Monday, January 12, 2015

Pickle Dish

Some people say that the universal symbol for hospitality is a pineapple. In our house, it was mustard pickles.

Growing up, I was exposed to three different levels of hospitality when it came to having people over for dinner.
Level 1: A Diet Coke was consumed at some point before or during the meal.

Level 2: We were warned. "Don't you dare roll your ear of corn in that stick of butter (like we always did). We have company. Use a knife. That butter is fresh."

Level 3: A precious jar of Aunt Lora's mustard pickles were opened and ceremoniously served in a cut crystal dish.

Mustard pickles are cucumbers, red peppers, carrots, cauliflower florets and tiny pearl onions swimming in a sweet-tart pool of sunshine. They are a palette cleanser, a side dish, a postcard from summer and the glittering citrine jewel of the dinner plate. In our house, the pearl onions were the hottest commodity and I remember the cheerful bickering mining them out caused. At one point we even instituted the "One scoop and you get what you get" policy. But, this is also the family that turned surreptitiously opening Christmas presents and rewrapping them into an art form, so I'll leave it to you to judge how effective that policy was in combating pearl onion theft. Over the years I've canned a few batches of mustard pickles and my feelings about the pearl onions have definitely shifted. I had no idea how much work it took to boil, skin and trim each one of those little buggers. We served one of my batches during a family dinner and it took a profound amount of self-control not to leap over the table and snatch the pickles out of the larcenous hands of one of my siblings (you know who you are, insert death glare here) and eat every single last one of those onions myself. Right out of the jar. With the serving spoon. My respect for Aunt Lora grew that day as well as my understanding that nothing says "I care" quite as clearly as a jar of homemade mustard pickles.

This fall I signed up for Round 3 of the Schnitzel and Boo Mini Quilt Swap. I had some pretty grand illusions about how I was going to get a partner from some far-flung corner of the world that had wildly different tastes than I did. Imagine my surprise when I opened the email to find that my partner pretty much loves purple and Tula Pink fabrics as much as I do. Also, our states happen to share a river. Huh. So, in the true spirit of hospitality I learned from my youth, I made her a Pickle Dish. It IS the neighborly thing to do, right?

I made this mini using a free pattern I found at Modern Quilting by B. I used fabric from four of Tula Pink's lines, Fox Field, Acacia, Parisville and Nightshade. The background is shot cotton in galvenized and the binding is shot cotton in grape. I used 50 wt. Aurifil thread in medium gray for the matchstick quilting. The mini finishes at 18" x 18."

As I was making this I kept thinking of what a great way doing a pickle dish quilt would be to showcase some of the fabrics in my growing scrap bin, but then I had a pearl onion moment. If you ever receive a blanket from me made with a pickle dish pattern, rest assured, "I care."

From my house to yours. Enjoy your pickle dish, partner!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Flannel Pancake

Some words just go together. Peanut butter and jelly, ham and cheese, salt and pepper, sugar and spice. Universal pairs...cosmic twins...common markers for culture, place and language.

Other pairs are uncommon, unlikely and a dang good story.

Thanks to my Grandma McKay, whenever I think of the word "flannel," I also think of "pancakes." In elementary school, I checked out a book from the library about pranks. Around the same time grandma came for a visit. In what turned out to be a most fortuitous question, I asked, "Did you ever pull any pranks on grandpa?"

Oh my.

She giggled, wheezed and wiped streams of tears from her eyes. In between gasps and shoulder shakes she told me how she'd cut out circles of white flannel the night before her planned attack. After pouring pancake batter on the hot griddle, she placed the flannel circles on top and hid them with more batter. With a straight face she served them to her even straighter-laced husband.

"What did he do?" I asked.

"Nothing!" she chirruped in a near shriek. "He just kept cutting, and cutting and CUTTING!!!"

At least 40 years after the fact, she was still so pleased with herself. How could she not be? Thus, that is how flannel=pancakes in my world.

For this quilt, flannel scraps=improvisational piecing. I had lots of scraps left from a flannel quilt I had just finished that I decided to do something with. That "something" ended up being a grab-a-piece-and-sew-it-somewhere kind of project. I love making something out of nothing! (I also loved not having to come up with yet another bin to store flannel scraps in if I am being completely honest.)

When I do improvisational piecing, I start by making a block. Once I like it, I measure the height of the block and make a lot more that are the same height. The width doesn't matter at all. I join these blocks together and stop when I think I've made the quilt wide enough. Then, I make another block that I like, measure how tall it ended up and repeat the process. For this quilt, I also pieced together strips of fabric in shorter heights (like 4") to sew between rows. I think it helped to disguise where the blocks and rows are even more. If you're wondering, this quilt has 5 rows.

Last Christmas I ordered a box of Aurifil thread that was on sale. I didn't read the description closely enough and ended up with 12 spools of 12 wt. thread. Whoops. Rather than return it, I did a little research to find out what I could use it for and discovered big stitch hand quilting. I thought this flannel quilt top would be a good project to practice on, and I was right. All of that improv was a very forgiving canvas for hand quilting. I also discovered during last year's brutal winter in the Midwest that sitting under a flannel blanket that you're quilting is one of life's great pleasures.

I quilted this in the same free-wheeling style that I pieced it. I didn't mark it other than sketching designs with my friXion pen that I quilted over in some spots. FriXion pens have ink that disappears completely when ironed. I found that I worked better without a hoop and without a thimble. My other grandpa once said that the only thing he could do with a pair of gloves on was pee his pants. After trying multiple thimbles and truly giving a good faith effort, I can see his point. I have two sizable callouses on the first two fingers on my right hand. I also have started on my next hand quilting project, so I guess it's all good.

It took me 9 months of quilting to finish. I picked it up for 15 or 20 minutes at a time a couple of days a week. I can definitely tell where my first quilting attempts were. Once I was nearly finished, I looked back at the uneven, large stitches of those early days and wondered if I should unpick them and redo it. In the end, I decided that the stitches were descriptors of a journey and that I liked the added "character."

And after all, it isn't just about the flannel in the pancakes, it's the way you tell the story that makes it.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


What's scarier than a Halloween quilt?

Being married to a trained driver's education teacher. For real.

The one perk of cheerfully cheating death is the stories he can tell AND the adventures he's had. One of the best happened on one of the "final drives." To make it more fun, my husband allowed the students to choose a destination to drive to on one of their last sessions together. One of the most interesting locations he was ever taken to was The Black Angel.

In one of our local cemeteries there is a memorial with a black angel. This particular memorial was commissioned by a woman to stand above the graves of her teenaged son and second husband. Tragically, her son died young from meningitis and her husband died within a few years of their marriage. Somehow, over the years since this memorial has been erected, it has been imbued with multiple meanings and become something of a curiosity. The color has been the subject of much of the controversy. Some think that it turned black because it was murder, not meningitis that did her son in. Others think that it turned black because she swore to her deceased husband that she would always be true to him and she was cursed for forgetting that graveside promise. Still another theory is that the mother was a nasty sort and that the statue was struck by lightning the night she was buried. I guess it's just not as fun to consider that a bronze statue exposed to the elements for 100 years might do something funky. Mystery aside, I find the statue hauntingly beautiful and an excellent location to take pictures of some mysterious girls.

I've had the Nightshade line by Tula Pink in my closet for a couple of years now and I really wanted to do something with it. I found an old quilt block in a quilting encyclopedia I had and did my best to redraft it on graph paper. Needless to say, it was a complex block and it took me quite awhile to draw and color. I took it to a copy machine to make more copies because I just didn't have the will to draw it again. That ended up being a good thing, because I could easily rearrange and spin the blocks until I got the orientation right. Once I was happy with the design, I taped it to another sheet of graph paper and added an additional row of piecing on all sides to complete the pattern. I kept that sheet next to the sewing machine while I put the blocks together.

This is one completed block with the addition of the extra border row on the top and the right. Even though it measures 55" x 55," there are only 4 blocks in this quilt!

I added more fabrics to Nightshade to make this quilt. I used Tula Pink prints from Fox Field in addition to prints from Modern Quilt Studio, Angela Walters, Moda and even a print from William Morris (I dare you to find it!). My favorite is Robert Kaufman's quilter's tweed in hot pink. I also used shot cotton in artemisia and ice. I love the grayed down palette.

I quilted this in a cross hatch with a swirling stitch that is one of the utility stitches on my Janome. I was going for spider-webby. I used Aurifil 50 wt. in medium gray. You can really see the pattern on the solid black I used for the backing.

The Nightshade girls mirrored The Black Angel perfectly. Mysterious? Yes. Scary? Not so much. Happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Blogger's Quilt Festival: The Bear on the Wall

In my original post, I made a joke about keeping a bear on the wall, so I thought I would take some pictures of our old friend in his "natural habitat."

I think he is settling in nicely.

Final stats:
This bear block was designed by Juliet at  Tartankiwi. This is the 30" version.
The quilt finishes at 36" x 36"
It was quilted using one of the zig-zag utility stitches on my Janome with Aurifil 5012.
I used 3 different Anna Maria Horner lines (Pretty Potent, Loulouthi and Innocent Crush). There's also Denyse Schmidt, Art Gallery, Michael Miller and Kaffe Fassett because sometimes more really IS better.

Linking up with the Blogger's Quilt Festival, small quilt division.

Blogger's Quilt Festival: Mustang

I took one of my dearest quilt friends out for another photo shoot today.

 ...And I decided to take Mustang, too.

I thought that the first round of pictures I took for this quilt out on an old barn (here's the link) were great, but I think I like these better. This quilt was made for a day like today.

I also got some feedback from the original post that a picture of the block would be appreciated. I am happy to oblige!

The final stats on the quilt:
Each block is 18.5"
The dimensions are 55" x 72"
Quilted in straight line with Aurifil 1147
Finished in August, 2014

Linking up with the Blogger's Quilt Festival, large quilt division.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Oh Iowa!

When the leaves started changing awhile back, I had an undeniable urge to do a fall quilt. A few months ago I found the logo designed by Stuart Ash for Canada's centennial celebration. The design is nearly 50 years old, but it still feels modern. I loved the graphic quality of the design and decided to do an homage. I replicated the shape with an equilateral triangle ruler and some of my favorite "nearly solids" from my stash.

For the border, I used graph paper to make a paper piecing template. I was inspired by the Streak of Lightning style. Once I had the proportions and angle the way I wanted, I made a reversal tracing using the kitchen window (we are REALLY high-tech here). I made the corner blocks by playing dot to dot with the edges of the border pieces. This particular shape reminds me of a 60s style mirror that hung in my brothers' room and seemed to suit the vintage modern vibe.

I quilted this in a straight line, pivoting design. Using the equilateral triangles made it a simple design to mark. I broke out my brand-spanking-new cone of medium gray Aurifil to piece and quilt this project. I finally decided to stop pretending I didn't have a quilting problem and to just buy the cone. The first step is admitting you have a problem, right?
The field of soybeans has already been harvested. I can see this tree from my kitchen window...I have always loved it.

It had just started to drizzle when I took this shot. I love the way the drops are suspended on the fence.
I love fall. I love the colors, smells, sounds and tastes of it. When we first moved to Iowa from Boston, my husband's grandmother sent us an envelope full of fall leaves because she just knew that we wouldn't see any here. Sweet, but not true. Yes we have fall leaves AND harvested fields AND rolling hills AND the most beautiful golden orange shade of light that you have ever seen. Iowa takes my breath away every autumn.

We are lucky enough to live about 25 miles away from an Amish community. At least two times a month I take the kids with me out to an Amish grocery store. It is an incredible opportunity to get fresh, local produce in bulk for fantastic prices. It is also a surprise because you can never be quite sure what you are going to get. Last time I bought TWO bushels of apples, green beans, red peppers, Napa cabbage, radishes, golden heirloom tomatoes, watermelon and squash. What a harvest-time bounty!

I took this picture just outside the market. These apples were $0.39 a lb, the watermelons were $1.69 and the squash were 2 for a $1
After the market, we stop at an Amish bakery on the way home. Depending on our mood, we either get the glazed doughnuts or kolaches. This week we decided on kolach.

I got black raspberry this time. See what I mean about the golden orange light?

We passed 3 self-serve mum trailers on the way to the store.
I feel like since I've started taking pictures of my quilts, the way I look at the world has changed. I drive slower, I look harder and I see beauty everywhere. Wherever you live, and whatever the weather/season is today where you are, I hope you see it too. Have a beautiful day!


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Bear on the Wall

So many of my quilts are "memory" quilts, and this is no different. I am drawn to bears--not because I particularly love bears, but because I associate so much with them. My mother had a dear friend named Faye that she taught with for many years. They shared many things together, including an affinity and love for art. Faye did a lovely oil painting of a grizzly bear lumbering over a log with a towering, craggy mountain in the distance. She gave this painting to my mother and it hung in the dining room for years. That bear certainly was a silent witness to a great deal of my history.

Forget being the fly on the wall, that bear was there for announcements, pronouncements and a whole bunch of laughs. I will share one of the best.

My mother became the de facto caregiver for an older woman who lived across the street. Mom got her groceries, ran errands for her and was always available for a good chat. One particular Thanksgiving, mom invited Lou over to our house for dinner. She showed up that day dressed in her best. Silky floral shirt adorned with a gigantic rhinestone sunburst pin, a freshly coiffed purplish red wig and fire engine red lipstick carefully applied into a large, exaggerated moue. Dinner was fun. Lou regaled us with stories of her days waitressing and kept us all in stitches. It all went really well until she leaned forward to get seconds. "Oh hell," she muttered, dabbing furiously at her shirt, "I got my tit in the gravy." The silence that followed that comment was thick and heavy. It felt like every molecule of air had gotten sucked out of the room.  Everyone suddenly had an intense interest in the food on their plates and the scrape of silverware seemed unnaturally loud. I was very young, but I knew something outrageous had just happened and I watched my family to see how I should react. My dad was biting his lip, my mom looked a little put out, and my teenaged brothers looked like they were about to explode. Dinner carried on. We swallowed our laughs until after dessert when we could truly relish the infamy.

That's what memories are, right? A moment that blossoms into an infamous EVENT. That particular memory certainly lives on. Try spilling something on your shirt at my house if you have any lingering doubts.

So, my house needed a bear on the wall. This pattern is from Juliet at thetartankiwi. She has a 12 inch bear, and this 30 inch bear (plus a lot of other animals) for sale in her Craftsy shop. (The pattern is for the block only.)   I used some parchment paper to draw the border design for paper piecing.  I taped down the paper on my cutting mat and used a pencil and one of my rulers to draft the pattern.  Parchment paper is mostly see-through, so it is easy to see the grid lines underneath. Plus, you can roll it out in whatever length you need. I use it quite a bit. I never have it in my kitchen because it's always in the sewing room!

I had so much fun picking the fabrics for this project that I wanted to do a reprisal with my scraps. Paper piecing yields a lot of funky shaped scraps that I am loathe to throw away. Rather than sort them out and put them in the "I'll get to them someday" bin, I decided to make a matching pillow sham with "made" fabric. I just sewed these little bits together until I had bigger pieces. I squared the bigger pieces to 5" and dog eared the corners with alternating 2.5" squares of cheddar and turquoise. I finished it off with matchstick straight line quilting. I don't know if I am happier that I have a matching pillow or that I used up the scraps. Probably both.

I am definitely happy to have a bear on the wall; one that will be a silent witness to new pronouncements and new memories. Who knows, maybe he will be one of the best ones.