Wednesday, December 15, 2010


I’m cooking with wine tonight to celebrate finishing TWO quilt tops. The first was the Mystery Quilt from American Quilter magazine, which I won’t show here because I have to send the picture in to the magazine after it’s quilted. The second is Danica’s Christmas quilt, hot from under the needle. Here it is:

I used two Moda charm square packs (pre-cut 5” squares), additional fabric purchased in Illinois, Tennessee and Missouri, plus a few pieces from my stash. The center is called “X-Rated,” a Schnibbles pattern by Miss Rosie’s Quilt Co. (But I added 3 more rows and columns.) The little squares are 1½" finished, the rectangles are 4½" x 1½". The center has 525 pieces, for heaven’s sake!

I saw kisses rather than X’s, so I got the idea to add appliqué O’s for hugs. Every time I make a quilt with blocks set on point like this, I swear I will never do it again. My math worked out on this one, however—the setting triangles were all the right size. All would have been well except that I ran out of the dark green fabric in the border and had to piece two of the final sections with scraps. This quilt was a lot of work—I’m not gonna lie….

I have a few more marathon sewing days ahead. I would like to have this quilted by Saturday, but that’s probably optimistic, since I’m still making some Christmas presents, too. And my back hurts, perhaps from sewing, but more likely from carrying my outdoor flowerpots to the compost and dumping out the spent soil and dead plants. So, you see, I really need to cook with wine tonight, and I’m not putting it in the food!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Lucky, lucky day!

My sister and I went antiquing last week in Colorado Springs. I had to restrict myself to items I could bring back to Missouri on the airplane, and I was already loaded up with a few pieces of fabric from quilt shops in Longmont, Colorado, and Laramie, Wyoming! But I had fun shopping with my sister anyway, because she actually BUYS rather than just looks. (She is furnishing a restored log cabin in Manitou Springs.) I brought home two small quilts—an old doll quilt and a 1970s/1980s piece (either a lap quilt or table topper)—not antique, but funky and “vintage.”

This doll quilt had only one small hole and a couple of stains. I swished it in a sink full of detergent and cold water and the stains lightened up considerably. But it was filthy! I rinsed it until the water was no longer brown.
The quiltmaker here was pretty fearless--combining bright red with maroon! It had a Christmas feel, and I was in a Christmas mood, so I bought it.

I’ve been sewing since I got back Monday, trying to finish installment 3 of the mystery quilt from American Quilter magazine. I altered the pattern somewhat, so I’ve been trying to make all the pieces fit in a new arrangement. But I’m not going to post pictures of my quilt top because I hope to meet the January deadline for finishing the quilt. Several quilts will be chosen to appear in the magazine, and naturally I hope mine is one of them. If not, you’ll see it here.

Anyway, I took a break yesterday and went antiquing here in Missouri. I hit my two favorite places (I’m not saying where) and spent $150 on a full-size quilt in perfect condition, three beautiful crib quilts, and a mink stole. No kidding. Lucky day!
This is the hand-quilted full-size quilt--only $45. What a find! I love the composition and the colors. I estimate the two embroidered quilts below to be from the 1940's or 1950's.

The pink and blue in this quilt has more of a modern art vibe than a crib quilt feel. The pattern is certainly unusual and the back is a feedsack.

It’s back to the sewing machine today. I don’t even have to cook tonight—my husband wants to make Julia Child’s chicken fricassee. Go for it, babe! There are blizzard warnings for the northern part of Missouri, and it remains to be seen how the Ozarks will be affected. I have some Christmas presents to finish, so as long as we have power, I’ll be sewing all weekend.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Amish miniatures

It’s been a busy holiday week--cooking, eating, cleaning up, visiting with family, and eating again! We had a thankfully short-lived crisis when my daughter Genevieve had to go into the hospital with a bowel obstruction the Saturday before Thanksgiving. But it resolved itself and she got to come home to enjoy the turkey dinner and all the trimmings. My little granddaughter loved the new bedroom/playroom that my husband and I set up for her, complete with my “Tiny Bubbles” quilt on the wall and a vintage quilt on the bed.

I made it back into the sewing studio for a day to whip up some Amish miniatures—perfect for taking on the airplane with me. Another road trip! This time to Colorado and then Laramie, Wyoming, where my youngest daughter will defend her master’s thesis in creative writing. (And I’ll help her write a resume so she can find a job!)

This pattern appeared in Miniature Quilts magazine in January 2000, and I’ve been making it ever since to give away as gifts. It is only 8 inches square, finished—an ideal size for hand quilting when I travel. Cutting directions:

Row 1: (Center square) Cut one 1 7/8” square

Row 2: (Triangles) Cut two 1 7/8” squares, then cut them in half diagonally for 4 triangles

Row 3: Cut four 1 1/8” x 2 ½” strips AND cut four 1 1/8” squares

Row 4: Cut two 1 3/8” x 3 ¾” strips AND cut two 1 3/8” x 5 ½” strips

Row 5: Cut two 1 ¾” x 5 ½” strips AND cut two 1 ¾” x 8” strips

When I give away these little quilts, I always put a nice label on the back that says something like “A Little Amish Sunshine—a miniature quilt made for you by….” In other words, I put too much work into this for it to be mistaken for a potholder! Anyway, I think most people who have received one of these little quilts from me have liked it enough to hang on a wall somewhere and enjoy the colors. I certainly like to make them.

Friday, November 19, 2010

What was I thinking?

525 pieces later, I can only ask myself—What was I thinking?!! I’ve been working off and on for two weeks—TWO WEEKS—putting together the center of a Christmas quilt for my granddaughter, Danica. And there have been so many interruptions—the roofers finally came to fix a skylight, I had to clean out and reorganize my closet before I tripped one more time over suitcases and summer sandals, the car had to be serviced, there was the church bazaar, and on and on, or so it seems. But really, the thing about this quilt that has taken so long is just the sheer number of pieces. No strip piecing here; each piece was individually cut, placed and sewn. The center of the quilt:

I guess I DO know how this started…. Last month when I was at the Main Street Quilt Co. in Shelbyville, Illinois, I fell for “X-Rated,” a little Schnibbles pattern by Miss Rosie’s Quilt Co. This pattern was specifically developed to use charm squares. The pieces are cut 2 inches by 5 inches, and 2 inches by 2 inches, making a 4 ½-inch finished square. These X’s looked more like kisses to me, so I had the idea of adding some O’s and making a Christmas kisses and hugs quilt.

I also bought two Moda charm packs—one called “12 days of Christmas” and one called “Bliss.” The colors are what I would call “new” for Christmas—apple green, light red, and turquoise blue. To avoid the matchy-matchy look, I added more traditional Christmas fabrics in darker reds, greens, and even a dark turquoise, and a white-on-white dot for the background. I almost reconsidered using this crazy mix of reds and greens of different shades (with pink, even), but I did it anyway. It really is true that the more fabrics you use, the less important any one of them seems.

It wasn’t very much fun to sew all these tiny pieces, to tell the truth, but I do love the finished product. I stopped at 9 rows of 9 X’s. I was going a little crazy and I could see this quilt was going to end up like an accordion—seams expanding and contracting—if I continued! This center measures 39 ½ inches, or 40 if I really smooth it out, so now I am faced with squaring it up and adding the border. The first row will stabilize and square it up, then I can add more X’s and the appliqué O’s that I have planned. I do love to machine appliqué.

And I just opened up the cover of the pattern and saw this written in pencil inside:

I hope tat u havv fun maceng mi kwelt Felse
(I hope that you have fun making my quilt, Feltsey)

Oh yeah—that’s what I was thinking. That’s why I sewed these 525 pieces! Danica is coming to my house on Sunday, and I sure would like to have the top ready to show her by then. I’ll be sewing like crazy for the next few days, before I have to start all the turkey business ….

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Happy Liversary!

Today is the one-year anniversary of my daughter Genevieve's liver transplant. Read her blog at It has been a long year of recovery. Our family is thankful beyond words to the donor who made that gift of life possible. Sign your organ donor card, folks. It saves lives, and my daughter is one of them. We are so thankful to have Genevieve in the world.

The last few days I have been cooking for my middle daughter, Anne, who is home for a little TLC from Mom--and to use my washing machine because hers broke! I'm sending her home with a small quilted project--a Christmas wall hanging. This one is traced from a pattern with a Sharpie on muslin and colored in with crayons. I added borders and a little hand and machine quilting.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A quick post

Just a quick post to let you know I’m still here! I had a very nice road trip to Illinois, but now I’m in Tennessee helping my daughter Genevieve get off morphine. She is almost one year post-liver transplant, so this is a big milestone for all of us. (The anniversary is Nov. 11.) She has gone from being curled up in a ball, shaking, to trick-or-treating a block or two with Danica on Sunday. It’s up and down, day-to-day, but the road is headed upwards, not down.

Jackie asked me to post a picture of the scarf I made with 20 inches of different fabric at one end. Here it is:

I have been sewing a little for Danica, who asked me to make her a Christmas quilt and is "helping" me. These little pieces are only 2 inches square, so it has taken a while. I am determined to finish this one quickly. Good thing I'm not aiming for bed-size, though!

And finally, Danica the pteranodon who wants a Christmas quilt:

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Making scarves

I had only a little time to sew last weekend, and so I dusted off my serger and made scarves. I cut 4 strips lengthwise of that beautiful red silk dupioni I bought in Des Moines, seamed two pieces together with a French seam, then serged the long edges and frayed the short edges. I also embellished the short edge of each scarf with frayed-edge squares cut from my new Cherrywood hand-dyed cotton, above.

I cut up some of the Liberty of London prints I’ve been saving, too. I made a couple of scarves out of each piece of fabric, cut 16 inches by 72-80 inches (with a seam in the middle), above. Then I came up with a variation: the last 20 inches at one end of each scarf is a different fabric. This variation looked really good when doubled up and worn around the neck with the loose ends pulled through the loop. It gave the impression of two scarves because you could see both fabrics—one around the neck and one hanging through the loop. I also experimented with “crinkling” the Liberty prints, which are finer than the usual quilting cottons but not as thin as a cotton gauze. I wet the scarf, blotted it dry in a towel, then twisted it up, allowing it to dry like that. I got a compliment on my crinkled scarf when I wore it Monday, a sign of success!

Coming up for Feltsey: Road trip to the family farm in Altamont, Illinois. My sister and I plan to search a few cemeteries for ancestors’ gravestones. (All the women were accomplished quilters, of course. Well, my own grandmother certainly was, anyway, and she got it from somewhere.) Looks like there are quilt shops in Shelbyville and Effingham. I make miniature Amish quilts for gifts, and I need to find some dark Amish colors. Shelbyville may be the place ….

Friday, October 15, 2010

Wedding dream

I’m sitting on my very pleasant porch, enjoying the welcome combination of cool air and sunshine, watching the manic squirrels chase each other up the trees, and wondering why we dream what we dream. My dreams are usually collections—bits and pieces—of things that happen to me during the day, plus a little fear and frustration thrown in. Sometimes a dream solves a problem for me or gives me an idea, but more often I have a recurring dream that I’m trying to go somewhere but I can’t get there. I had this dream frequently when I was teaching, since I was tired and stressed most of the time and was always afraid I would oversleep my alarm and be late for school. (This never happened.)

I had a version of this dream the other night about the wedding I’m planning for my youngest daughter, Libby, next September. It will be at my sister’s ranch in southern Colorado. Wedding plans are well under way, but there’s not much for me to do right now here in Missouri. I’ve been hard at work on my lone star quilt, and I’ve been calling it Ranch Wedding because the lone star always reminds me of Texas, which reminds me of cows, cowboys, and ranches. Plus, the colors are joyful like I know Libby’s wedding will be, the flowered fabric is pretty, and the brown and red paisley fabric in the center of the star and in the border looks kind of ranch-y.

So, one evening after a day of sewing I asked my husband, “What time IS it, anyway?” One clock said 9:00 and the other said 10:00. Don’t ask me how that happened. That night I had this dream: Everyone in the entire family, including my married daughters, their husbands, and my granddaughter, was milling around my house (not the ranch), talking. Suddenly I said, “What time is it?” It was 6:00 and the wedding was at 7:00! “We have to be there in 10 minutes, and we still have to eat and get dressed,” I said. General panic. I sprang into action and said I would get Danica dressed and everyone else should help Libby. Then I woke up.

Strangely, Libby had a wedding dream that night, too. She dreamed that we had forgotten to set the time of the ceremony, and everyone was at my house (not the ranch), wondering what to do. Crazy.

I suppose my hours working on the Ranch Wedding quilt have focused my subconscious mind on the real ranch wedding. It will be wonderful and we won’t have any crazy last-minute panic, I know. But I bet I keep dreaming about it for the next 11 months.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

New products

The vendors at the Des Moines quilt show were marvelous--and numerous. I tried out new Bernina machines because mine is over 20 years old, after all, and I really should update once in a while. I wanted to get the feel of using a machine with a stitch regulator for free-motion quilting. Everyone says it’s great. But I concluded that I do just as well or better without the regulator—I don’t think I really need it. I’ve been free-motion quilting for a long time. I saw the super-top-of-the-line $12,000 machine (on special during the show for $10,000, ha ha) which has a longer arm and can embroider anything you can think up. Absolutely perfect machine quilting done by computer doesn’t appeal to me, though. So, despite the other things I purchased, this trip to Des Moines really SAVED me a lot of money, since I concluded that I don’t need a new sewing machine after all. (Are you reading this, honey?)

I decided to focus my dollars on items that I can’t find in quilt shops. I tried out and bought a “Supreme Slider” and “Quilt Halo,” above. The slider is a white Teflon sheet you place on your work surface to make free-motion work glide easily under the needle. The halo is an embroidery hoop that’s heavy, so you set it on top of your work. I have never liked using a traditional hoop, but this one moves quickly as you work, so I’ll give it a try.

I also bought two pieces of hand-dyed silk dupioni, on the left above, and some kitty cat batik blocks. That red piece of silk brought me out of the aisle and into the booth. It is too pretty to cut up (well, almost—I made some scarves today), as is the panel of fabric from the African Ashoke tribe, below, which I bought at the Yara African Fabrics booth. Go to to see some beautiful, authentic African fabric at reasonable prices.

And finally, I visited the Cherrywood Fabrics booth THREE times. Go to I HAD to go back once to get some blues and another time for light colors. These hand-dyed pieces are cotton but look like suede, and the colors are rich and saturated, below. Actually, I bought more than these three pieces, but you can see the marvelous texture in these very well. Cherrywood fabrics are sold only at quilt shows and online and are very affordable for hand-dyed fabric—$13 a yard. I was almost completely out of solid-look hand-dyed fabrics, so this is a welcome addition to my stash.

I came home from the show with dozens—hundreds—of quilt ideas. I’ve been so intent on working on my lone star quilt (working title: Ranch Wedding) that I actually had a dream about Libby’s wedding already—11 months in advance. Turns out she had much the same dream…

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Trip to Des Moines

Back from a great road trip to Des Moines to the American Quilter’s Society quilt show. I love road trips, especially when they involve quilts and fabric. I took two classes in Des Moines—one on “Quilting Outside the Box” with Diane Gloystein, who works for the Sulky thread company, and one called “Love That Lone Star” with Jan Krentz.

In “Quilting Outside the Box,” we played with decorative machine stitches on fancy fabrics to make the two small panels on the right. Diane showed us how to edge the project with silk cord (attach it with a zigzag stitch) for a small wall hanging. It was fun to play around with machine and thread without a big commitment of time and materials. The lone star class lasted all day, but I only finished ONE of the eight diamond points of my star, on the left.

I learned a lot, however, about precision piecing, and this is No. 1: Make SURE you are sewing a SCANT quarter-inch seam! I had a lot of trouble piecing on the machines provided in the class—very nice machines, but not my trusty old Bernina. Jan Krentz was a great teacher, and although I read her book Lone Star Quilts and Beyond before the class, she had extra tips to give us that were not in the book. And since the lone star is not an easy pattern, I think taking the class gave me enough courage to tackle it. I spent two full days in my sewing studio when I got home and finished my star and the setting blocks, below.

Originally I planned to feature blue flowers centered in 4 setting squares, and red flowers centered in the other 4. But the flowers are not quite large enough to do that—I got red and blue in every square. So I fussy-cut all the squares exactly alike to maximize the use of blue and yellow—and pretty much destroyed 3 yards of fabric in the process. (Oh well—that’s what it’s for.) I like the way it turned out. I think the setting squares kind of create a wreath of flowers around the star.

The next step is to make the trapezoid border pieces, but I want to add a narrow blue band of color all around the setting squares. This is going to be a bit complicated!

AND--Quilt Stories was named  "Blog of the Week" last Friday on the AQS Facebook page. Hurray! Thanks for reading.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Fun with purses

My daughter Anne and I made a purse/tote bag this morning from the book Carefree Clothes for Girls by Junko Okawa. (Which should be named Carefree Clothes Plus Other Things…. There is also a very cute idea for a scarf in this book that I want to try.) Anne was the “sous chef” or assistant, so it only took us 2 hours from cut-out to competed project. We used old pieces of linen from my scrap stash and embellished the bag with doilies from the crafts section at Walmart. We cut two 14½ by 18 ½-inch rectangles for the bag, plus two more for lining, and 2 pieces for the handle measuring 4 by 35 inches. I added batting to the bag and handle, which the pattern did not call for. I roughly quilted the batting to the outer bag, then sewed on the doilies before sewng the sides and top together. The pattern called for leaving the handle edges raw, so that’s what we did for a very “shabby chic” look.

This afternoon I made a second bag for a gift, leaving the top with raw edges, as well as the handle. This is in purple linen, an ancient item from my stash, and new fabric for the raw-edge appliqué and lining. Turned out quite cute, don’t you think?

The “leather” tab closures are actually two pieces of Ultrasuede scraps fused together with Misty Fuse. Buttonholes are a piece of cake to make on Ultrasuede because it doesn’t ravel. Just sew a tiny rectangle the length of your button and cut out the center with a buttonhole cutter if you have one. You set the buttonhole on the tiny block of wood, then punch straight through the cloth with the very sharp cutter.

Now I’m packing class supplies for the American Quilters Society quilt show in Des Moines. Sewing machines are provided for us, so I “only” have to take fabric, thread, rulers, cutting board, rotary cutter, iron, needles, etc., etc.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Lone Star

Oooh! October already! I’ve been busy this week getting my materials ready for the Lone Star class I’m taking next week at the AQS quilt show in Des Moines. Last Saturday I bought the large-format (8 x 10 inches) hinged mirrors that are required, and I played with them for hours. What a lot of fun! I designed one-eighth of my Lone Star quilt in miniature, below.

Then I used the mirrors to see how the entire Lone Star will look when it is finished, below. Obviously, the flowers will be whole, but you can get a good idea of how the colors in the star will radiate out from the center. The large flower print, which you cannot get a good look at in this miniature format, has yellow, green, red and blue in it, which is why my Lone Star features those colors. I plan to fussy-cut the large flower squares to emphasize the green, yellow and blue.

Finally, I used the mirrors on the fabric to pick out a motif for the center of the star, and I fussy-cut the eight diamonds. Here is what I came up with:

I hope to get further advice on the border design from the Lone Star class teacher, Jan Krentz, next week. I bought her book, Lone Star Quilts and Beyond, and I’m so excited to try out her techniques. All my fabric strips are cut and ready to go to Des Moines. I've never made a Lone Star before, and I can't think of a quilt I've made that uses the diamond shape. So this will be something new for me.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Antique quilt

I went antique shopping last weekend in Benton, Illinois, and came home with a treasure. I found this quilt for $70. It is perfect except for two small stained spots—there are no holes, rips, or frayed fabrics. The blocks are unusual because the pieces are dimensional—slightly puffy—and all the blocks match exactly, and the fabrics are the same quality. It seems as though the fabrics were purchased at the same time with the intent of making this quilt. It is all hand quilted (although the quilting stitches are not especially fine) and the edge is finished in a double line of black perle cotton topstitching, which matches the stitches on the flower centers. The back is an off-white muslin of a coarser quality than the fabrics in the top and is folded over to the front for the binding.

I estimate the date to be 1920 to 1950, probably 1930s. I hesitate to wash it because there are still some pencil marks visible, but I also hate to bring anything into my house that is NOT washed. (Dust mites? Bed bugs? Years of dirt? Yuck ….) I am pretty confident I can hand wash it in the bathtub to get out the dust, at least. I am going to a quilt show in Springfield, Missouri, tomorrow, and I think I’ll put the quilt in the car. There is supposed to be a quilt appraiser there, and if she has a time slot available, I’ll have her appraise it and get her advice.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Garden color

My daughter’s rose bush is still blooming, and her dahlias are starting to come out. Once again, Mother Nature provides color inspiration—who says neon green and maroon red don’t go together? I just love the dahlia!

Well, I’m off! I’m leaving my daughter with a clean house, a full refrigerator, and no dirty laundry. (And a child who needs a new hairdo.) First stop: Paducah to visit the National Quilt Museum, which does not allow photographs—sorry. There also will be a brief interlude at Hancock’s of Paducah—quilter’s heaven. I’m taking a Lone Star class at the AQS quilt show in Des Moines, and I’m anxious to choose my fabrics.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Scissors incident

Danica was supposed to be down for a nap, but Genevieve discovered her upstairs--with my sewing scissors. She cut the side off a bedsheet, a string off of something (we haven't figured out what yet), the top off of my plastic laundry bag, and her hair. Genevieve did the same thing at about Danica's age.

4 panels finished

I managed to finish all 4 panels of my Yellow Potpourri quilt, but they aren’t sewn together yet. I need to take the panels back to my sewing studio, measure, and trim to make sure they are straight. This quilt is shown as long and narrow (3 panels) in Simple Shapes Spectacular Quilts (69 x 102 inches), but I wanted it to fit on the top of a double bed, so I added a 4th panel, a mirror image of the first. Each panel is 18 inches wide, and I will add 15 inches of border, so my quilt will be 87 inches wide. Here are the panels on top of a double bed.

This quilt was very easy to make, although I struggled with keeping accurate ¼-inch seams because of the sewing machine I used. (That’s why I want to measure the width up and down each panel.) It was a lot of fun to lay out the squares and watch the yellows, oranges, reds, and pinks swirl and blend. I'm thinking of doing this one again, only in mostly orange!

Genevieve paid me a nice compliment when she saw this top. She said she likes my quilts because they “look modern.”

Saturday, September 11, 2010


I’ve spent two very enjoyable Saturdays at a sort of “sit-and-sew” at the Stitchery Quilt Shoppe in Dyersburg, Tennessee. Owners Linda and Danny McCulloch have graciously allowed me to join a group of quilters who come in on Saturdays to work on various projects. I’m sorry I won’t be here to take a class at the shop, but I sure have enjoyed the company and inspiration they’ve provided to me while I’ve been away from home. I love to see what other quilters are working on, discuss their projects with them, and get input on mine. I found a new product—the Sewline Fabric Pencil. It is a fine-line mechanical pencil that comes in several colors and is erasable and washable. Made in Japan, a country with some very fine quilters. And what a treat to watch the shop's huge Gammill longarm quilting machine at work. I am going to try to finish my Yellow Potpourri top before I go home so I can leave it there to be quilted.

Speaking of inspiration, here in Dyersburg the schools have a “Fair Day” holiday so everyone can go to the Dyer County Fair, which is just what I did with Danica on Friday. The carnival was so colorful—pink, yellow, and blue—and chaotic. Every school child in the county must have been there.

Danica and I arrived just after the fair opened and stayed for three hours--until it poured rain on us. I had raincoats at the ready. Danica sure loved the rides, and she was a very well-behaved child--even said "gracias" to one of the carnival workers. We had soft hamburgers, cold french fries, and decent lemonade for lunch; rode all the rides she was big enough to get on by herself; went to the petting zoo; and bought $4.00 cotton candy. As carnivals go, it was a nice one. I drove home in a pouring rainstorm, gave Danica a bath, and put her down for a nap. A great time.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


At my daughter’s house, away from my sewing studio—and my Bernina—all week. I brought along a sack of yellow fabric I’ve been collecting for three months, and I cut 3-, 6-, and 9-inch squares for the Yellow Potpourri quilt from Simple Shapes Spectacular Quilts. I was anxious to start on this one because the fabrics are SO pretty! I’ve never made a yellow quilt before, and I actually have a yellow bedroom to put it in. (Actually, the walls kind of look like aged tan parchment paper.) I figured that since the square is the simplest of shapes, I could put this together even without my own equipment.

Well, it hasn’t been easy. I suppose it’s good to be reminded how lucky I am to have a nice Bernina (even if it is old), and a sewing studio with a design wall. Here, I’ve been using a double bed with a fuzzy brown blanket, below, for my design surface.

And I’ve been sewing on my daughter’s FREE sewing machine. Yes, she got it for free from someone who inherited it and never used it. It was purchased at a major discount retailer—no, THE major discount retailer—and was new in the box. I was pleasantly surprised at the decent stitch quality, but it sure is difficult to use. How sorry I am that I didn’t bring a machine with me! I have a Singer Featherweight—surely I could have fit that in. Now I know why so many people get frustrated when they sew. It’s because they have to do it on cheap machines. It’s just not fun when it is physically impossible to sew an accurate seam on the machine you’re using. But I am plowing ahead .... As I feed the fabric under the needle, I’ve been holding it down with a pin and pushing it in toward the presser foot on the left. The feed dogs just work poorly and pull to the left. The picture below shows the edge of one block, and I can assure you this is not how I usually sew!

So after sewing on this thing for a few days, I offer to you the following list: “Top Ten most annoying things about cheap sewing machines.” Please make comments and offer your own additions.

1. Small work surface.
2. Poor lighting.
3. No specialized presser feet.
4. Cannot choose the needle stop position (up or down).
5. Presser foot lift lever in an awkward position.
6. Reverse in an awkward position.
7. Feed dogs feed fabric poorly. This machine actually pulls to one side.
8. Motor grinds and stalls.
9. Speed difficult to regulate.
10. I have to live with the knowledge that the back of my quilt top is definitely not as nice as the front!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Here we go again ...

This week my cancer-survivor, transplanted-liver daughter had to go into “the big house,” as she calls it (the hospital) for IV fluids. Genevieve got some sort of virus and quickly got dehydrated. So I have moved in with her in Tennessee, again, so I can take care of her, get my granddaughter to preschool every day, fix dinner, do the laundry, clean house, etc., etc. I filled my Prius with 7 BIG boxes of glass vases to take to my sister in Southern Illinois—to be used for table decorations for my niece’s wedding. (If I’m on the road, better make it a good trip, right?) I also stuffed in the new walking/jogging stroller I bought to take my granddaughter for a walk, plus a big stack of fabric. I had to shut the back door fast to keep my suitcase from falling out, and I actually could see out the back window over the boxes. BUT I HAD TO LEAVE MY SEWING MACHINE AT HOME!! Horrors.

Well, Genevieve does have a machine. Nothing fancy, but it can sew pieces together. I will try to get her motivated to help make a quilt top for her dear friend who has MS—and possibly feels even worse than Genevieve does. And I have a couple of pieces of fabric that would be darling as a dress for my granddaughter. We'll see what I can do.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Sewing for 50 years!

I sewed all day on Saturday—my birthday—and my husband made me steak au poivre, a peppery steak with brandy sauce. We drank good red wine, and it was a great day.

A friend wished me happy birthday on my Facebook page, writing, “Only two more years until the big one!” (She means 60.) After thinking about that a bit (only two more years and I’ll reach another decade…), I decided that after the year I’ve had, every birthday is “a big one.” In the past year, my daughter had a liver transplant and has struggled with chemotherapy and getting off steroids and morphine. Then I resigned from my job as an English teacher in a dispute over personal leave time. Life is fragile and things can change fast. Everybody knows that, but the reminders can be hard to take.

I also thought about how many years I’ve been sewing—at least 50! Here is a picture of one of my most prized possessions—the first quilt I ever made. My grandmother saved it, and my father found it and gave it to me after her death.
I was probably about 7 or 8 when I made this. It is about 11 inches “square,” made of 1½-inch pieces stitched together by hand. I can see the big stitches in the seams. My grandmother quilted it in diagonal lines using her treadle sewing machine, and bound it. I remember playing dolls with it. To this day, I love to use reproduction fabrics from the 1930s through the ‘50s. They make me happy and bring back memories.

So, I’ve been sewing for 50 years. I became a serious quilter in 1995 after years of sewing garments, gifts, and items for my home. By 1997 I was all in—a serious quilter. As my daughters became teenagers, there was no more need for cute little appliquéd jumpers, and quilting definitely satisfied my need to be creative. But when I began teaching in 2001, I almost stopped sewing altogether as I worked on an online master’s degree and teacher certification. And I always had a stack of compositions to grade. Had I been in the classroom this year, I would have had 150 students, an overwhelming load for an English teacher. Now I am “retired,” and after 50 years of sewing, I get to “reinvent myself,” as my sister says. I am sewing every day.

During the last several years, I became frustrated when I couldn’t get into my sewing room—too many papers to grade, lessons to prepare. When I wanted to sew but didn’t have much time, I would make a few log cabin blocks from my reproduction fabrics, and that would make me happy for a little while. I put together the start of two different quilt tops, shown below, but I never finished anything. I just stashed away the blocks for a project—someday.

This weekend, I “unsewed” these blocks, added another row to the smaller blocks, made 12 more, and now have 178 blocks ready to go for two twin-size quilts. My inspiration is the rectangle shape and Kaffe Fassett’s Target Log Cabin quilt in his book Simple Shapes Spectacular Quilts. But why start over when I already have log cabin blocks in the fabrics that make me happy? Just look at this lovely stack of blocks!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Mystery quilt II

Choosing fabrics for this mystery quilt was difficult. I started with the “inspiration fabric” you saw in yesterday’s photo, then followed the directions and tried to choose a range of light to very dark fabrics. This took more time than anything else. I rejected numerous fabrics until I got a combination (including pink, green and yellow) that I hope will work. I won’t know if I chose wisely until it’s all over. My choices include one sort of “ugly” fabric, which is one of my favorite little quilting tricks. Sometimes the ugly duckling reads as a neutral and makes all the other fabrics work better together.

Part 1 directions included cutting out ALL the pieces for the entire quilt, which took a whole day. I carefully stored the pieces in labeled plastic bags. Making the four blocks took another day. That was a lot of fun, because I could begin to see bits of the mystery quilt unfold. My four finished blocks from Part 1 are below, and I’m happy with the result. The star points look black in the photo, but that fabric is actually a deep maroon and black swirl. See if you can pick out the “ugly” fabric.

Now, after all that work, I have to pack the pieces away, try to forget about them, and wait for the next issue of American Quilter, which doesn’t come out until Sept. 15. To join the American Quilter’s Society and get the magazine, go to

Now it’s back to my Simple Shapes project! I have a UFO with rectangles—the log cabin block. Actually, I have A LOT of log cabin blocks, and it’s time they came together.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Mystery quilt I

This week I finished Part 1 of the mystery quilt featured in the latest issue of American Quilter magazine. When you make a mystery quilt, you choose your fabric and follow directions without knowing how the finished quilt will look. This quilt seemed challenging and I had some pretty new fabric, so I jumped in. The fabric that inspired me is at the left below; on the right is a chart of the 12 fabrics I chose—dark, medium, and light according to the directions. (More about fabric choice tomorrow.)

The first step was to make 7 focus blocks, 4 to be set straight and 3 on point. I thought my fabric looked like aspen leaves (I had just been to Colorado), so I designed blocks with aspen leaves of various sizes, which I planned to appliqué to the background. But I just couldn’t resolve the aspen leaf theme with the pink in the fabric. Then Danica, my granddaughter who will be 5 in December, told me she wanted a quilt with pink butterflies on it. That did it. I redesigned the blocks. Where there are butterflies, there are flowers, of course, so I had a great time appliquéing butterflies, flowers and leaves. I thread-painted in a few details.

I use Steam-a-Seam 2 for appliqué. First I fuse it to the fabric, then draw the shapes on the paper-covered backing with the aid of a light box. (Yes, we have a light box. My husband bought it to view photo slides, but I think I use it more for tracing patterns on fabric. You can also tape your pattern and fabric to a sunny window. That method works just as well—the pattern shows right through, backlit by bright sunlight.) I cut out my butterflies and flowers, then removed the paper backing and fused them to the background squares. See my appliqué shapes below.

I used a satin stitch for the appliqué, stabilizing the block with Stitch & Tear on the back. When I painted in the details with thread, I used Sulky brand water-soluble stabilizer on top and a wash-away foundation paper on the back. I had to soak the blocks in warm water to get all that stuff out. They looked a little bedraggled, but when dried, ironed, and trimmed, they turned out just fine. My 7 finished focus blocks are below.

Tomorrow: The four finished blocks from Part 1.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Gypsy baby quilt

I finished another layette quilt for my guild’s “10,000 inches” project. This quilt looks like it could have been made for a gypsy baby—it is wild and colorful! It is an Unfinished Object—a UFO in quilter parlance. In 2002 I made two small quilt tops in response to a guild challenge to use stripes. I finished one, but this one has been sitting in a box and in the back of my mind ever since. I am glad to finally complete it, and I hope it makes some mother and baby very happy. Maybe I will see it again someday, wrapped around a baby at the grocery store.

For the batting, I zig-zagged two small pieces together, and I also pieced the backing. I really like using up those odds and ends. I even used pink binding left over from another project. This quilt is 33 by 36 inches, for a perimeter total of 138 inches toward my guild’s goal.

Tomorrow I hope to have pictures of my current project—part 1 of the mystery quilt that appeared in the last issue of American Quilter magazine. I’ve spent a lot of time on it!