Something Old and Something New

For a couple of weeks life has been slightly calmer than it was before the holidays and I’ve managed to sneak in a bit of sewing. I finished up a baby quilt that was more than two years in the making—once I’d gotten it bound I worried that there wasn’t enough quilting on something that would inevitably get washed a lot, so I added more quilting around the borders. Then it took me a mere two weeks to actually get a label made and send it off…why do those last little pieces of the puzzle inevitably take so long?

The quilt is from a bunch of Heather Bailey fabrics, with a stripe and polka dot thrown in to keep it interesting. The back wound up being totally pieced because I didn’t want to buy anything more–it’s a little crazy, but I love the feeling of really using my stash to the max.

Pieced back

Then I finished piecing the quilt top I started in October at Lake Tahoe. I’ve still got to figure out a border for this (although I’ve got the start of an idea). Hanging it outside on a warm winter day (that would be a day that it got up in the 40s—warmth in Iowa in January is relative), the colors created such a stark contrast to the season’s drab tones and made me very happy.

Finally, must add a link to the post I wrote for Moda about their Nancy Drew fabrics. I waxed a little rhapsodic about them, as I not only loved reading Nancy Drew, but have a personal link to the author of 23 of the first 30 books. Check out the story (and some of the fabric) here.

And I Will Make Thee a Bed of Roses…

People who know me hear me complain about not having enough time to sew. “I write about sewing all day, but I hardly ever get to do it!” goes the whine. It’s often true. But last Friday I got together with some friends at Inspirations, a newish quilt shop in Hills, Iowa, to sew. The shop has a sunny classroom space where we gathered, and I managed to make 45 pennants for three more holiday garlands, which I finished up today.

Garlands are one thing, but it takes me an awfully long time to complete a quilt. I’ve slowly come around to the idea that a quilt doesn’t need to be quick and that it’s fine to have more than one project going at a time. So I’ll try not to feel too terrible about showing you something that took me more than a year to complete. It was worth the wait.

The quilt started out in October 2010, when I took a French Roses class at Common Threads. (The pattern is an old one by Heather French—sorry, I can’t find a link to her site.) I was excited about the colors and fabrics, and took the quilt to Lake Tahoe to work on. It was there I realized what a creative bunch I was sewing with. The pattern is traditionally put together without sashing, but someone suggested I add some and someone else brought over some black and white options to audition. Keystones punch it up a bit more (I fussy cut a few of them ato highlight the mushrooms, birds, and chairs). And finally, over the summer, I added the “strata” border (a Mary Lou Weidman term). It is such a great reminder that it’s okay to change up a pattern and to do some things that take a bit of extra time, rather than rush to finish.

Linda Duncan quilted it and I just love what she did. She used a pink thread that really gives the quilt spark, and she tried a new technique on the flowers. Rather than quilting around each layer, as she’s done on French Roses quilts in the past, she stitched “spokes” in hopes that when the quilt was washed it would create “petals.” Indeed, it worked just that way.

I am once again a bit giddy, and I can’t help but pat myself on the back for taking a pattern of long-standing and giving it a different twist. I can’t bring myself to put the quilt away (and it goes with absolutely nothing in my house). So I’ve got it hanging over the stair rail, where I can admire it daily and force unsuspecting visitors to tell me how much they like it, too.

From My Baby to Yours

Back from some additional travels—we went East to watch my nephew Karl receive his diploma in Virginia. It was a great family gathering that included my parents, sisters, bro-in-law, and even my daughter Rebecca, who flew from NY.

Rebecca’s been working in NY for nearly a year now and she’s had a fantastic boss who’s been a real mentor. She has made it possible for Rebecca to stretch herself, taking on substantive work beyond her role as administrative assistant. She’s also a caring person with a good sense of humor (I’ve actually never met her, but know these things from Rebecca). So when I heard that she was having a baby, I decided that the perfect thing would be to offer Rebecca a quilt to give her. As my sister so aptly said I should write in a card “I hope someday someone is a kind and caring to your baby as you’ve been to mine.”

Rebecca picked this scrappy triangles quilt from my stash of tops and it provided a great excuse to finish it. I quilted it myself and while I did a reasonable job, I can’t say that I really enjoyed it. Even when I start out intending to make big loops, my quilting gets smaller and smaller and takes forever. When I got to the borders I decided a series of parallel lines would be fine, and I think in the end, they are.

The piece is a true stash-buster: the only fabric I purchased for it was the graphic red and yellow dots (Beetle Boy by Ellen Crimini-Trent for Clothworks) for the inner border and binding and I am really happy with the way it picks up the colors and extends the wonky center’s playfulness. Place a baby on his tummy on this quilt and he’ll have lots to look at.

I was madly sewing on binding on the plane and at my sister’s house, so that I could send it back to NY with Rebecca. Finally got it finished, and yes, that is a Great Dane (my sister’s dog Danish) snoozing under the quilt. But no need to worry—the quilt was thoroughly washed and de-dogified before it was given.


I finished the top of the quilt I started a few weeks (months?) ago at Home Ec. Steff, one of the women in our quilting group used a little folded edge between her top and the border and I thought it looked so lovely I out-and-out copied it.

Of course, I didn’t really think ahead about attaching it. I sewed the little strip (an inch-and-a-quarter wide, folded with right sides together) to the border and that worked out just fine for the first two sides. But then I tried the same method for the next two sides it didn’t work at all. There was lots of ripping and re-sewing and cursing and gnashing of teeth—luckily the Academy Awards was on to distract me. I never did come up with an elegant solution, but it eventually worked. I ran into Steff the very next day and she told me that she’d sewn her edge to the quilt itself…Duh! A much smarter way to have done it.

Now, the trick will be to take this puppy from a top to the finished quilt stage. I’m finding I’m not a huge fan of machine quilting…I’m more piece-loving (ha!)…but I hate to pay to have a baby quilt finished, so I will likely do something simple.

Here are a few others from our group. Steff’s is the one with the brown background. The other two belong to Anna and Amanda. I love how these are all so different!

Looking Forward, Looking Back

Lots of life changes in our house. But one constant remains…I have unfinished quilts in my sewing room. So, in an effort to “start my new life” (more on this later), I’m trying to finish a few of them. This one was created long ago of some Heather Bailey fabrics and an Ingrid Barlow pattern. All it needed was quilting.

I send most of my quilts to a machine quilter far more skilled than I, but figure that (as my friend Anne R. says) a baby quilt will be covered with pee and poop and spit-up and if it’s not perfect, no baby is going to complain. So I attempt to hone my machine quilting skills on these. Part of my problem is that I’m not very confident and so I go for what’s easy. In this case, easy seemed to be stitching-in-the-ditch around the blocks and sashing. But once I’d done that, I realized I had long unstitched sections in which the batting would inevitably shift (given that the pee and poop and spit-up would require the quilt be washed frequently). So I needed a bit more.

Filling each block with a big cheery flower and its spiral center was something I could handle and I’m pleased with the results. The simple shape didn’t take hours and hours and worked well with the fabrics. But I’m still left with the block that surrounds the central square. Again, I want something that’s not too labor intensive, but that will still work with the playfulness of a baby quilt. I’d love any suggestions you might have!

(And here’s proof that Pearl really does love to roll around on fabric. This was her immediate response when I put the quilt on the floor to shoot photos.

Update on the changes: Rebecca and her roommate made it to NY (including navigating the New Jersey Turnpike, which Rebecca likened to the Seventh Circle of Hell) and eventually into their apt. It was not easy—the apt. wasn’t ready and much tough NY talk had to ensue before the landlord made it so, but they’re now ensconced in Brooklyn. And she got a job! With benefits! We are all very pleased. But I know I’m going to miss her so much. She always came for Sunday dinners and already I’ve thought about how empty the table will be tomorrow night.

There is another constant in my life, in addition to unfinished quilts, and that would be Paul (at left, in NY’s Battery Park with a Mister Softee). Today is our (gulp) 34th anniversary! Yes, were were incredibly young when we got married, and no, life hasn’t always been perfect. (As my friend Joe likes to say, “Been married 34 years—28 of the best years of my life.”) But I’m so happy we’re together, that we’ve got two wonderful daughters, and that we still make one another laugh so much. Love you, sweetie.

Playing catch up

Playing, because when I finally sat down to sew again after along hiatus, I was reminded how much fun it is. Catch up, because I finally caught up on a quilt that I started more than a year ago.

I did the quilting over Memorial Day weekend. I agonized over adding something more elaborate, perhaps some free motion flowers where the lines of quilting intersect, but then opted to call it a day at the large diagonal squares—it had taken so long to get this close to finishing that I didn’t want to push my luck. I do like the look of quilting that’s a bit denser than this, however.

I did choose to put some time into sewing strips together to make the variegated binding, which I’m quite happy with. Sewing on binding is such a pleasant task in winter, with the warm quilt covering your lap and the not much to do outside so that watching TV while you sew seems appropriate. I find sitting and watching television this time of year difficult, because I’d always prefer to be in the garden when the weather’s nice. And it’s been anything but cool, of late, so that I’ve been sewing on binding with the ceiling fan going full steam.

The quilt back leans toward Modern Quilting, perhaps, but was actually done out of necessity—I didn’t have enough of any one fabric to make a complete back.

I’ll be away from my computer for about ten days, so Pearl the Squirrel won’t be updated for awhile. There may be an Etsy post while I’m away…keep your eyes peeled!

Putzing about

Not a lot of piecing has gone on this past week, but on Memorial Day I did have a chance to sit at my machine and quilt a top I made long ago. I’m having a little fight with myself over whether to stick with the simple outline quilting I’ve already done or to add some free motion quilting. I’ll share it when I’ve got it completed.

This weekend is Arts Fest in Iowa City. Sadly, we’re in for rain today, but last night the weather held and we were treated to a concert featuring Sarah Jarosz and Darrell Scott. Sarah’s a mere 19, but a terrific musician, singer, and songwriter—Darrell’s guitar playing made people shake their heads in awe. He’s also a powerful lyricist with a fabulous voice. The highlight was when they played together at the end of each of their sets.

Finally, I had to share a few photos of my garden. Yes, I really do live in a house with a picket fence (it’s a bit of a fake, however…it just runs along the front, but then peters out on the sides and doesn’t really enclose anything completely). My William Baffin rose and our peonies often bloom on Memorial Day weekend and it always makes me feel as though I live in some kind of fantasyland…the rose (depending on your definition) is totally out of control, or creates a charming bower that people walking by have the pleasure of passing beneath.

Are you a designing women (or man)?

My etsy post resulted not only in many kind comments, but an interesting email correspondence with a quilter whose work I included in the post. As we’ve chatted back and forth, we’ve realized we have much in common: we both love asiatic/oriental rugs, we both work in academia, we both love Kaffe Fasset’s designs, and we both adore fabric (that last one might be a given with ANY quilter).

One of the interesting things we’ve talked about is designing one’s own quilts vs. sewing the designs of others and how some people come down hard on one side of that line or the other.

People often complain that they feel uncomfortable in traditional quilt guilds because of the “quilt police”: those who bristle at quilts if the points of stars disappear under an adjoining seam, if a binding doesn’t lie completely flat, or if squares don’t line up perfectly. Those kinds of judgements go a long way toward taking the joy out of creation for me. And yet, those “keepers of the quilting flame” also help ensure that there is a standard for quality craftsmanship, and that, too, is important.

I’m a sewer who most often uses the patterns of others. I’ve designed very few quilts—the one on this page is one of them. I admit that I’m probably most proud of those I designed myself, but I certainly take pleasure in sewing quilts designed by others and feel that I make them mine by my choice of color, fabric, and the occasional design tweak. (I also learn a lot each time I use someone else’s instructions. I’m always delighted by the number of ways there are to create a block and some designers are exceptionally talented at simplifying a complicated design.)

I believe there is a place for both kinds of quilting, as well as sewing things aren’t quilts. There’s real satisfaction that comes from whipping up a bag or even a pillow case when you need a quick project (I love a lot of the Quilts and More projects for this reason.) I also feel great when I finish a simple quilt for a baby gift, as well as a larger, more complicated one. And when I have the time to design a quilt, that’s fabulous, too. But I hate to feel constricted in what I sew, feeling guilty because I’m using someone else’s pattern, and certainly hate to feel judged for doing so.

The pleasures of having my hands on all those fabulous fabrics and threads and combining colors soothes and stimulates me. The process of sewing itself can put me in the zone and seeing the completion of something tangible, in a world where so much work is seemingly never done, brings deep satisfaction. Sewing the patterns of others confers a respect on those pattern-designers who do it well: there’s a real art to designing something beautiful and then putting together accurate and clear instructions. (I know, because I’ve felt the frustration of sewing poorly described and/or inaccurate patterns.) I’d love to live in a world where quilters respected the many ways to achieve those feelings: traditional quilting, modern quilting, hand quilting, machine piecing and quilting.

Certainly anyone using patterns from another designer should make sure the designer doesn’t prohibit the sale of such items, and give credit to the designer. And the creators of items that are one-off or custom-designed should be compensated accordingly. But when it comes to making gifts for loved ones or just sewing for fun, to paraphrase Rodney King, “Can’t we all just get along?”

How about you? Where do you stand? What do you enjoy sewing?


Finest monkey quid? Frankly more quarrelsome? Feeling mighty querulous?

When my friend Anne R. first offered to teach me to quilt, I remember the lingo she used seemed exotic. What were fat quarters? A stash? The difference between piecing and quilting? It was a foreign language, but once I learned to walk the walk, it didn’t take long to talk the talk. So I’ve learned that FMQ is an abbreviation for free motion quilting, especially when referred to online.

I’ve had my share of trials with FMQ. I first learned when I took a class at Common Threads to make the Sunday Satchel. I could handle the nice square of fabric, keeping my stitching relatively even. But when I tried to do anything larger, in particular a baby quilt, it was a god-awful mess. I can multitask with the best of ’em, but keeping myself from putting the pedal to the metal with my presser foot while at the same time moving my hands evenly…it was like the worst case of not being able to rub my head and pat my stomach. Or dial my cell phone and drive (fortunately, not quite that dangerous).

I mentioned that I got a new machine recently—the money was the result of selling my lovely Glimakra Standard loom this past summer, along with my spinning wheel. It wasn’t an easy decision—I always told myself I might weave and spin again when I retired—but they’d both sat idle for many years and it was time for someone who wanted them to use them.

With my new machine, I’m able to unplug the foot pedal and simply press a button: the speed is controllable by a sliding lever. It’s just what I needed to make FMQ really fun. This weekend I quilted an entire baby quilt—turned on my two new Christmas CDs (The Essential Yo-Yo Ma and Lake Street Dive Promises, Promises) and spent a really relaxing evening. Here are the results: not perfect, but a definite step up from the my previous attempts, which looked as though someone ought to be arrested for the maltreatment of fabric and thread.

Now I’ve got to get a binding on it. The baby for whom it’s intended was born last night—an 8 lb. 14 oz. girl. Can’t wait to meet her!