the ones that make it into the next project. Don't believe me? Look closely and you'll spot the dark brown fabric with giant white egg beaters. Yep, giant white egg beaters. Thanks, mom!

So today, thanks to modern technology, I am posting this blog en route to my mom's house. To keep me company through Wyoming, and distract me from the realities of a 1200 mile road trip with three children, I thought I'd try one of the games I used when I taught 4th grade. It's called Two Truths and a Fib. I will share 3 statements about me; 2 are true and 1 is not. Can you spot the fib? Tell me your guesses and/or write one of your own. Bonus points will be awarded to anyone who makes me laugh out loud.

Since far too much of this post has been about food, I thought I'd continue the theme and besides, quilting IS bananas......"and bananas is good!"

1. I despise any banana-flavored candy, especially Runts.
2. My daughter makes a unique and long-lasting hair gel out of smashed bananas.
3. I once told my husband that "I only eat bananas that are brown and smushed."

Enjoy the rest of the blog hop and thanks for stopping here!

Carole @ Fresh Off The Frame 
Camelia @ Camelia Elliott
Nurdan @ Hug a Bit Quilts
Paula @ Mud Pies and Pins
Lori @ Sew Psychd
Kitty @ Night Quilter
Christina @ Wips and Tuts
Diana @ Sew Crafty Chick
Marcia @ Cozy Capatiller
Judy @ Quilt Paradigm 
Jasmine @ Quilt Kisses
Beth @ Cooking Up Quilts

Friday, May 30, 2014

Winnie Goes to College

This post has been a long time coming as I have been in the trenches with a quilt. You know exactly what I am talking about, right? Gritted teeth, steely eyes, it’s-gonna-be-you-or-me contest of wills. Well, it wasn’t just that I felt like progress ground to a halt a time or two. Matters were not helped by listening to the entire Hunger Games trilogy WHILE doing a ten day juice fast and trying to sew as fast as I could. Do you have any idea how much Suzanne Collins goes on and on about food? I may or may not have shouted, “For the love of Peeta, stop talking about bread!...and that lamb stew!...and…and…freshly roasted game! YOU ARE KILLING ME!” and then I’d sew some more.  The result is a quilt that I look at and see equal parts beauty and achievement. Strangely, I also seem to want a snack.

This quilt is a commissioned piece meant to celebrate a high school graduation. In the conversations leading up to the design, I learned that Miss E, the graduate, had a special affinity for Winnie the Pooh and the color blue. Her mother liked classic block structures like rail fence. So, in short order this quilt became all about the finding the perfect fabric and the perfect block.

After much searching I finally checked out Etsy. I found a seller (here) that had out of print Winnie the Pooh panels that were just fantastic; expensive, but perfect. The fabric looked just like a copy of the illustrations from a vintage Winnie the Pooh book. I also found a warm honey tonal print with bees and a pale blue tonal with outlines of Winnie. I really love the quilter’s reference books with black and white illustrations of classic block patterns. Those books are a great starting point for blocks and quilt ideas.  The particular book I used for this quilt was 1000 Great Quilt Blocks by Maggi McCormick Gordon. I snapped a few pictures of what I felt were good candidates to go with the vintage-style print. Miss E’s mother chose the block called God’s Eye.

I decided to make the background pieces all 2.5” with an assortment of low-volume prints. I love the look it gives. The geeky glasses print from Riley Blake is my favorite part and is the bridge from vintage to modern. I also made a few fussy cuts from the Winnie the Pooh illustration panel and placed six of them throughout the quilt. Winnie is chilling with his friend Piglet in an ocean of cream, white and gray.

Miss E’s mom shared with me the quote that inspired the whole Winnie themed quilt.
“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. "Pooh?" he whispered.
"Yes, Piglet?"
"Nothing," said Piglet, taking Pooh's hand. "I just wanted to be sure of you.”
We decided to make the quote a permanent feature of the quilt, so I did some improv piecing and included it in the back of the quilt ala The Babar Triangle. Really, I think my future as a ransom note writer is assured. Ha!

I quilted this in a continuous line design. I used a cream So Fine thread on top and a minty Aurifil on the bobbin. This quilt finished at 48” x 64.”

Every graduate deserves a bit of advice, so I thought I’d offer up an important formula necessary for college success. Ready?

Winnie the Pooh + God’s Eye + a message from your mother = a dorm room with LOTS AND LOTS OF STUDYING!

I am mostly kidding. Mostly.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Babar Triangle

Other than chicken burritos, there is not much that my son loves more than elephants. A few weeks ago, we celebrated his older brother's birthday at a ceramics place. I told the kids that they could pick out anything they restrictions. Nolan passed up Iron Man, Spider Man and even his dearly beloved Incredible Hulk to pick up this elephant. He painted him the obligatory gray, but then went for more colors of paint. When he got back to the table, he asked me to turn him into Elmer (The Patchwork Elephant). I did as much as I could whilst supervising 5 kindergarteners, 1 preschooler and 1 baby who was missing her nap in a room full of breakable objects. That is how much he loves elephants. 

So, without further ado, let me introduce "The Babar Triangle," the birthday bedspread for my little boy that has watched every, and I do mean EVERY episode of "Babar" and has checked out EVERY Babar book in our library (a couple of times).

 I really stepped out of my comfort zone with the colors for this quilt. This was not a combination that came naturally for me, and truthfully, I fought it. I ended up telling myself that I was picking colors out for Nolan, and that this palette was every facet of his four year old personality. Warm sun, green grass and sweet thoughts. The reflection time was good for me, though. I vowed to use a heavy hand with brown, which is I think the only thing that kept Babar from having a vacation in the tropics.

The one indispensable item I used in making this quilt was a template. I made my own out of a sheet of acrylic and an acrylic knife using a pattern I drew up. I constructed my own equilateral triangle pattern with a protractor and newsprint to make a triangle that was 15 inches tall. The best part of having a template was having the flexibility of going hog wild with triangles, and knowing you could cut everything down perfectly to the exact same size.

I paper pieced about half of these blocks. I know, I know. But, a 15 inch triangle is BIG and I didn't want a quilt full of friendly triangles waving back at me. I slapped down that template on top of a newspaper and got an instant paper foundation. After that it was simple to draw in piecing lines. My six year old son helped me draw them in one lazy afternoon. The rest of the quilt blocks were a combination of intentional design and serendipitous scrap management. :-) I am still thinking of things I could do to a triangle. Ha!

I started having second thoughts about writing his name in the back. Once I finished the letters, I asked my husband what he thought of them. He told me that if the whole quilt thing didn't work out I could always take up ransom notes. Yep, that's exactly what I was thinking. Seriously. The other thing I was thinking is that this back deserves a name. I would call it "Hubris, by Jill Fisher." One of my favorite episodes from "The French Chef" was when Julia Child tried to teach how to make a grated potato pancake. I say "tried" because when she tried to flip it using the pan, she dropped most of it on the stove. "Whoops," she said. "I just didn't have the courage of my convictions!" So, despite my reservations about doing a pivoting design on a not-so-forgiving solid background, I tried it anyway. I just checked the back in a borderline compulsive manner during the entire process.

It's hard to hold up a twin size quilt. It was hard doing pivoting straight line quilting on a twin size quilt. If we keep doing this, we're both going to have AWESOME shoulders.

Here is Nolan, photobombing his own quilt. He is asleep under it as we speak and he went to bed with a huge smile on his face. I am happy too.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Radiant Circles, done!

I sew early in the morning. Really early. Like earlier than you can find anything good on the radio early. While I was in the why-did-I-decide-to-make-a-twin-size-mid-quilt-funk, I pulled out my sleeve of CDs and grabbed one at random. It was the REM album with the song "Hold On."

"When the day is long and the night, the night is yours alone
When you're sure you've had enough of this [quilt], well hang on."

I listened to that song over and over as I sewed curve after curve. Not that I am counting, but it was 120 of them. GAH!

.....and? It was TOTALLY WORTH IT! I am glad that I decided to expand it.

The light was good enough here to catch the tonal background. I used a navy voile and indigo from Michael Miller Cotton Couture. The color difference was subtle in my sewing room, and I worried that the effect would be lost.
I quilted this using a 50 wt. Aurifil thread in a meander pattern. I wanted to add texture to the quilt, but not any competing design elements. The curvy circles are the star.
The backing is also voile. It is a Joel Dewberry piece from his Heirloom collection. I freehand pieced the letters as a little message to my daughter. This will be her bedspread when she finally graduates from her crib. This is ridiculous to admit, but I did it originally because I didn't want to go to the trouble of matching the print up on the seam. Ha ha. Now I can just say that I totally meant to do it all along. :-)