Thursday, December 1, 2016


I am from Idaho and my husband is from Connecticut. We currently live in Iowa, which is pretty much smack-dab in the middle of them both. On the summers that we decide to travel to both places, we put a lot of miles on our van AND on our kids. It's always a fun adventure, though. My husband is perfectly content to drive all day and I am perfectly content to let him and look out the window. I saw so much this summer that inspired me.

We went west first, and ended up in the Grand Teton National Forest on a late spring morning. I stood on the shore of Jenny Lake and watched the way the shadows of the mountains and the light from a weak sun rippled across the icy water. I stood there longer than I should have admiring the beauty and contemplating how to replicate that feeling of movement I got from the frigid water. When we got back to my mom's house I started piecing the center of the quilt. Now, feel free to laugh at me, but at the time I was thinking of trying my hand at a minimalist quilt. I sketched out a few ideas where I used only a few half square triangles.....which might be why I thought it would be a good idea to use 2" finished HST. Are you laughing yet? Once I placed the pieces on the design wall and realized how much I liked them all together, I threw the plans in the trash and kept building. The truth is, I like piecing. I also find it difficult to quell my exuberance once I start.

When we drove east, I had a whole bunch of light HST units and not much of a plan. Then, I found myself on the shore of the Long Island Sound watching the way the light moved across the dark water, rolling towards me in gentle waves. This time we got into the water and I spent quite a bit of time swimming with my kids and picking off many varieties of seaweed. I thought of what I loved best from that memory: the expansive feeling of the ocean view, the colors and the fun we had playing in the water. I thought of it all the way home. Before we even unpacked, I found myself in my sewing room picking a new palette and making more half square triangles. I decided to add them in an asymmetrical border and flip the orientation of the quilt to mimic the long horizon from the ocean.

I believe that when we let ourselves explore during our sewing time and make judgements in the moment, that really personal things emerge in our work. I can feel it when it happens to me and like what it does to my creations. I get the chance to share my feelings in fabric and also with words on my blog.

Around the time I was choosing to add that ocean inspired border, my husband and I were asked to share the story of how we met/married with the youth in our church. I was blessed to have an amazing, miraculous, never-would-believe-it-if-it-happened-to-someone-else courtship. I met my husband on a penpal site on the internet before Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan tried it. We wrote long emails to each other multiple times a day for three months before we talked on the phone for the first time. We had strong feelings for each other and I felt safe enough to give him my address. He sent me a present that I still treasure to this day (and hangs proudly in our living room). I had shared with him in one of the emails that I loved impressionist art, so he went to a museum and bought me a print of a Monet bridge. He included a note that told me he felt this was a symbol of our success. Two different people with wildly different backgrounds, faiths and experiences coming together to make something beautiful.

See what I mean? I was thinking and making and I made what I was thinking about. It's a quilt version of our bridge. Two different experiences with a common theme. He is who he is. I am who I am. We embrace our differences and our commonalities. We are better together.

"Ripple" finished at 79" x 59." I made it using 51 (!) different fabrics over the course of 5 months. It is matchstick quilted with Aurifil invisible thread and metallic threads by Yenmet in pearlessence white and twilight silver blue. The batting is Quilter's Dream Request.

Well, I can't really leave the story there, right? I also couldn't ignore the piles of triangle scraps that I had left (after trying many different methods for making half square triangles, I discovered that my favorite was sewing two triangles together). I experimented with insetting pieced strips of lights into the darker triangles. Once I'd used up all of my leftover triangles, I tried stretching the diamond shape and cut rectangle shapes out of my dark scraps. All the while, I was listening to the song "Let's Get Married" by The Proclaimers, a Scottish band. That may or may not be the reason that some of the plaid from my Loominous stash got slipped in there. (ahem) There's nothing wrong with being literal, right?

Want to hear the song? Here's a link.   

I have been married a long time, but I still remember that happy, euphoric feeling of the newly twitterpated. After writing emails back and forth (and eventually calling) for 5 months, Matt flew out from the East Coast to visit me for the first time. We had an awesome weekend for our first official date. While I was driving him back to the airport, I asked him about his plans and he PROPOSED. "I don't know about you," he said, "but I plan on spending the rest of my life with you." I almost drove off the road! Don't let all this improv fool real life I am a careful and deliberate thinker, but at that moment I felt sure enough to immediately nod and say, "Okay. Let's get married." That song helped me focus in on and remember some pretty powerful memories.

"Let's Get Married" finished at 40" x 40." It is matchstick quilted with Aurifil invisible thread. I used Quilter's Dream Request batting.

I have to end with a funny story. I am finally ready to attach a quilt label to myself. The one I have chosen is Dedicated Quilter. I took the quilts to a park with a pond and river access to get my photography done. As we walked past the inclined boat launch, I had the thought that a picture with the Iowa River and foliage in the background would be a great idea for the big quilt. My kids were with me and I knew that my boys could hold the dowels I use to suspend the quilt over the water. I was a little concerned about the river slime that coated the launch, so I left the camera, the bag with supplies and my little girl at the top with the boys while I checked to see if it would be safe. I inched down the incline carefully. Just as the "" thought was forming I took another half step. That turned out to be a half step too many. I slipped in the muddy slime and started sliding down the incline to the very cold and very dirty Iowa River. Would this be a good time to mention that I was holding "Ripple?" Instead of catching myself with my hands, my first instinct was to lift the quilt over my head. The quilt and I rode down the boat launch and stopped just short of the river. I was covered in mud and my children were horrified, but I crab-walked (with one hand) myself back up the launch with a quilt on my head. I was scared to look at the quilt, but there were only 3 tiny flecks of mud that I was able to remove with some bottled water and gentle scrubbing with the sleeve of MY COAT. Priorities, priorities. All the photos were taken around the pond immediately following the *adventure* by me, The River Monster.

Thanks for reading. I hope you have a blessed holiday season.

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

Friday, July 15, 2016


As part of my newly-resolved commitment to use what I have, I offer up this post on scraps. Below are my humble opinions, somewhat useful tips (I hope) and four finished quilts.

I have always been a saver, but after Amanda Jean Nyberg (Crazy Mom Quilts) came to our guild a few years ago, I became a better, smarter saver. After all, there's no point in saving something if you can't find it when you need it, right? Scrap storage had always been a problem for me and I bounced between a few methods that never seemed quite right. Unfortunately, when I was between methods, wadded up on the corner of the cutting mat started happening more often. Scraps should never make you angry, and yet, I was. The best solution for me was to deal with scraps as I made them. I bought an inexpensive floating shelf from the home improvement store and installed the shelf directly above my cutting table. I also bought three bins from the dollar store to go on top of the shelf. I labelled them "SNIPPETS," "STRINGS" and "TRIANGLES." Larger scraps of fabric (like fat quarters that have been cut into) are sorted by color in drawers underneath my cutting table. As I cut into fabric and generate scraps, I can immediately put them in the right place for later use.

"Viva Mexico" began because my "SNIPPETS" bin was full. Originally inspired by the "Scrap Vortex" quilt by Amanda Jean Nyberg (here is a link to the tutorial), I added my own spin to her process just by virtue of the kind of scraps I had chosen to save. I used all of my buckets for this quilt. I sewed triangles together. I joined funky paper piecing scraps to each other. I laid little snippets on a long piece from my string bucket and snipped them apart into pairs at the end. Basically I just kept sewing bits together into pairs. Then, I'd iron. Pairs that matched along one of the sides were sewn together. If nothing fit well, I'd cut a piece off of a string and sew that on. The slabs of piecing grew as I kept sewing chunks together. To help me set the slabs together, I made a scaled piecing map on a piece of graph paper. Improvisational quilts can seem hard when you think you have to have everything figured out at once. That overwhelms me. For this quilt, I'd check out my notes on the graph paper and know that, for instance, I needed a 12.5" x 14.5" unit to finish a section. I'd find a slab that was close to that size (and add a little to it if I needed to), square it down and piece it in. The overwhelming becomes possible when you break it down into manageable bits.

I took this shot next door to my childhood candy store. I really appreciate all the people that humor me with my odd requests. Thanks Dixie!

Now do you see the flag?

I loved piecing this quilt. The decisions were simple. Which two fabrics should I sew together? The machine hummed, the music played and I sewed until the bobbin ran out. It was incredibly restful. About the time I was piecing this quilt, our sweet cat Molly (aka St.'s a tough gig when your best friend is a three year old little girl) looked out the sliding door into the darkness and saw the face of another kitty from the outside. To say that it freaked her out would be a gross understatement. The scream that came from her mouth was somewhere between primal and human and made my hair stand up on end. She ran under the bed in my sewing room and quaked so hard that the bed skirt was waving. I tried to talk to her and was answered only by soft moans. Poor kitty! In the end, the only thing I could do for her was turn on the sewing machine and start piecing. She never did come back out that night, but the bed skirt eventually stilled and she quieted. If you need to contemplate/solve any world problems or calm down your sewing-buddy, I highly recommend this quilt.

"Viva Mexico" finishes at  50" x 70." I used Quilter's Dream Request batting and quilted it simply with straight lines in Aurifil Dove (2600). If you are wondering about the name, be sure to look hard in the lower center right and you *might* be able to see a flag. Once you see it, it's hard to unsee. I love the happy accidents that happen with improvisational piecing!

The award for the funniest comment I have ever received definitely goes to Jilly for her words about the Allsorts Pillow. "The rational part of my brain knows it's fabric," she said, "I know it sounds a bit weird but it really makes me want to lick it." !!!!!!! Jilly and her funny comment were the inspiration for finishing this quilt. When I was looking for a quilt backing, I found three 12.5" blocks that I had started in Amanda Jean Nyberg's scrap workshop at my guild. All I had to do was start to think, "These blocks look really sweet...." and BAM! Idea! My fabric selection process was pretty easy, too. If I looked at a fabric and thought it looked lickable, it ended up in the quilt.

"Jawbreaker" was made (almost) entirely with my "STRINGS" bucket. I made improvisational quarter square log cabins and kept adding strips until I could square down the block with my 12.5" ruler. When joined together in groups of four, each block was a ginormous 24.5" chunk.Towards the end of the process I did break into the larger scrap bins to cut strips because I needed additional darker values and a bit more variety. The darker values were vital to highlight the piecing and add some movement, otherwise the quilt would have been adrift in a sea of mediums. I really enjoyed mixing various styles and genres of fabric together. Kaffe lives next to feedsack which flows into novelty and modern. It's all fun in the end! I felt a little bad making such a sweet quilt for our bed, so I pieced in some funny quilter-themed Mad Libs on the back for my husband. If he's man enough to sleep under pink, I am woman enough to make fun of myself.

You might wonder where I got such a varied selection of fabric. My mom helps me stock up when the modern quilt shop near her marks their fat quarters down to $0.99. She also gives me a lot of the scraps she generates when she makes more modern quilts with her granddaughters. I've found that buying scrap packs from Hawthorne Threads is another great way to build up a scrappy stash. I really appreciated having that variety back when I was participating in monthly quilt bees. My scrappy, small cuts stash was perfect for making a quilt like this. If you don't have a lot of fabrics to work with in your stash, it might be fun to swap with your friends. A few years ago my guild did a strip exchange and I ended up with sacks full of strings. I have also found a few fabric swaps on Instagram that I loved. My favorite one got me 144 5" low volume squares and I use those All. The. Time. There are lots of creative ways to find what you need without spending a fortune.

For the photo shoot, I went with my bestie from my teaching days to a barn of another family from my old school district. We didn't notice until the end that I had forgotten to take a snap a picture with my cell phone for Instagram and that I'd managed to hang it with my Lizzie House butterfly upside down. I'm going to blame that on the fun that we were having! You can't tell from the picture, but I had to move some mint plants and the sweet smell wafted in the breeze the entire time. While the wind blew, the corner of the quilt flipped over to show the backside. I mentioned that I'd like to get that shot and the wind promptly quit blowing. My friend offered to flip it over and run out of the shot, so I got the backside of them both. Perfect. I told her that my finger slipped on the shutter button, but in the end I got the shot that I really wanted to. I love quilts and stories and when they intersect it betters them both.

"Jawbreaker" finishes at 96" x 96." I used Quilter's Dream Request batting and quilted it in a crosshatch pattern with Aurifil thread in Dove.

The inspiration for my liberated New York Beauty came in the mail in the form of a free box from Amanda at Stash Builder Box. I was worried a little when she sent me the message asking for my address because I am not one of those people that can come up with the perfectly composed still shot of sewing items and fabric on the cutting mat. I'm just a little past the angry, wadded up pile of lurking scraps stage so that is way beyond me! I replied politely that I mostly just make things and she replied politely that she was sending it anyway. It was fun to work with the six fat eighths that were in the box and even more fun to add more of my own fabric to the mix. If you'd like to see the fabrics that I started with, check out Amanda's blog at Stash Builder Box. The fabrics I used were from the May subscription.

I made this quilt using templates and free piecing. I started out with a sheet of freezer paper and used my 15" square ruler to cut out the block size. Using a pencil I sketched out a quarter circle and some inner rings, then cut them out. Sometimes I used the curve as a guide to see if my improvisational piecing was curving the way I needed it to. Sometimes I did improvisational piecing right on top of the paper. I didn't fuss with points or worry about matching the rings from block to block and I definitely didn't use a compass. I enjoyed the process immensely.

My photo assistant/husband

"Here Comes the Sun" finishes at 40" x 40." I used Quilter's Dream Request batting and quilted it in a crosshatch pattern with Aurifil thread in Dove (can you tell I recently bought a cone of it?).

Finally, I will finish with "Redbud." I had to get my last blog post up on a schedule and did not have time to use up my scraps to make an additional project. After I published, I admit, I secretly wondered if anyone would notice the omission. I'm ashamed to say that I actually considered dumping the bucket full of bits into the solid scrap bin and/or the trash. It was a weak moment, and I AM sorry. Driving to the store one day, though, I passed my favorite part of a major street that we live entire grove of redbud trees in bloom. That specific shade of purple really spoke to the part of my brain that was still thinking in deep reds and melons and I knew that I had found my scrap project. Naturally I had to cut into 7 more purples to get it done, but I used up my scrap bits so it still counts!! I am doubly glad that I made my own little grove because most of those trees were recently cut down to make room for new development. I'm glad I enjoyed them as much as I did for as long as I could and I am gladder still that my little grove is always in bloom.

"Redbud" finishes at 24" x 24." I used quilter's Dream Request batting and quilted it in a matchstick pattern with Aurifil monofilament thread.

Thanks for sticking it out for a long, long (and long overdue) post. I hope you find/have a scrap management solution that works for you and inspires you to create. I had a fun, fulfilling and CHEAP few months as I took advantage of what I already have.

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

Thursday, April 21, 2016

What Shade Are You?

I was honored to be asked to participate in a blog hop featuring Cotton Supreme Solids from RJR Fabrics.

I felt overwhelmed when I opened the envelope from RJR and looked at the color card I had been sent. There were so many beautiful colors that my brain seized up. I could pick any palette I wanted, but WHICH one? After I worried about it for a few minutes, I made a deal with myself that I would open up the color card again and instantly choose the one color that I liked the best for the beginning of the palette. So, I did.

(drumroll please....)


I was pondering what colors to add to Syrah when we visited the little town of West Liberty, Iowa one Saturday afternoon. We went to pick up items from some friends that were moving, then stopped at a fun panaderia for a treat.  After picking out a variety of rolls, cookies and pastries (for $4.50!!!), we drove around looking for a place to eat. We found the beautifully restored Rock Island Depot and I started getting excited. Syrah was everywhere! The building was several tones of gold and was accented with a deep terracotta tiled roof and surrounded by burgundy paving bricks. There was a red caboose out front and an old green wagon parked near a door. While I looked around, my children eagerly tore into the rolls and were surprised to find one filled with a delicious orange sugar paste. They played on the playground and ran back between adventures to cram in another bite of something delicious. The sun was warm, the sky blue, and the day peaceful and pleasant.

Here is a link to some pictures of the Depot if you'd like to take a virtual look around.

I decided to memorialize that wonderful day into a quilt. I ended up choosing 20 colors from the color card (one was even called croissant, how perfect is that?) and piecing in thin strips of several brown shades. I cut each strip at roughly 3/4," so depending on my seam allowance each one of the lines is about 1/4." I'm not sure if the idea for using the brown lines came from thinking about railroad tracks, but I do know that I was looking for a way to help unify all the colors. I had the thought that all of the different color voices were singing the same song, so I named the quilt "Harmony."

 Originally, I had all of the blocks cut at 4 1/2" wide and set vertically. I liked it. I wondered if I could change it up a little bit and turn my like into love. I sliced into blocks I had already made and flipped them over to a horizontal set. That did the trick. I also tried graduating the width of the strips for a little more interest.

 Slicing into the blocks wasn't the only surgery I performed, either. I basted this quilt very early in the morning while it was still dark outside. In my defense, I am normally a very careful baster because I adore flat quilts and generally use solids in my backings (where every pucker is completely visible). When I laid the flimsy on top of the batting, I must have been lining it up with a shadow instead of my tape because the quilt went on completely skewed. Of course I didn't notice this before I trimmed off some of the excess backing fabric. %$#@! At that point there was nothing I could do about it but start over, and that seemed pretty drastic. I started doing the straight line quilting and tried to hope for the best. I had quilted about half of the quilt and was growing more disappointed by the minute. Who wants to feel that way when you've spent so much time piecing the top? That's when I embraced a new quilting maxim.

Once is a mistake. Twice is a design element.

I created another strip of striped fabric and cut away some of the backing fabric in a diagonal that went the opposite way. I carefully attached my new fabric panel and then pressed the unquilted portions obsessively to make sure I preserved my flat finish. Voila! If anyone asks, I totally meant to do it. Just consider my backing to be social commentary on how we are "greater than" our mistakes.

 "Harmony" finishes at 49" x 70." I used Quilter's Dream Request batting and quilted it simply with Aurifil thread in Brass, Copper Brown and Medium Peony.

I knew there would be a giveaway with the fabrics I used in this challenge, and I could just hear the winner saying, "Gosh Jill, thanks SO much for ALL THE BROWN!!" With that in mind, I brought Syrah back out for another go.

I love to listen to music while I sew, so I peruse Spotify a lot looking for great playlists. One day I found the perfect match. The album was called "Feel Good Folk Pop." I'm not a big one for assigning labels to who I am and what I make. I am a quilter. Period. But, I could totally see myself claiming the label of a "Feel Good Folk Pop Quilter." I listened to that album the entire time I worked with this quilt, starting with fabric selection and ending with the last few stitches of the hanging sleeve. The vibe is strong, so you can imagine my despair when I noticed a few days ago that Spotify had changed the name of the album to "Feelgood Acoustics." It just doesn't have the same ring. :-(

I didn't have an overall vision for the quilt when I started, I just knew that I would do a log cabin variation. I used to add so much stress to my life trying to control the outcome of a quilt. Now I know that my strength lies more in responding to a start than in beginning with the ultimate design or a perfected concept. I like the challenge of looking at a pile of scraps from the construction of a block and using them to make the next block. The pineapples I made produced a lot of triangle scraps, so I used them to make flying geese and other triangle drawings. Inspiration sometimes comes in immediacy, too. I opened up my email and saw a message from AQS. In it, they had included a block for the AQS QuiltWeek Row Quilt called Paducah Row (here is a link). I thought it looked neat, so I altered the proportions and made the chubby crosses that are sprinkled across the quilt. Mostly I just sang along with my playlist and made blocks. If I really liked them, I made more variations. If I sort of liked them, I stopped there. I had so much fun experimenting with this quilt. I think you can probably tell that it was a happy experience for me.

I made two important design decisions in this quilt. The first was choosing to quilt with invisible thread. I started considering how to handle the quilting after I saw the huge color contrast I had in the blocks. I auditioned lots of colors, including some exact matches, and was unhappy with all of them. In frustration, I called my friend Sarah who is a longarmer and former art teacher. She talked me through my options and taught me some basic color theory, the gist of which being that I had a quilt full of complementary colors and finding a thread color I could live with would be hard. I was nervous about using invisible thread, but my concerns were unfounded. I found a spool at my LQS (thanks, Cassie!) and bought a pack of tiny 65/9 needles. I didn't have any problems with melting, stretching or popping. Most importantly, though, the colors and piecing were allowed to shine.

The last important decision was choosing to face the quilt rather than bind. I knew the quilt wasn't perfectly square (that's hard to do with a free-pieced quilt if you don't plan on doing some heavy trimming at the end) and I was really reluctant to add a solid line to a quilt top that didn't have any of them. I had never done a facing before, but it wasn't too difficult. I found a tutorial from Victoria Gertenbach that was impeccably done. If you'd like to try a quilt facing, I highly recommend her tutorial at The Silly BooDilly.

"Feel Good Folk Pop" finishes at 49" x 49" (ish). I used Quilter's Dream Request batting and quilted it simply with a combination of Aurifil in Violet and Superior Threads MonoPoly.

Lastly, since this is a blog post about solids, I wanted to say a few words about them. I use solids because they are cheaper, they offer a higher contrast than prints (subtlety really isn't my thing) and because I have a wider array of colors available to me. I noticed in the last year or so that I have been using mostly solids while the rest of my stash sits idle, so I decided to do something about it. Last fall I started destashing some valuable pieces. Between that and a gift certificate I had, I was able to buy 117 half yard cuts of solid fabric. Most of them were Cotton Supreme Solids from RJR. I like building a palette from the fabric itself rather than a color card (although those are nice when it comes time to reorder), and I wanted to increase the amount of choices I had. With that many cuts, you know I wasn't just picking out the colors that I liked or that appealed to me. So many times it is the color that you didn't necessarily want that you end up desperately needing. Those are the colors that are the perfect conversationalists...they talk to all of the fabrics and draw them into the group. In the last series of quilts that I did, that color was On The Rocks. If you look at that grouping, it is the very lightest gray that you see that has the slightest of a cool green tint. It was the perfect "glue" fabric. In "Harmony," the color that lifts that whole quilt (in my opinion) is Gingko, the best green-yellow I have in my stash. Finally, in Feel Good Folk Pop, the color is Denim.This color is a great background player that maintains a presence while making the other colors look good. I'll definitely be reordering yardage of that one.

Thanks again to RJR Fabrics for asking me to be a part of this series. I enjoyed it immensely.

Colors used in "Harmony:" Syrah, Bowood, Bowood Red, Cocoa, Espresso, Noel Red, Bordeaux, Brick Red, Morocco, Yum Yum Yam, Butternut, Saffron, Gingko, Hedge, Goldilocks, Slate, Denim, Gale Force, Mermaid, Kona Cofe, Croissant

Colors used in "Feel Good Folk Pop:" Syrah, Brick Road, Arabian Nights, Tropicana, Cantaloupe, Marvelous, Aubergine, Amethyst, Feeling Blue, Blue Bayou, Mermaid, Denim and Dottie in Gelato from Cotton + Steel

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

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Raw Materials

Right after I finished "Diamond Sky," I started perusing the internet for different quilt shows to enter or challenges to join. I saw that International Quilt Festival in Chicago was coming up and that there was a special challenge to make a quilt that showcased the classic drunkards path block. I decided to play along!

My husband and I took our children to the local Catholic church for a sing-a-long on Christmas Eve and a light went off in my head. There were drunkards path motifs everywhere and so beautifully done! The colors of the paintings and stained glass were sublime. We came back for Christmas Mass and I sat in the pew and drank in the architecture, design, and color work. I went home incredibly inspired and immediately went to my sketchbook to rough out my ideas and to make notes about the colors. I figured that when you are inspired in a church (of all places!!!) that the design has a divine stamp of approval and is destined to work out.

I was wrong.

After I chose a range of colors that reflected the cool tranquility and majesty of the church, I started making improvisationally pieced drunkards path blocks. After I'd made about 100 of them in various sizes, I went on to the sunburst part of my idea and it all went TERRIBLY WRONG. Instead of achieving the perfectly imperfect look that I love so much, I ended up with some really bad looking circles. @#$%&#@!!! Normally I would have kept working on it until I could make a success of the design, but seeing those circles brought up a deeply repressed memory. I put a quilt into the state fair last year that had some free-cut shapes as flower centers. It didn't win any ribbons and when I got the judging form back I could see why. My handwork element had been graded as "poor." I had that quilt spread out on the hood of my car as soon as I got back to the parking lot looking for the flaw in my work. I finally figured out that to the judge's perception, those free-cut flower centers looked like poorly executed circles. Now, beyond needing to enter an applique piece in the state fair this year to defend my honor, I knew I could not make another "I Wasn't Trying to Make a Circle!" quilt. So, I walked away from my original idea and tried to make lemonade with 100 drunkards path blocks.

My dad was a farmer and a maker. To help fuel his creativity and supply our farm with necessary implements, he kept a pile of metal junk behind our shop, though he never called it that. He referred to his collection as “raw materials.” One afternoon I was texting with my brothers and we started reminiscing about dad's scrap heap. That conversation was a key turning point in the evolution of this quilt. I stopped thinking of the units as blocks and instead imagined them as raw materials to draw with. I built improvisational pictures entirely out of drunkards path units. I saw that the quilt needed the addition of darker values and the pictures needed space to breathe, so I added the filmstrip sashing. The little twinkles of gold in the sashing and binding are a homage to the church and the intent of the original quilt design.

The quilt finishes at 50" x 54." I used Warm and Natural batting and Aurifil thread in #1246 (Grey), which is my new favorite color since it reads as more like slate than grey. I quilted a gentle curving line to mimic the curve of the blocks and then echoed that line over the rest of the quilt.

The heart is my favorite!

I had plenty of strips and fabric leftovers from the piecing of "Raw Materials," so in keeping with my new commitment to active and immediate scrap management, I began another quilt.

Recently I entered a major quilt show and all of my entries were rejected. I was feeling a little sorry for myself one morning in the sewing room and staring at a bucket of mostly blue scraps. As luck would have it, the next song that popped up on my playlist was by Johnny Cash. He sang:

"Hey, get rhythm when you get the blues
C'mon get rhythm, when you get the blues
A jumpy rhythm makes you feel so fine
It'll shake all the troubles from your worried mind,
Get rhythm, when you get the blues."

I chose the simple shape of the upward arrow as a reminder of the power of a positive mind and repeated it over and over in black (another nod to Mr. Cash) to create the "jumpy rhythm" he describes. I had intended to scale it in a mini size, but once I had those first pieced strips up on the design wall, I knew that I'd be going bigger. I ended up cutting (lots) more fabric. There went my scrap management plan!

Since these strips were improvisationally pieced and quite long at about 60," I had to employ every strategy I knew to keep this quilt from ruffling. I used up a whole bottle of starch, lots of steam and the cutting techniques I've learned to piece in gentle curves. My cutting table is only a yard long, so I used chalk to mark out the curve that I needed to cut to match each strip. I had my pencil cups holding down the strips to keep them from shifting and used lots of marks to keep everything lined up. It was a challenge. Despite surprising my children by showing up at school to pick them up with a piece of chalk behind my ear and my hair and cheek liberally adorned with white dust, the fact that the quilt is suspended and hanging flat and straight of its own volition is a major victory for me. Hopefully, my kids will forget (or forgive....eventually) the chalk incident.

The quilt finishes at 38" x 58." I used Warm and Natural batting again with the 50 wt. Aurifil in Grey. It is quilted simply with vertical lines.

As I've said before, I enjoy a challenge and I join in on swaps for the chance to make something that I wouldn't normally make. I currently am involved in a pillow swap that was organized by @littleislandquilting and @imasavonasac. This has been a great swap so far because Alison and Sami took so much time determining the perfect partnerships. As a result, my partner and I already followed each other on Instagram. During the making of the previous two quilts, she actively participated and commented on the progress shots so I knew she approved of the palette.  I sandwiched a thin strip of black between scrap strips, then squared the block down to 2.5." Once it was all pieced together, a sweet friend on IG mentioned that the blocks looked like Allsorts (a black licorice candy). That wasn't my plan, but I am now pretending that it was. Thus, the name..."The Allsorts Pillow." Once again, this is quilted with straight lines in Grey Aurifil and has my first hidden zipper! It finishes at a 20" square.

After the pillow, I was down to a container filled with random strips, smallish squares and triangle clippings from "Get Rhythm." At this time, our little family also had a loss. As with the previous times, I've retreated into myself and my sewing room for some therapy. I took great solace in stitching those little bits of nothing into something and pulling myself together again simultaneously. This quilt represents the process of all those things. I called it "Windows" because the making of it helped me look up and out again to what I hope will be a bright, beautiful day.

"Windows" finishes at 38" x 44." It used Quilter's Dream Puff batting and a 40 wt. Aurifil thread in Champagne (pale yellow). It is quilted simply with vertical lines.

Here's a little behind the scene shot that I couldn't resist adding. Sons #1 and #2 are great sports.
So many times in the making of these quilts (and in my life), I had to step back from my preconceptions and do my best to accept and reshape the reality into something I could live with. There is meaning, beauty and blessings to be found in the struggle, even when we pray that the struggle can pass us by. I am thankful for my daily habit of sewing and creating. Slowly it has changed my mindset so I am always looking for the possibilities with optimism and a growing faith in my capabilities. We *can* do hard things.

This week I received some fantastic news. The International Quilt Festival in Chicago accepted all three of my entries for their show. "Raw Materials," "Get Rhythm (When You Get the Blues)," and "Heading West" will all be hanging there April 7-9. Chicago is not that far from our home in Iowa, so we're planning a road trip. It's a relief to not only end February, but to end February on a make. I hope I can see some of you there.

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

Friday, January 8, 2016

Diamond Sky

My two year old daughter has many pastimes, but one of her favorites is to sit on my lap and watch the music clips from Aladdin on YouTube. She watches all of the songs intently, but completely zeroes in on "A Whole New World." Her eyes sparkle, she smiles and she even tries to sing along. There is something about flying, exploring and SEEING on that magic carpet that really captures her attention.

(Princess Jasmine:)
Unbelievable sights
Indescribable feelings
Soaring, tumbling, freewheeling
Through an endless diamond sky
A whole new world!

I've listened to that song a million times, but I never sang along with as much fervor as I did the day after I had a checkup at the doctor's office last month. During the course of a routine set of labs, it was discovered that my thyroid wasn't performing very well. My doctor prescribed me a teeny dosage of thyroid medication and KA-CHOW!!! A whole new world, indeed! Let's just say these quilts look exactly how I feel right now.

I originally chose this color run of 18 fabrics to fulfill the requirements for the Rainbow Mini Swap. I'm not so in love with swaps in general, but I love the challenge of doing something that I wouldn't normally do. This is my first rainbow quilt and I am sorry that it took me so long! Working with these colors was the perfect antidote to winter blahs. This quilt finishes at 12" x 24." I quilted it in a matchstick design with grey Aurifil thread and used a scrap of Quilter's Dream Request for the batting.

I had been considering a different log cabin variation and thought that a making a mini would be a pretty painless way to test it out. I constructed this quilt using a method that I keep coming back to. I made myself a scaled piecing map that I slipped slabs of improvisational piecing into. I've done this in The Lovely Woods, Red Letter Day, Heading West and Tumble. As I've gone along with this process two things have happened--I've gotten a whole lot better about estimating size and my scaled models have gotten smaller. For these quilts, I used blocks of four different sizes: 2.5" squares, 3.5" squares, 2.5" x 3.5" rectangles and 2.5" x 4.5" rectangles. I drew out the whole quilt, colored in my fabric choices, free cut all of my fabric into strips and started building from left to right. After piecing the first small chunk of reds, I discovered that I didn't need to fully complete the last round of background fabrics for every block. I started peeking around at my design wall every time to determine which sides of the rainbow log cabin needed a gray spacer. Not only did this cut down the number of seams on a piece that already had a million of them, it also added to the "soaring, tumbling, freewheeling" effect and disguised the mechanics of my construction seams. You may have to look hard, but there are definitely lots of long straight seams in these quilts!

I was very happy with how the mini worked out, so I expanded my plan to finish one at 18" x 36" to keep. In the smaller version, I had used two different shades of heathered gray for the background. The two-tone effect was very subtle, but still noticeable. I wondered if the difference in the fabrics could be amplified if I concentrated the lighter tone of gray with the lighter log cabin blocks. I think it created a luminescent, shimmery glow in the center, but I'll leave it to you to decide if it was worth the extra bother. I quilted this mini in a straight line design with grey thread and a scrap of Warm and Natural batting. 

I've been struggling with my feelings about my scraps recently. I am careful to save, categorize and store and have been feeling burdened by all of the boxes of fabric scrap stuff that fill up my sewing space. I attempted to actually use my carefully curated collection a couple of different times over Christmas break with uninspiring results. The part of the quilting process that I derive the most pleasure from is the interaction of color. To say that it just didn't do anything for me to start combining random solids together is putting it mildly. So, I challenged myself to use my project scraps to make something/clean up and keep Mt. Saint Scrapmore manageable. I used up every last free cut strip from my basket except for about an 8" strip of the lightest pink. I can live with that. This mini was completely inspired by Nancy Crow. If you also have a lot of strings in your scrap basket and don't feel inspired to use them, I highly recommend her book called Nancy Crow. It isn't an instruction book, just an archive of her quilts. I pretty much have it on permanent check out from my guild's library collection, but I've also seen it in my public library. Look and see if you can find it somewhere as it's definitely worth checking out. This mini finishes at 17" x 17." I quilted it in the ditch with Aurifil thread in dove and used a scrap of Quilter's Dream Wool for the batting.

The weather totally didn't cooperate for my plans on the photo shoot and I was bummed. My neighbors have the most beautifully patterned concrete on their front stoop and I thought it would be a great backdrop for all those rainbow colors to really shine. By the time I got over there, though, a warm snap had started the snow melting, gotten that lovely concrete all wet and completely obscured the pattern. I thought about it all night and was so excited to wake up to a foggy morning and a new idea. I dropped my boys off at school and took my daughter out to the same place where I shot The Lovely Woods. I was able to find a few cooperating branches and used a combination of clothes pins and safety pins to get the shots I needed very quickly. Since coming home I've changed my socks, shoes, pants and shared a cup of hot chocolate with my intrepid assistant. Totally worth it. 

This whole process has been a great reminder to look for the rainbows, the opportunities AND the silver linings. Happy new year!

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