Friday, July 7, 2017


Sometimes I feel like a magpie that carries sparkly things back to her nest to hoard. My sparkly things are stories. One of my favorite things to do is to get people talking about themselves so I can hear their stories. I love reading memoirs. I grew up listening to Paul Harvey and I am a faithful listener to Mike Rowe's podcast. I am also a family historian. I research not just for dates, but for the little nuggets of personality and personal history that are recorded, sometimes accidentally. One of my most exciting research discoveries was the day I figured out why my husband's fourth great-grandfather was referred to as "the horse thief" by the generations after. It wasn't what you would think, either. Who would want to be remembered as a punchline to a joke that time had forgotten? You better believe that I wrote that one down for the ages. I found great personal satisfaction in vindicating Peter Fisher and am secretly hoping for a high-five in heaven.

My dad's cousin Bob is also a family historian and in the last few months I have discovered pictures, stories and memories that he has shared. Things that, despite my magpie tendencies, I had never heard or seen before. Definitely treasures. The next three quilts are united not only in color, but also in thought and intent and are based on what I learned. I'll share some of the stories from my dad's family along the way, too.

The inspiration for this first quilt came while my husband and I were sitting in matching rocking chairs on a veranda gazing out at a verdant green forest. We were camping, so unfortunately we were only borrowing the view, the chairs and the veranda. If there is a rocking chair in my future, hopefully there's a pair of them parked outside on the porch somewhere with a great view of something beautifully green. 

The chair thing was what made me start thinking about my grandparents. One of the things that I found in Bob's submissions was a poem that my grandma wrote after Grandpa's death ( I will share it later in the post). In it she describes how hard it was to see his empty chair. It's so easy to want more and more and more. On that quiet spring evening, I thought of them and how grateful I was that the chair next to me was filled with the right guy, and that we could enjoy the simple and free things of life together.

I came home from that weekend and drew a full-scale model of "Love at First Glow" out on butcher paper, then paper-pieced in an improvisational way on top of my templates. I used an analogous color scheme and played with the values to make the triangle/pine tree shapes glow.  I got better at it the more of them I made. I am not ashamed to admit that I finished piecing the quilt, thought "I can do better" and redid ten of the blocks. Even with my remaking, I finished just in time to enter the top into the Pantone Quilt Challenge where it won! Hurray! I got the email today, though, that it was not accepted to the Modern Quilt Guild showcase in Houston. Boo. In the end though, yay or nays aside, this quilt is a winner for me because it says exactly what I meant to say in the way I meant to say it.

Love at First Glow finished at 45" x 53." I used Aurifil invisible thread to do the matchstick quilting and the super thin batting from Quilter's Dream. It is finished with a faced edge.

My grandparents were an unlikely combo. When they met, Grandma was already a teacher and accomplished musician. She was considering a scholarship that she had just received to study at the Julliard Conservatory of Music. Grandpa had just returned from World War I and wanted to be a farmer. After a blind date, she picked him. She taught school, elementary and English (my dad grew up having his grammar corrected daily and enjoyed passing on that bit of his mother to all of us), and taught music lessons in their small farming community. After their children were grown, Grandma decided to go back to school. She received her masters degree at age 61 and was working on her doctorate in folklore (she was in her 80s!) when my grandpa got sick. Grandma was one class away from graduating and had her dissertation completed. She picked him again. "At this point," she said, shrugging, "all they can do is put it on my headstone." Grandma's dissertation was published as a book entitled, Wood Stoves and Woolen Stockings when she was 90 years old. She never did get the doctorate.

After Grandpa died, Grandma wrote this poem:

Life is so lonely without you
I look at your empty chair
I sorrow and wait for your coming
To take me with you, over there.

So call for me early at morning
When no one would bid me to stay
Come with your arms outstretched, dear
And together we'll steal away.

--Ann Godfrey Hansen

I tried to make a scrap quilt inspired by this poem in my last post. I couldn't make it say what I wanted it to so I stopped. I had to try again. "Over There" is what I came up with. I constructed it using strings left over from the piecing of the previous quilt. I did not use any foundations. Instead, I used Gwen Marston's method of cutting the desired block size out of paper and using that as a template to cut the strings to the appropriate lengths. There is not much waste and there is no paper to remove after. Win, win. This quilt finished at 24" x 24." I used green Aurifil thread to echo the strings in random patterns and left the text and orange parts unquilted. I am so glad that I had some of that text print in my stash!

Grandpa was the yin to Grandma's yang. He was irrepressible, kind-hearted and open. He told just as many stories as she did, but his were funnier. When he was a young boy, his mother taught him to quilt just to see if he could sit down for a minute. He could do both, barely. How I wish I could have one of those blocks, if they even survived! Grandpa always had a brown flannel quilt on his lap with me on top. I remember him counting his fingers in Danish, pausing dramatically at the fingers with partial amputations from farming accidents to say the Danish word for "half" before continuing. A few years ago I talked to someone who spoke Danish and asked them to count to ten for me. The familiarity of it, even after all these years, brought me to tears. 

I asked my mom how Grandpa died and from the way she described it, it sounded like cancer. She mentioned that near the end, the only thing that tasted good to him was 7Up and it sparked an immediate idea for me. He brought an incredible amount of joy to a little girl. I'm all grown up now and I hope I can give it back in the quilt version.

"7UP" finished at 40" x 40." I constructed it with 3.5" blocks and 2" blocks, which tile together really well and make random arrangements easy to execute. To replicate bubbles, the centers are the same in every block and are the lightest value in the quilt, effectively creating a hole. I love the energy that emerged from the jumble. It makes me feel happy, which is what I was going for. I used matchstick quilting with invisible thread and finished the edges with a facing. I didn't want to put a hard edge around the quilt to contain all of my bubbles. If I ever get this one into a show and run into some difficulty with the name, I think I'll go for "Irrepressible." That one's for you, Grandpa.

Thanks for reading along. I appreciate it!

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

Thursday, April 20, 2017


For the last year, I've been looking at my disorganized bin of solid scraps (aka the stringy wad of shame) and trying to come up with an idea of what to do with them. I would look, consider, feel overwhelmed and guilty and then quickly come up with something else to piece to distract myself. No ideas were coming and I felt stuck. I really, really, REALLY hate stuck.

The turning point for me was a desire to clean up. I knew I didn't have any ideas about what to do with the scraps, but I thought at the very least I could organize myself better. I spent two days at my ironing board, unwadding, trimming strings, pressing and neatly folding. I was genuinely surprised at how much I liked it. Somewhere in the middle of all that organizing, they stopped being guilt-inducing scraps and morphed straight into fabric. And, as we all know, fabric is fun.

The first quilt that emerged from my cleanup was "Accentuate," and it was inspired by a childhood memory. As many of you know, I am from a small town in Idaho. In the summer before my fifth grade year, my mom took me to "town" to do some school shopping. I walked into the Fashion Center and saw a pair of fuschia purple overalls that stopped me in my tracks. Of course they fit, of course I had to have them and of course there was no shirt in the store that would work with them. A sweet clerk, overhearing my despair that nothing matched my beautiful overalls, quickly came to the rescue. "Sweetie," she said, "Stop thinking about matching. You need to accentuate!" She scanned the racks, pulled out a turquoise shirt and a teal belt and brought them over. I was in love. For the rest of the year, I carefully worked out my laundry schedule so I could wear the outfit every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Those colors are just magic together and I found as I went through my scraps that I had many different variations of those shades. Apparently I still like them!

All that nostalgia put me in a fun frame of mind, so I started piecing simple purple shapes (with belts!!) and setting them in the deep teal color. I made the decision to use all the teals, and just tried to have fun making new shapes in the background. I also used all the purples with the hope that it would look like I was aiming for depth instead of desperation. My three color quilt ended up using 10 different fabrics. "Accentuate" finishes at 37" x 37." I used Quilter's Dream Request batting and Aurifil monofilament thread to do matchstick quilting.

The best part is that I went shopping right after I finished this quilt. I found a sweater that I loved so much in the same radiant orchid shade I'd just been working with. I asked the clerk if the sweater came in any other colors, and she pulled out versions in teal and black. I thought it was rude to laugh the way I was in front of her, so I had to pull out my phone and show her a picture of the quilt. I feel so much better having these colors back in my closet!

I went back to my scrap pile and found that I could still identify fabrics from specific quilts. I had a lot of scraps left over from "Heading West." I love that quilt, but I have a lingering dissatisfaction that I chose to do the matchstick quilting with a gold thread. The positive is that the thread gave the finish a soft glow, but the negative was that it dulled my color work. I decided to do a reprisal of "Heading West" and try quilting it with monofilament thread. I made an 18" square to turn into a pillow cover. I posted it during the Instagram Quilt Fest last month and got about triple the likes I've ever had on a photo. I think that means that the monofilament experiment was a success!

One of the prompts from the Instagram Quilt Fest last month was a "fast finish." I decided to play along and turn one of my nothings into a something. I made a block last year using Kona Highlight that I never did anything with, partly because I'd had a construction issue and ended up with a bubble in the middle. I pulled that block out of my parts department and tried to think about how I could fix it. In the end, slicing through the bubble was the only way to move forward. I made two improvisational cuts through the center of the block, flipped the inner pieces toward the outside and turned to my solids scraps for inspiration. I filled in the gaps of where I'd cut with some pieces of a garnet colored fabric that was left over from piecing "Accentuate" and sashed each piece with blue. I also decided to hand quilt. I used Aurifil 12 wt. for the quilting and some hand-dyed thread from Weeks Dye Works to do the seed stitching on the garnet fabric and on the purple squares. I knew that I was going to run out of the color I was using to do the seed stitches in the cross, so I tried to run out in a strategic place. I had to fill in the center of the cross with a slightly different shade, but I ended up loving the subtle glow it gives. This quilt finished at roughly a 20" square.

I created this next quilt from some Handcrafted prints and scraps from my solid bin for a challenge from Curated Quilts. Participants are linked to a Pinterest board for color and design inspiration. I enjoy creating when I'm given parameters--in some ways it takes the pressure off. The inspiration board had a lot of architecture and lines, so I attempted a mosaic quilt with some fusible web and a pair of tweezers. This tiny quilt is only 11" square and was so fun to make. Basically you fuse your fabric down on a background piece of fabric (I used black) and purposely allow the background fabric to peek through like mortar would. I fused the fabric in place and stitched along either end of the fused fabrics with black thread. It was fun not to have to account for seam allowances when playing with the patterns in the fabric. I also discovered that this method works really well with batik fabrics because you don't get as much fraying. This challenge doesn't close until May 1, so there is still time to participate if you are interested. Follow the link above for more details.

I love to listen to music when I sew, and I have a new favorite song. It's called "Me and You" by Sara Watkins and I may have listened to it on repeat for a few days. In the song, there is a stanza that captivated me:

"Central Valley sunshine
Run out of town
Make your head all funny
So you stick around
Dusty roads
Make dirty feet
I remember you
I remember me"

The line, "Central Valley Sunshine" stuck in my head on a looped track until I dug in the bin for fabrics that evoked what I imagined it to look like (I've never been to California). I used a combination of solids and nearly solid prints. Originally I was thinking that I would make striped units, and I did. I liked them, too. I was eyeing up the design wall and thinking that one of my striped sets looked a little clunky, so I tried slicing it down the center longwise, flipping one piece 180 degrees, and sewing it back together so it looked like a checkerboard. I may have liked the stripes, but I loved the checkerboard. Naturally I had to slice up all of the striped units and make checkerboards instead. Depending on the width of the strips, the shapes created when recombining varied dramatically. I had a great time experimenting with the widths and the shapes. I love how one simple method can lead to such a variety of effects.

"Central Valley Sunshine" finishes at 42" x 42." I used Quilter's Dream Request batting and quilted it simply in straight lines with silver Aurifil thread. I ended up using a piece of voile I had in my stash as the backing, since voile comes in wider widths than regular quilting cotton I was able to avoid a seam down the back. I also lucked out and had a piece with a linear motif, so I quilted it from the backing side and used the pattern as cheater lines. The part of my brain that embraces improvisational piecing is the same part that struggles making straight lines, so I take all the help I can get.

Would you like to hear the song for yourself? Here's a link.

 Finally, I'd like to end with the quilt that was the namesake for this blog post. "Spark" started as a failure and an accident. I was playing around with another idea that I'd had and devoted an afternoon to piecing some shapes with my blue scraps. It was not a success. Normally I'm an optimist and am prone to reworking and reworking until I like something, but this experiment I was not feeling AT ALL. I put the blue pieces of fabric back in the scrap bin and pulled out a medallion quilt that I've been slowly working at for the last month or two. I added coral rows to the center and had to put it away again because a lovely accident had just happened. I tossed a strip of leftover coral fabric on top of those blue scraps and fireworks lit off in my head. The coral pieces just rocketed off those cool blues and I knew I had to make that quilt. I had many small scraps of blue, so necessity was the inspiration for the tiny squares. I built this quilt out like a medallion quilt and tried to judiciously add scraps of coral when I thought the quilt needed them. I also had a good time hiding subtle shapes in the blues. If you haven't taken the Gwen Marston classes from, I'd highly, highly recommend them. She made a comment in one of the classes (I don't remember which one), that if you have the opportunity to put blocks together in such a way that you create a new shape, that you should probably take it. Looking back at the last few quilts I've made, I can see myself trying to take that advice. It's definitely altered the way I think about "backgrounds."

"Spark" finishes at 38" x 38." I used Quilter's Dream Request batting and quilted it with Aurifil monofilament thread in a matchstick pattern. I know I do that a lot, but it is because I love texture and I love highlighting the piecing. I've found that the more quilting lines there are, the more visible the piecing is. 

To sum up, what is my advice for using your scraps? Don't be an obsessive idiot like I was and wait for inspiration to strike BEFORE you begin. Fate favors the prepared and inspiration flows more freely for me when I am working. Touching the fabric, sorting it, remembering what exactly you have all helps to release the creativity and can be the SPARK that gets the fire burning.

Thanks for reading!

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

Friday, February 17, 2017


Is home a place or a feeling? Both, neither...I don't know. Maybe it's a memory so deep that it becomes an integral part of who you are and how you process the world. That's how it is for me, anyway.

In December when Pantone announced that the color of the year for 2017 was Greenery, I wasn't thinking any deep thoughts. My only thought was that it might be fun to try a quilt in a limited palette, and that it might be even funner still to use the new green. I had a vague idea of doing a crib-sized quilt with different sized quarter log cabin blocks, so I sketched out a quick picture, pulled out three shot cottons in Blue Jean, Sprout and Ice and started piecing. (Actually, for the sake of complete honesty, I had the doors to my solids cupboard open, auditioning different combinations when yardage of Blue Jean fell out and landed on my feet. I decided not to argue with the universe and use it with two other shot cotton friends.) I had such a good time piecing that I finished all the blocks before I put them up on the design wall. That turned out to be a momentous decision because when I finally laid out the quilt I got to see the whole hot mess in its entirety. 


Quilting has taught me a lot about myself. For one, that my instincts are far better than my plans and also that I am apparently incapable of walking away from a project that I've spent a lot of time/fabric on. I ended up with at least six 10.5" blocks in my first attempt, so I used those to start playing with different configurations on the design wall to try to "save" this quilt. When I placed them in alternating orientations, on point, all the tension eased. I knew why, too. I'd made the mountains of my home in Idaho.

There are no mountains in Iowa, so a harvested soybean field sufficed.
 This is the view from my mother's sewing room. I took this picture while I was doing some early morning quilting during our vacation two years ago. It's a little greener than usual because they'd had a wet spring. The similarities between the two pictures are really uncanny.

I ended up ripping out and expanding the blocks that were too small and cutting down the blocks that were too big (and naturally, I saved the pieces that I trimmed off...more on those later). I was able to reuse all of the original blocks and only needed to piece two more quarter log cabins to finish this quilt top.

I chose to quilt this with simple horizontal lines. I felt quite a bit of angst about it, too, since I am the queen of straight-ish quilting. Last year I entered a quilt in the state fair and had feedback from a judge that my quilting lines really needed to be straight. I disagreed then and still do. I just don't get how military precision with perfectly straight quilting lines marries with a care-free, liberated, wonky, improvisational top. This quilt may have improvisational elements, but it definitely wasn't whimsical and straight-ish lines just weren't going to cut it. It was then that I discovered a large cut of striped fabric in my stash. I totally used the stripes as my backing and quilted the whole thing using my pre-marked cheater lines. I will be buying a large quantity of striped fabric in the near future because this. Worked. Out. Great.

"Home" finished at 47" x 72." It was made using Quilter's Dream Request batting. I quilted it with Aurifil invisible thread (I even had that in the bobbin since I quilted it from the back) and some 50 wt. Aurifil thread that perfectly matched my striped backing fabric.

Making "Home" was a nostalgic process for me and I felt like I wanted to keep going with the story. Holding the green fabric one day, the thought popped into my head that I should do a rattlesnake quilt. Rattlesnakes are not a joyful memory for me, but they are a powerful one. I sketched out several versions of the block until I found a design that replicated the diamond pattern of rattlesnake skin. I pieced the blocks improvisationally and then cut them down to the size I needed. I really like the look of natural variation. I emphasized the scales by using a dark blue thread with a lot of contrast. The pattern is not exact, the colors are not exact, but the FEELING of this quilt (especially once I'd quilted in the scale texture) was enough to give me full body shivers more than once.

"Rattlesnake" finished at 39" x 45." It was made using Quilter's Dream Request batting. I used Aurifil thread and my new favorite trick of echo quilting my backing fabric. Can you believe I had a diamond patterned fabric in my stash? I finished this quilt with a facing.

And this is the ONLY time I'd like to see a rattlesnake hanging from a tree.

 My mother has intense feelings of fear about rattlesnakes, so I guess I come by it honestly. In the mountains it is easy to avoid them by making some noise and staying aware, but all bets are off when the snakes come down off the mountain into yards and neighborhoods. Our farm is largely protected from this because we are just below a natural barrier (there is a canal that separates us from the foothills). In all my life, I only remember two rattlesnakes on our property. My mom still worried about it, though. She worried enough that my dad promised her that if she was ever in a position that she had to take care of a rattlesnake by herself, that he would give her $100. I don't mean to offend anyone's sensibilities with this story, but to be clear, "take care of" is not a euphemism for rehoming.

About 4 years after my father's passing, that day arrived. Mom was home by herself enjoying a new batch of Mama Kitty's babies on the porch when she spotted the rattlesnake in the grass. There was no one to call and some kittens to spare. Putting her personal feelings aside and almost choking on the fear and revulsion, she did what she needed to do. She was still nervy and shaking, trying to catch her breath in the easy chair inside, when the doorbell rang. Though no relation to us, there is a business in town that shares our name. As it turned out, my mother had just bought new windows from them and had inadvertently overpaid. The owner had decided to personally return her overpayment, and handed over a check for a little over one hundred dollars with an unknowing smile. He was invited in for a drink and the story and left shaking his head at his role in it. You gotta give my dad points for style.

I just couldn't stop at "Rattlesnake." I had to tell the rest of it and make "Dispatched" as a companion piece. I used up all the bits and pieces I had produced in making the first two quilts, including the strips I cut off of the pieced blocks when I standardized their size. Piecing improvisationally, I tried to replicate the feeling of the event. I think I got a pretty accurate representation.

This quilt with a sunset backdrop was a visual metaphor I just couldn't resist.
 "Dispatched" finishes at 25"x 24." It was made using Quilter's Dream Request batting and quilted with Aurifil invisible thread. To avoid even a whisper of a bobbin thread peeking out in the light blocks, I used it in the bobbin as well. I finished this quilt with a facing.

I'm still thinking about what it takes to make a home. I do know that I never intended to sew the hills of my childhood home into a quilt, but when the fabric tumbled out at my feet, I took it, and then the quilts took me. I am surrounded by corn, by prairie, by my little family in Iowa--but my home will always be in the mountains.

Thanks for sharing the trip with me.

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

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.