Top of the morning…

I’ve got mixed feelings about pre-cuts. Initially I thought they limited creativity, in the same way that I sometimes think lines of fabric do—everything seems to be thought out for you and there’s not a lot of challenge. But I’ve found that they can be just the thing to kick-start some original thinking. A while back I made a quilt with pre-cuts and it sparked my creation of a quilt without a pattern. That might not seem like much to some of you whose brains think in blocks, but I was quite pleased with myself, as that’s not how my head works.

This morning I got up and started thinking about an upcoming wedding. I wanted to give something personal, but to be honest I wasn’t looking to create an heirloom. I knew earth colors would appeal to the bride-to-be, and I remembered a layer cake of Deb Strain Cherish Nature fabrics I’d picked up a year or two ago. The colors and images were perfect, and so I made a simple quilt of just squares.

It turned out to be a completely satisfying way to spend a few hours. Laying the fabrics out to distribute lights and darks took nearly as long as sewing them together. Just like last weekend, I was reminded how much I enjoy being in my sewing room, listening to great Saturday programming on NPR (Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me, This American Life, The Splendid Table…a total treat, one right after the other), watching Pearl look out the window, listening to the rain. This top and the one I made last weekend were both speedy, but both reminded me of the pleasures of sewing, inspiring me to think about making quilts of more complexity and challenge when I have the time.

For our 25th anniversary, a former neighbor stitched for us a very simple quilt. She made it extra long so that it would cover Paul (who is 6’5″). We still use it, nearly 10 years later, and love it. I wasn’t a quilter at the time, but I was so touched by the the time and thought that went into it. There is a time and place for the quilt police, and for blue-ribbon quality quilts, but I’m a true believer in every kind of sewing and quilting, even if the outcome isn’t something that will wind up in the quilt history books. The pleasures of making, and giving, and hopefully of receiving, are more than enough.

Pieceful Saturday

It’s been a long time since I worked on a quilt top. But Saturday Sondra and I got together to sew matching quilts for our friend Anne (STOP READING RIGHT NOW, ANNE!) who is having twin boys in October. Sondra had a baby last October and it was the first time she’d done any sewing, as well. She has a fabulous studio space in the upstairs of her house, with a view of the fields beyond and back-to-back desks where we set up our machines, spread out our fabric, and sewed, chatted, and ate the wonderful caprese pizza (with homegrown tomatoes) and brownies she’d made.

We used Carolina Patchworks Mod Pod pattern, which turned out to be speedy and satisfying. We modified it slightly to make it more appropriately baby-sized. The center blocks are Andover fat quarters in truly adorable nautical designs—bubbles, starfish and squid, life rings, and schools of fish (Snorkel by Cosmo Cricket). Sondra’s were in a green colorway and mine were blue, so we choose a Valori Wells print in green and blue to go with them. We each used the same orange for the second set of vertical “frames” (originally it was going to be red, but we decided to save the red for the binding) and are very happy with the outcome.

The weather was gorgeous, so the drive up was lovely—fields starting to turn golden, monarch butterflies flitting along the highway, blue skies with puffy, white clouds—and it was great to hang out with Sondra. Since I left work I haven’t seen her much and we had lots to catch up on. It’s always so funny when I stop and think that Sondra is just a wee bit older than my eldest daughter, because when we’re together I never notice that age difference.

Sewing was fun, but at the end of the day her adorable daughter Emily came home and happily let me hold her. Such a sweet thing. I couldn’t help crawling around on the floor with her a bit before I got back in my car and headed for home.

Sewing with friends is the best!

Punching the time clock…

My Etsy story about the Bily Clock Museum went up today. Going to Spillville to do research and shoot photos for the story ended up being just one stop on a 36-hour getaway. It’s kind of amazing how much you can do in such a short, in Iowa, no less. (And no, I’m not getting any kickbacks from the Iowa Tourism Bureau. But as a former Californian, I do like to let people know that there is more to Iowa than corn and pigs.)

There are trips that you take where you’re in a hurry to get somewhere—most of them, to be honest—and then there are those trips where you enjoy the journey and stop to see whatever might interest you along the way. Ironic to throw adherence to a schedule to the wind when we were going to a museum dedicated to timepieces…

Cedar Rock

We stopped first at Cedar Rock, the Frank Lloyd Wright house in Quasqueton (known as Quaskie to the natives). I loved it. A very peaceful and private location with a view of the Wapsipinicon River. Wright took perfect advantage of the site and the views. This house seemed much more livable to me than many of his I’ve seen.

We stayed the night in Decorah, a lovely Norwegian town, at the Hotel Winneshiek and had a great dinner out-of-doors at a place our friend Sonya told us about, McCaffrey’s Dolce Vita.

Parade of Nations Clock

The next morning we headed for Spillville and the clocks. The museum is small and run on a shoestring, but well worth seeing. The clocks are truly are so varied and it’s wonderful to hear the chimes and music boxes and see the figures animate.

Each docent has a slightly different spin on the Bily’s story—one told me that they created the clocks for the pleasure of their disabled brother and that’s why so many of them sat on the floor, so that he could enjoy them from his wheelchair. Another docent told me their love of their sister was their motivation.

Bily Brothers tools and carvings

Whatever the reason, they were so committed to their work. (These are some of their tools, many of which were handmade, that are displayed in the center of the clock room at the museum.)

Pioneer History Clock
Galileo: a detail on the Parade of Nations clock
I especially loved that they put so many hours into the research for their clocks: upstairs in the museum is a quirky collection of Bily memorabilia, including their books. They had quite a wide-ranging library for men whose education ended in the fifth grade, and they used those books and daily newspapers to research the background for their clocks.
Down the street from the museum, Spillville’s Catholic church has an incredible graveyard—instead of headstones, the graves are marked by metal crosses. I’m assuming this is a Czech tradition. During the 1800s, most of Spillville’s residents spoke Czech, which is part of why Dvorak chose to spend a summer there. The church itself has the pipe organ that Dvorak played when he lived there.
In addition to clocks, the Bily Brothers carved two “models” which were each about four feet by two feet carvings of churches. One of them was the Little Brown Church in Nashua, Iowa, which is 40 miles away from Spillville. Because the brothers never traveled farther than 35 miles from home, they carved it from the image on a postcard! The other model was “The Smallest Church in the World,” and on our way home we passed a sign for it and couldn’t resist turning off to visit. The church and the clocks were such interesting examples of what (quirky) people with a passion choose to do with their time and/or money.

Interior of Smallest Church: Note the star-painted ceiling.

Retiring minds want to know…

Quite awhile since my last post. I mentioned there’d been some changes in my household, and it’s true. I was able to take early retirement from my University job of nearly 13 years to pursue freelance full time.

It was with much trepidation that I made the decision, but was extraordinarily pleased that the week before my retirement I got a wonderful assignnment that has kept me busy ever since. Just turned the last bit of it in yesterday and I’m taking a breather. Freelancing is a feast or famine business for sure, and although I’ve been doing it part time for five-plus years, there was always the constancy of my “day job.” Now achieving balance will be the challenge. I have trouble with permitting myself to play on a day when I don’t have an imminent deadline—good for my editors, not always so good for me.

My just-completed job found me writing weekends and until 10:30 p.m. many nights. Watching out for that kind of creep is critical, as is remembering some of the things I hoped to accomplish by retiring, such as making our lives more sane and having time for more creative work. Still, I sure do like to write, especially about creative people.

These photos? Just before my retirement I went to an estate sale with my neighbor Maeve. There I found “My Quilting Box” filled with hand-stitched stars. There is a sticker on the bottom from JC Penney that says it cost 29 cents, but I’m thinking that may have been stuck on later. Inside the box were a few pieces of stray fabric and a section of a newsletter called The Workbasket with a Double Wedding Ring quilt template, instructions for a crocheted Grandmother’s Medallion coverlet, and tips that include “Rub a bit of furniture wax on a soft cloth and pass it lightly over the writing on the package you must take in the rain to mail. Address will not blur.” and “If your sewing machine doesn’t have a light, just hook the electric bed lamp over the arm of the sewing machine, and you’ll never be in the dark.”

The newsletter also included this tiny ad for 2 pounds of quilt pieces for $1.00 from Petelle’s, 1610 S. Third, Maywood, IL. TWO POUNDS of hand-stitched stars for one dollar! Imagine what the poor women were paid who stitched them for the Petelle’s.

I’m going to share this information with a new quilt historian friend and see whether she can help me learn about this—she told me that quilting kits are nothing new. I’m amazed!!!! And although I will never create the set-in seams necessary to include these stars in a quilt, I simply couldn’t let it go. I think I paid about three or four dollars. Well worth it, just to sort through the fabrics in the stars.

Anyone out there have any information about this box?