Rhubarb Dreams

I have lots of quilt-related photos to post…one of these days. But for today, I’m touting rhubarb.


Short version: Years ago we made rhubarb simple syrup as a basis for rhubararitas—rhubarb margaritas. They were a hit and I wanted to make them this week for my youngest daughter, who’ll be home for a wedding. Yesterday I combined two cups of water, two cups of sugar, and a pound of cut up rhubarb and simmered for 20 minutes, This morning I mixed the “dregs”— the well-cooked rhubarb solids left after pouring off the simple syrup—in my plain yogurt it was deeeelicious! Looking forward to the simple syrup, too. (This drink sounded also sounds like a good way to use it: The Rhubarb 75.)

My dad and daughter toasting with their rhubarbaritas in 2010

Rhubarb is one of those fruits (really it’s a vegetable) that I just can’t bring myself to pay for—it seems to grow like a weed and lines the alleys of old neighborhoods in Iowa City. I haven’t have success growing it at my house though, perhaps because I planted it in the backyard, too close to three huge walnut trees. So if a friend didn’t share rhubarb from their bounteous patch, I often went without.

Last fall we redid some landscaping in our front yard and I realized that the side of my garage—nearly hidden from view but warm and sunny, would be the perfect spot for rhubarb, which once it’s established can be neglected. The big leaves would help keep the weeds down and I’d have all the rhubarb I wanted. I bought two plants and got two from my friend Anne, who has an enormous patch on her farm, and it’s those latter two that have grown like crazy and that I was able to harvest.

My sister with our 2010 rhubarb simple syrup

I didn’t grow up with rhubarb, as it doesn’t do well in southern California, but I learned to love it at my Aunt Marcia’s farm in Minnesota. Her rule was that you could pick it until the 4th of July, and I’m looking forward to more rhubarb this year, and lots more next year, when it’s all better established. My rhubarb dream—an unlimited supply that I’ll never have to pay for—is coming true.

Feed Sacks, Continued

Thought those of you who read the Etsy feed sack post might enjoy a few more photos: The exhibit was sensational and Mike Zahs knows so much…I kept encouraging him to write it down, because it will be a shame if his extensive knowledge is lost. He’s obsessive, in the best possible way, and one thing I really loved was that he so admires the women who used every last bit to make sure their families were clothed and comfortable. He’s even got a doily crocheted from the strings used to hold feed sacks closed.

Enjoy, and plan a visit to Ainsworth the last weekend of 2012!

This piece contains 561 squares of 134 different sacks.
Feed sack from the 1950s with sailor doll. Sew, stuff, and enjoy.
The Corn of Tomorrow, Today
Border prints above. Some of Zah’s 31 new feed sacks below.

One crate full from Zah’s collection. He has nearly 50 crates.
Three colorways of a single feed sack pattern
A book of feed sack sewing ideas
A fantastic spider web quilt made with solid and striped sacks
Ainsworth Opera House: tables set for lunch and dinner meal served as a fundraiser

Stick and Poke

Between the writing and the traveling, not a lot of sewing has happened. But I have been somewhat obsessed with punchneedle (or as my daughter calls it “stick and poke,” which is apparently a reference to a homemade tattoo). I first heard of punchneedle back in 2006, when I wrote all 20 quilt shop profiles for the Best of Quilt Sampler.

Time and again during interviews, shop owners told me “Punchneedle is really big!” and I nodded my head and dutifully wrote it down. But I’d never tried punchneedle myself. To be honest, I didn’t really know what it was.

This past spring when Codi and I went to Quilt Market in Minneapolis, we stopped at one of my all-time favorite shops, Eagle Creek Quilt Shop in Shakopee, Minnesota. I first visited the shop when I interviewed owners Becky and Lori for Best of Quilt Sampler and I was blown away. Eagle Creek is in an old train depot and they have done a fabulous job of taking advantage of the unusual space (the train still goes by once a day). The shop is bright and the fabrics are an eclectic mix—they have lovely wools and darker colors, but loads of lighter, crisper fabrics, too. The rooms are dotted with little surprises—intricate pin cushions made by a Minnesota craftswoman, hooked rugs, wonderful quilt samples, etc. It’s also the first place I found shwe-shwe, a fabric from South Africa that I’ve grown to love (a story for another time). And in little nooks and crannies they have punchneedle samples in frames and stitched to boxes and pillows. To be honest, many of the patterns are a bit “countrified” for my taste, but adorable nonetheless.


So while we were there in May, I mentioned to Codi that I was intrigued and she said she’d teach me. I bought the materials (realizing that here was a whole new world of obsession…gorgeous, variegated threads, many hand-dyed) and later that night in my hotel room I was punching away. (This pattern is called Soft Perch by Threads that Bind.)

This past weekend I learned at another terrific shop (Heritage Designs in Amana) that I was punching too closely, which is why I’d run out of thread. So I bought some more and I’m still finishing the flowers, edges, and putting eyes on the critters. In my overzealous punching I made the bird a bit chunky—Paul claims he thought it was a fish. But it was a soothing, mindless thing to do and I may well do it again. The only problem I can see is that you really can’t watch TV while you’re punching…you can only listen to TV. One false move with that hypodermic-like needle and you’d have a hole in your thigh. Stick and poke, indeed.