Tag Archives: quilting

The Time-Traveling Quilting Bee

Searching the antique shop’s crowded shelves like a detective, I spotted an interesting wicker basket. Heaped with linens. Digging down, I pulled out a stack of vintage quilt squares, held together with a safety pin. The pile consisted of already pieced blocks in antique white, contrasted with fabric in a faded red and gray pattern. All the blocks matched, except one. That square was similar – but the piecing deviated slightly from the rest. I wondered…could that be a Humility Block? The imperfect block left in an Amish quilt to show that only God is perfect? But wasn’t that a myth?

Elliott.Jacob's Ladder Blocks

The “imperfect” block looked most like the “Jacob’s Ladder” pattern to me.

Though I liked the story of the Humility Block, research told me no quilter needed to leave an imperfection on purpose because no finished quilt was without mistakes. Besides, this quilt didn’t look at all Amish in design. The material was lightweight and limp, unlike any I’d seen on a quilt. More like an opaque voile curtain. It reminded me of a dad’s old pajamas worn way past their prime. Later I learned the squares were out of shirting fabric – fine cotton that’s often an 1800s reproduction.

Elliott.Odd Block Out

Most of the blocks matched & looked like this one.

I swiped up those old squares with delight, handing over a fiver for the lot. At home, I laid them out. The pattern appeared to be a sort of Jacob’s Ladder. And the odd block out really looked the part, which was a mystery. Another thing puzzled me. Every piece of fabric was attached by hand sewing, stitches long enough to look utility-style. Perhaps they were basted, meant to be reinforced on a sewing machine. Or…maybe the squares were much older. The idea made me smile. I pictured a pioneer woman riding in her Conestoga wagon, wielding her needle with skill in spite of the rocky ride, readying a coverlet for completion once she arrived at her new home. There she could strengthen those seams with a little time on the treadle.

Milk River Wagon Train.Library of Congress.1979

Young, Kay, and Michael Crummett. Milk River Wagon Train: Fourth day ride; Memorial service for “Flash,” the horse. Malta Montana United States, 1979. Malta, Montana, September 2. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/afc1981005_mc48/.

Still, it was so fragile. Would it hold together if I left the squares in their original state? A half-hearted purist, I felt I couldn’t go over someone’s laborious work with a quick zip on my machine. Would that be right for the integrity of the blocks? For the hopes of the initial quilter and her quilt plan?

Not sure what to do, I put them aside for a time. For a few years. Until I was invited on a special family trip to Alaska and needed a project for the long ride over the Alcan Highway. In a motor home. The (almost) Jacob’s Ladder quilt-top needed a lot of work. I had a lot of time on my hands. So the squares, my trusty thimble, extra needles, and a spool of new cotton thread came with me.

In my imagination, I was like the pioneer woman. In my modern covered wagon, bound for territories never before seen. Unlike the woman of my daydreams, rather than created out of necessity, my needlework only served to keep my hands busy across the miles. Between glances out the window at the scenery, I wondered about the original quilt maker, adding to her stitches where they had come away with my own, making the corners match as precisely as I could. Until the entire quilt-top was sturdy and sewn together. In a way, she rode with me on that long trip, rather like a companion in a quilting bee across time.

I wonder if my unknown pioneer friend would have liked the final outcome of her work-in-progress? I sure liked thinking about her story.

Four Women Working on a Quilt.Adams, John Wolcott, 1874-1925, Artist (1)

Adams, John Wolcott, Artist. Four Women Working on a Patchwork Quilt. , None. [Between 1900 and 1925] Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2010714905/.












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Crazed for Crazy Quilts

I don’t own a crazy quilt. Though I admire them a great deal. So far, quilts that interest me also exceed my spending limit. I justify NOT buying them by asking myself pithy questions, like:

  • How much craziness is too much in a house with an overabundance of fancy teacups & saucers & feminine frills?
  • Should I purchase this expensive crazy quilt that doesn’t mix with my décor? Or give the money to missions? (A smashing alternative, no?)

There’s simply something so charming about crazy quilts. Consider their antiquity:

Think 1876 – the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition – & an exhibit in the Japanese Pavilion that stunned the Victorians. It featured crazed ceramics & asymmetrical art, unseen before. It wasn’t long before society-seamstresses mimicked the design with their crazy quilt technique. Every house displayed one (or more) as a status symbol. The quilts continued in popularity until about 1910. A perfect opportunity for ladies to show off their expensive, luxury fabrics & needlework skills. The exquisite designs were only limited by the fabric stashes & ability of their makers.

Some years ago, my dear friend, Nancy Boyd, crafted a heritage project for each of her granddaughters – to be given on their wedding days. Instead of a full-size quilt, she made “crazy” shadow boxes. Artwork with a crazy quilt piece made out of fabrics that meant something to their family: a button from a wedding dress, a part of grandpa’s tie, and so on. She included other precious mementos for each piece. The one pictured below shows some military service medals. I loved the idea so much, I “sewed” similar memorabilia into the crazy quilt in my cozy mystery, A Stitch in Crime.

Nancy's Crazy Quilt Creation

Nancy’s Crazy Artwork featured at A Stitch in Crime’s Book Launch.

In addition, a lovely crazy design by Angela McInnis was chosen for the book’s cover. After my precise descriptions of my vision of the legacy quilt in the story, I never expected the publishing house to search & find Angela’s framed crazy square, & travel miles across the nation to photograph it. But they did! The colors were exactly right, the “bling” pushed the stitching up a notch, & she’d even added a spider web for interest. I’d mentioned it to Abingdon Press & how they were considered good luck in the Victorian age. And…there it was! A spider web. Perfect.

I loved looking at A Stitch in Crime’s beautiful cover decorated with Angela’s crazy quilt. Made me want a real quilt of my own. Soon, I saw a gorgeous crazy quilt pillow on eBay & bid hard to win it. The cost was higher than I’d hoped, but the embroidery – flawless. I had to have it. My rationale? To use it as a prop at book signings & draw curious readers to my table with its striking beauty.

Crazy Quilt Pillow

Beautiful antique crazy quilt pillow created by Georgina Diehl Kosa. I love it!

The colorful, crazy part is cut from an antique quilt, while the backing is black velveteen cut from an ancient opera cloak. Isn’t that romantic? I can almost see a story when I gaze upon its design….

Since then, I’ve restrained my crazy quilt lust. To a point. While I’ve decided a quilt will not work for me, some crazy hearts have found themselves welcomed into my home. Some were gifted from pillow-maker & artist extraordinaire, Georgina, mentioned above. The rest arrived after a few little eBay excursions. I only need another twenty or so to deck out a Victorian (crazy heart) Christmas tree! In my world, that’s a shopping opportunity. And, when opportunity knocks?

Well, you know!

Crazy Quilt Hearts




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Quilt Tsunami

Quilters truly are some of the most generous people. On Wednesday, I joined around thirty other women to learn how to make the Emma’s Legacy quilt that I blogged about earlier this month. It wasn’t so hard, after all. Not with so many dear ones rushing to my rescue.

Among other things, I learned:

  • The correct method to square-up my half-triangle squares, using my lethally-sharp Gingher rotary cutter. Without slicing off a finger.
  • How to make perfect star-points. Well, almost perfect.
  • About the wonders of glow-tape, heretofore unknown in my world.
  • How to make an exact ¼ inch seam though my 1945 Singer Featherweight sewing machine was missing the proper presser foot. Whew.

The ladies’ expertise was freely shared, as well as laughter and friendship, encouragement, and a generosity of spirit that made me wish my weeks were bursting with workshops. Even lunch was a practice in generosity. Each woman at my table brought enough for five or six others, joyfully passing around the avocado, melon, tuna, Tillamook cheese, and yummy Girl Scout cookies special ordered from Iowa. Yum!

I hadn’t realized the recommendation to “Please bring a bag lunch” meant a grocery bag to share with everyone. But now I know. I’m already plotting treats to lug along next time.

Within this circle are some who meet on Mondays for Community Service, making comfort quilts to cover special folks with that cozy, quilted love. Last year alone, the women made and donated over 400 small and lap quilts to various organizations, including Head Start, Meals on Wheels, Children & Adult Protective Services, Alternatives to Violence, convalescent hospitals, and rest homes.

That shared quilter heart is everywhere. In our small community and far beyond, quilters rush to rescue those in Japan who have little or nothing left, sending soft, baby and lap quilts. A national movement called “Quilts for Japan”  is already coordinating a gargantuan effort to reach out to the Japanese people affected by the earthquake and tsunami. A true tidal wave of loving care.

I think I’ll dive in.

Interested? To learn more about the “Quilts for Japan” project, go to A Quilter’s Newsletter. Then, get quilting!


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Just Do It!

Recently, I signed up for a workshop to learn to make a little quilt called, “Emma’s Legacy.” It’s just the kind of pattern I like best – very old-fashioned and scrappy. Reminiscent of the collection of quilts in grandma’s linen cupboard, tenderly pieced with parts of grandpa’s best shirt or baby’s christening dress. In those days, folks used what fabric they had, giving it new life in the form of a functional coverlet. A treasure cherished by generations that followed.

As Jane Austen would say, “I was all anticipation” until I heard that this pattern was so very complicated. The pieces are small and there are a lot of them to sew together in an intricate way. And then, there are the points! Oh, my.  All those points must match perfectly. One gal told me that after attempting the “Emma’s Legacy” quilt, she had renamed it “Emma’s Lunacy.” She failed to finish it.

After hearing her take, I thought about backing out of the workshop. Seriously. Did I want to set myself up for failure?

I called a meeting with me, myself, and I to regroup. Where was that old American-can-do-spirit? What about “nothing ventured, nothing gained?” Or “say ‘yes’ to the dress?”

Okay, maybe that last cliche doesn’t apply here. But you get my drift.

So I decided not only to take the class, but to complete the quilt on my newly acquired 1945 Singer Featherweight. A tiny sewing machine for a tiny quilt.

I feel a little victorious before it’s time, facing the lunacy project with renewed passion. But I am confident that with a little American ingenuity, I can see it through to the end. Now, to focus that same spirit toward a certain writing project I’ve been tickling around the edges. It’s time to plunge forward into the fray, ready for battle, expecting victory.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained, eh?


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One Quilt Begats Two

After putting together my daughter’s quilt, I found myself again collecting material for a new quilt when I really should have only been collecting a different type of material. Research for a new book. (Shhh. Don’t tell anyone.)  To justify this new blankie to myself, I labeled it “Legacy Recycling.” Sounds important, right?

If one is inclined to think I’m too politically correct – and no one has ever accused me of that – the premise behind the idea is to reuse some old squares stitched into a quilt nearly forty years ago by my mom. Sadly, the quilt is no longer useable. The sashing and backing are worn and torn. The batting has separated from itself, giving the quilt a lumpy effect. Even the yarn ties are frayed.  Still, I never could toss out that tattered treasure, all these many years.

The inner squares, depicting the story of The Wizard of Oz, were in great shape. I could remake this quilt, once lovingly crafted for my own little girl, into a sweet story-quilt for my granddaughter, Sidney Anne.

I purchased some wonderful, fresh fabrics to encase the old squares into a log-cabin design with a charming backing of cozy flannel. My fingers were itching to stitch.

Before I began, I wanted to finish up a sock monkey I’d meant to send Sidney ages ago. That project had spent too much time waiting on the shelf and my granddaughter was growing fast. So I got busy. I crocheted a flower for the hat and made Miss Monkey a frilly skirt, for a ballerina affect.

Once the monkey was on its way, I returned to the little quilt. But I got distracted when I found a gorgeous pop-up book of The Wizard of Oz at Costco.  Wouldn’t it be fun if I could read the story aloud to Sidney, pointing to the quilt squares at the right time?  Then she could tell the story to her baby dolls or young cousins, or that darned sock monkey, using the quilt as a guide. Unfortunately, the book turned out to be too scary for our precious three-year-old.  Since then, I’ve spent a lot of quilting time (and writing time) haunting various bookstores, attempting to find the perfect, age appropriate story of Dorothy’s adventures. No luck so far.

There have been myriad other diversions to keep me from finishing the quilt. Christmas is coming and there are homemade ornaments to make, home-baked treats to whip up for holiday potlucks, and practice time for Christmas concerts.

Besides, I need to abandon the quilt project for a while. And write. Which I should have been doing all along. A new project looms with a self-imposed deadline. I don’t want to miss this great opportunity. But what’s with me and unfinished quilts?

At least there’s a completed monkey on my resume. Which is better than a monkey on my back, I guess.

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Quilty Pleasures

When my daughter, Heidi, was little more than a toddler, I planned to make her a Raggedy Ann for Christmas. Time has blurred the reason why I didn’t get it finished, but I do remember handing her a box of red and blue fabric and bright orange yarn, along with a hug and an IOU.

She has never let me forget it.

So when a big birthday loomed ahead, I determined to do something special for her. To make a luxurious quilt that would surround her with “mommy-love.” And absolutely not give her an IOU on that most important day!

Because she loved Ralph Lauren bedding, I searched for just the right sheet to serve as the basis for her quilt. And I found the perfect pattern called “Cole Brook.” Unfortunately, it was a king-sized bed skirt instead of a full sheet. But, it had the right colors, the right weight, and feel.  A soft, cotton sateen. It would do very well.

In truth, I collected fabric for more than a year.  Finding only Ralph Lauren fabric proved to be too daunting for me.  Eventually, I added other brands of high thread count pillowcases and luxurious fabric samples.  The big day drew close and still, I shopped for just one more piece for an elusive quilt square. Maybe a silk plaid or a linen toile would give it that elegant edge I wanted.

Heidi & her "Mostly Ralph Lauren" quilt.

Heidi & her "Mostly Ralph Lauren" quilt.

With only two weeks to go, I started rotary cutting and stitching, piecing the quilt. I worked into the wee hours, knowing I didn’t want another Raggedy Ann moment on my parenting record.  Just in time, I got the quilt top finished and wrapped for the big party.  In a perfect world, the entire quilt would be completed, but I was happy to hand Heidi an original Medallion-patterned coverlet – almost a quilt. And lots of mommy-love instead of an IOU! I called it “Mostly Ralph Lauren” and she loved it. Mission accomplished.

Now, there is still the problem/promise of that Raggedy Ann….


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