Sunday, October 23, 2016

When Sewing Doesn't Go Well..

What do you do when you are frustrated because your latest project isn't turning out the way you'd expected? 

I bake. Sometimes I cook up some soup, but usually I bake.

The new quilting idea had looked wonderful on paper in black and white, but it didn't translate at all well into my chosen Christmas fabrics. Instead of agonizing over it, I took refuge in the kitchen. I baked zucchini bread one day and chocolate cake the next. 

The baking led to a discovery that made me wonder if my mom is still looking after me. 

I had picked up a huge zucchini earlier in the week because it reminded me of my mother's garden. She grew zucchini every summer and she grew them big. She used much of it to bake zucchini bread. I went searching for the perfect recipe, but I really wanted my mother's bread. I found a recipe with a five-star rating on All Recipes titled, "Mom's Zucchini Bread".

It was worth a try.  I cut the sugar down to 2 cups and added 1/2 cup of raisins to the recipe because Mother's zucchini bread had always contained raisins. The result was wonderful. My new recipe tasted exactly like I remember my mother's tasting. Moist, perfectly spiced, and sweetened with raisins. Positively scrumptious!

The next day, I was still unable to focus on sewing, so I baked a chocolate cake from a well loved recipe in my go to cookbook for baking. I've used this cookbook over and over since I found it in a used book sale in 1980.  It was so well loved that the pages were falling out. My wonderful baking book would soon be destroyed if I didn't do something to save it. Since I had nothing else that needing doing, I removed all of the pages, punched holes in them, and placed them in a big purple binder.

That's when I found this stuck between two pages. It's my mother's zucchini bread recipe in her own handwriting. I must have placed it there years and years ago and totally forgotten that I had it.

Mother's zucchini bread recipe.
The main differences between my mother's recipe and the one I found in All Recipes are that my mother's contains only 2 cups of sugar and it has raisins. These are the exact two changes that I made!

Compare the two recipes by following this link to All Recipes:

Happiness is a slice of warm zucchini bread. 
With raisins. 

Thank you, Mommy. 

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Sugar and Spice for the Holidays

The Mug Rug

"Sugar and Spice" is a bright and cheerful holiday mug rug filled with old fashioned goodness. I could almost smell the cinnamon and spices of gingerbread as I stitched it together.

The design was inspired by my grandson, David. Since David is our family holiday cookie monster, I chose his favorite holiday cookies and treats to display.  Gingerbread, frosted sugar cookies, cupcakes, candy canes, and just about any other candy that isn't filled with nuts, make him smile.

He grinned when I showed this little quilty to him. "You even decorated the cookies like the ones you make," he said.

The baking season will begin be upon us in no time! What are your family favorites?

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Three Pines

I'm often asked, "Where do you get your ideas?" To be truthful, I don't usually know the origin of a design, but this particular mug rug has a story.

Three Pines Mug Rug

I love to read. I'll read just about anything, but mystery novels are usually my first choice. I particularly like books that are a series so I can follow the characters over time.

Book 1 in the Inspector Gamache series

Recently, I've been entranced by the Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny. The stories are set in a remote fictional hamlet named Three Pines. It's not too far from Quebec and is named for the three majestic pine trees that stand like sentinels over the small village. I've fallen in love with the eclectic group of residents, the setting, and the stories.

The "Three Pines" mug rug was inspired by those books. Log cabin blocks and pine trees fit perfectly together.

Wishing everyone a fabulous first weekend of October!

Friday, September 23, 2016

A Winter's Night

Sometimes I struggle for days or weeks to come up with a new pattern idea. Other times, the idea finds me and forces itself to be made. This mug rug pattern was one of those totally unexpected projects.

I ran into trouble with choosing a layout and a background fabric. Horizontal or vertical? Black or dark blue?

I asked my Facebook followers to help me decide between black and blue. I'm sorry ladies, but you weren't a whole lot of help. The votes were almost exactly even!

So, I did the only thing possible. I made two mug rugs. One is horizontal, the other vertical.
One has a blue background, the other uses black. 

Now to get on to other things!

Happy first week of Autumn!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Whew! The Village is Actually Finished!!

I am so excited to have this little wall hanging finished at last!

I can't ever remember having had so many delays in making one pattern. The fabrics were all collected and set aside in June, and the plan was to have everything ready to go no later than mid August. Then Murphy and his law came along and threw a hitch into every single step. During this past week, though, everything came together, and I found the time to settle in and really focus.

I truly love designing houses. I did my very best to make each of these totally unique and different from every other. Adding special details is my absolutely favorite part of my work. As a result, the village contains cats, pumpkins, a squirrel, a picket fence, a falling leaf, and even tiny button doorknobs. I can picture a toddler discovering and pointing out all of these little add ons.

The bobbin is a good indication of the size of the cats. I went very slowly sewing the blanket stitch when going around those little faces.

Next up, Christmas! 
Too many ideas and I'm already a month or more behind! 

Gotta go!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

9/11/2001: Remembering

I've been sewing the last few friendship stars for my autumn village quilt, today. It's all assembly line work, so my mind has wandered back to the memories of September 11, fifteen years ago today.

We each have a story that we'll never forget. My story is a jumble of crystal clear images and hazy, blurred moments, as well. On that day, more than any other, I was acutely aware of the grave responsibility teachers have for the emotional needs of students. What we say can have an profound, long lasting effect on the children we teach.

It was a beautiful September morning and only a few weeks into the school year. As usual, I had come in early to set my classroom up for the day.

Did I have my television on while I worked? I don't think I did, but I'm not sure. My room was close to the office and to the front building entrance.  When the news reached the school, my room, with the unlocked door and a television, filled with office personnel and incoming staff. We watched the scene unfolding on the screen, in absolute shock and horror. Who could even begin to comprehend that an airplane had truly flown right into the Trade Center? And then the second plane and the second impact. It was real.

We stood glued to the news as students began arriving and gathering by the entry doors.  There was no protocol for how to handle a situation like this, and we didn't have time for a staff meeting. It was quickly decided that grade level teams of teachers would know best how to react to the needs of the students in their care. We were on our own. Primary students mainly needed to be assured that they were safe. My sixth graders, though, would need more actual information rather than less.

The bell rang, and students poured into the room. Everyone seemed to be talking at once. Rumors had spread rapidly before school. Information and misinformation and flown from one child to another. Some of the children were excited, others were panicked, several thought it was a stunt like in the movies, and one was in tears. I was bombarded with questions.

"Is it true?"
"Was it an accident?"
"Are we in a war?
"Did everybody die?"
"Who was it?"
"Are they coming here?
"Are we going to die?"
"Are they going to close the school?"

I know that I tried to answer their questions, but no one had very much accurate information at this point. I reassured the children, tried to impress upon them that they were safe. When my class went off to P.E. I caught up on the latest news. So many questions would not be answered for days and even weeks ahead.

When the students returned to class I shared what I knew with them. The buildings had fallen, all air traffic had been grounded, the president was on his way to the air force base near Omaha. He would be only 50 miles from Lincoln. Knowing that the president would be in Nebraska was comforting to some of the children. The president wouldn't be taken someplace where he'd be in danger.

How much actual news did I share? The words I used escape me. What did I say to help these preteens comprehend, yet to comfort and calm them? I know I was honest, but reassuring, and that somehow, in spite of events, the class was very calm. I do remember that students listened to me and to each other without interruption. It was one of the quietest days in my teaching career.

The events of that horrible day had a profound effect on all of us. Within the classroom I saw an unusual level of maturity that year. I saw children become more considerate of each other. More caring. Our class members drew together, and this became the year that we were a family.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Village Delays

This has been such a good week. Our son is doing very well. He's home in his own apartment and he'll be going back to work part time next week. It's good to see that he has a positive attitude about the challenges that he has been facing. I'm finally starting to relax.

I've made good progress on the autumn village wall hanging, and the pattern should be ready by the middle of this month. Fingers crossed, of course. I really did want to have it all finished by the end of this week, but building a whole village is bound to result in delays and missed deadlines. Especially when the architect and general contractor gets distracted with having too much fun.

The photos on this page don't show the entire layout, but they do show how the houses will look when they're finished. I think that the only missing elements are the doorknobs.

Remember when you were very young, and you played for hours and hours with your favorite toy? Your imagination took over, and time seemed to stand absolutely still. Well, I'm no longer young, but this week I played for hours and hours putting the center of the autumn village quilt together.

Once I'd chosen a basic layout, it took forever to decide on placement of the buildings and trees. I wanted the effect to be balanced but not symmetrical, natural rather than stilted, and flowing instead of stagnant. But, it didn't end there. I had to toss in details. I thoroughly indulged in my love of details! It's the details that add life and interest to the quilt. Knowing when to stop may be my greatest challenge.

Tomorrow, I'll start planning the border design. I've ordered a bit of yardage for narrow borders and binding and such, so I'll need to work on other things before I can finish the sewing and quilting. I can make templates for all of the applique pieces and layout sketches. I'll also start typing up the pattern, so that when my fabrics arrive the entire quilt will go together fairly quickly. Then, I'll you'll see the whole thing.

September is off to a good start!
I hope you week is wonderful and amazing. 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Architectural Distractions

On Monday, my son had surgery to remove a small tumor from his lung. We expected it to be a reappearance of a previous liver cancer, and it was. We were as prepared as parents can be. It may help, but that doesn't make it easy. He's home now, his prognosis is pretty good, and he gets better every day. He's chipper and upbeat, so we're all feeling better than we did earlier, but it has been a stressful week.
Sometimes a person needs a mental escape to help deal with stress. I escape into architecture. There's something soothing about houses, and I totally shut out the world when I get focused on designing a house.

This is the first pair of houses I designed this week. The cottage was in desperate need of remodeling.
 When I was in elementary school, I drew castles, or I made doll house furniture from cut and folded paper. Later I took to drawing floor plans. The more stressful the situation, the more floor plans I drew. Sometimes I simply made house plans for fun. It's a good thing that graph paper was cheap because I've gone through reams of it over the years.

The three completed houses with the cottage in the middle. New siding, new roof, new trim, and new position have made a world of difference!
Now, I've graduated to designing houses on quilts. I'm not completely sure what I'll do with these houses in autumn fabrics. Table runner? Wall hanging? They're too big for mug rugs. I don't even know how many houses I'll need. At least one more, I think, but maybe two.

How do you think I should use these little structures? Each fits nicely into a 9" x 9" block, but 9" x 12" would also be a good size. What should accompany them? I'd love to hear your views.

Lunch is finished and I'm heading back to the construction site. 
House #4, coming up!

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Nibble, Nibble, or How to Keep Busy While You Wait

I've been waiting for a stack of autumn fabrics to arrive so I can finish up the wall hanging I started last week, but twiddling my thumbs while I wait doesn't work at all. I get twitchy if I don't have something to do.

Since I didn't have another project ready to go, I sat down and began making a list of fall and winter quilting ideas. You know how it goes - one idea leads to another, leads to another, leads to another ... and, suddenly, bingo! Gingerbread houses led to Hansel and Gretel led to the wicked witch saying, "Nibble, nibble, little mouse..." And there they were -  three little mice nibbling on the harvest. These little guys demanded to made. Right now!

I don't know why I didn't name the pattern, "Nibble, Nibble", but by the time it dawned on me, I had the pattern on Craftsy and all ready to go.

I did have fun with these fellows. I must have drawn seven or eight little mice before I settled on these three. To tell the truth, though, I really, really like that corn cob.

It looked like nothing more than a big yellow blob before I started quilting. I was thrilled that my very imperfect free motion pebbles produced a pretty realistic cob filled with real kernels of corn. I'm not at all expert, but in spite of that, I love to play with F.M.Q.. For those who aren't in love with that technique, I sketched a plan for an alternate, straight stitch quilting or hand embroidery pattern. That design is on the pattern layout page.

Cute little mice need long whiskers, round black eyes, and little pink ears. I stitched those by hand with black and pink embroidery floss.

In case you wondered, this is what my holiday idea list looks like right now. I wonder how many I'll actually make.

Gingerbread House (mug rug)
Gingerbread Man
Harvest moon
Autumn Rain
Double, Double, Toil and Trouble
Visions of Sugarplums
Candy Canes
Little House in the Big Woods
North Pole
Star Table Topper
Christmas Sampler Quilt

 I hope you have a super wonderful week!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

When the Lights Go Out, Go Shopping!

It isn't very nice, I know, but I was thrilled when last week's thunderstorm caused an electrical outage in my granddaughter's neighborhood. 

The storm was noisy and woke me up early that morning. I don't normally look at Facebook first, but I was being extra quiet so as not to wake my hubby. I was surprised to find that my granddaughter was posting on Facebook at the very same time. Her day off hadn't started out well at all. Her husband had already gone to work, and she was sitting alone in the dark waiting for the lights to come back on. She had no hot water for a shower, no air conditioning, and no morning cup of coffee.

"Come on over," I typed. "I have a cool house, lots of hot water for a shower, coffee ready to go, and I would love to visit with you." In half an hour we were sharing breakfast at my table.

Sara and Tim have their own apartment now, and Sara had developed a sudden interest in my quilts. A trip to my storage space under the stairs quickly turned into a shopping spree. I told Sara that, with few exceptions, she could have anything she wanted. 

These are a few of the items she chose. There are no patterns for two of the older quilts.

When she left I had space for quite a few new projects. She's definitely her mother's daughter.

Love my girls!


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Sunflowers in August

I'm seeing sunflowers everywhere I go. Silk sunflowers in the craft stores, fabric sunflowers in quilt shops, and sunflowers at the farmer's market. Sunflowers and lazy Susans make me smile.

I couldn't resist the happy, bright yellow blossoms with the dark brown centers and their deep green leaves, so I stitched up a pair of sunflower mug rugs. I've been gravitating more and more towards wall hangings and table runners, so designing a new mug rug was overdue.

Mug rugs are so quick that I was able to make two and play with different background treatments of the same flower. It's always fascinating to see how background fabrics and quilting designs can change the entire personality of a quilt. I can't make up my mind which of these I like better. Blue with dense FMQ? Cream with a colorful border and simple vertical quilting? Both are fun.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Big Sigh of Relief!

After three months of living with a disaster in our front yard, all water issues are resolved, we have a brand new flower garden, the house has new siding and a new roof, and our home looks better than ever. 

It started in May with the strongest thunderstorm our city had seen in almost 100 years. We were lashed by wind, rain and hail for several hours. A tornado touched down only a mile from our house. When all was said and done, we'd had 8 inches of rain. My sewing room and a bedroom in the unit next door were soaked with water that had poured in under our front porches. We also had hail damage to the roof and siding, but the basement water was the biggest issue.

Every contractor in town was swamped, and we couldn't find anyone who could get to us in less than a month. One company told me that they'd had over 1,000 calls in just the first two days after the storm.

The carpenter/handyman who had done beautiful work for us during the last fifteen years volunteered to take care of our problem, and we were relieved to know that all was in good hands. Huge mistake!

the mess left by our handyman
I don't know why this man thought he could fix our water issue. His carpentry is amazing, but he had absolutely no clue what he was doing in the yard! He abandoned his plan after the first morning. From then on, each failed idea only increased the mess. After three days we had to fire him. I think he was just as relieved to be gone as we were to have him gone. He'd laid a rubber sheet down, and that kept most of new rainwater at bay. Since both units were still getting a bit of water with each new rainfall, I picked up an extra shop vac for the neighbor. We could survive until the right contractor was found.

Sometimes I think our daughter knows everyone in town. She recommended a very reliable landscaper whose sister had been her student teacher several years ago. He couldn't get to us for three weeks, but roofing and siding crews were scheduled to begin work, so it was better to wait for them to finish.

What a difference!

It took from early May to the beginning of August, but our house and yard have a brand new look. All's well that ends well.

Do come on over and join me for coffee on my front porch. 

I'm definitely ready to focus on something else!
Sewing room, here I come!!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

A Week Saved by an Email

I keep waiting for this summer to end. I would love to keep the sunshine and warmth, but if leaving summer means leaving the craziness behind, I'm all for calling up autumn.

Progress is slow, but there finally is progress on the work being done in my yard and on my house. Rain has interfered with putting up the siding, and that has, in turn, delayed planting a new flower bed.

We don't need workers carrying siding up and down ladders in the middle of new plantings. So, siding and a dumpster sit in my driveway waiting for sunny weather.

In the middle of all of this I came down with an intestinal virus. It's been years since I had this kind of flu, and I'd forgotten how it can really knock the wind out a body. My new mug rug isn't making much faster progress than anything else.

It's always surprising, but when you are feeling stressed, a kind word out of the blue often comes along and gives your spirit a boost. I received this email from a customer a few days ago. It couldn't have come at a better time. 

"Good evening, Ms. klee2strings:

"I wanted to let you know that I purchased a few of your patterns a few weeks ago, and I was able to make one of the items today (rooster from Sun's Up). Your directions were very  easy to follow - I am a beginner and I had no problems. I decided to turn the mug rug into a placemat with a pocket, see attached photo, and it worked out great. I now know to make the pocket longer next time, things you learn along the way (by making mistakes). Anyway, I wanted to thank you for continuing to teach in your years of retirement - it is evident that you were a teacher, as your directions are clear and your handwriting is neat!  I look forward to making the hen and the other patterns I purchased from you  (Calico Cats, Stitching Stuff, and Tooth Fairy Mug). My mother-in-law is an avid quilter so I am looking forward to making the Stitching Stuff mug rug for her.

"Again, thank you for being a teacher (then and now) and making beautiful projects."


Though I do love quilting, when it comes to professions, teaching has always been my first love. It was wonderful to have this assurance that after nine years of retirement, I can still help people learn. Kind words can make a world of difference.

I hope to finish the newest mug rug next week. Fingers crossed!

Happy August, everyone!

Monday, July 25, 2016

Ambushed by Tricky Autumn Batiks

Some designs are intentionally planned for a specific purpose, some suddenly appear out of nowhere, and still others are inspired by pure chance.

I was looking for the perfect little piece of green fabric to use in a new mug rug design. The "just right" piece wasn't with my regular green prints, so I went to my drawer of batiks. I hadn't looked at that group in several weeks, and I was suddenly immersed in the lush colors of autumn.  Golds, oranges, browns, plus multiple greens and deep reds screamed "autumn leaves". The fabrics begged to be stitched into something lovely for fall. Ideas swirled around my head in a visual autumn dance.

Ambushed and trapped by own own fabric stash!

The mug rug was forgotten as I plunged into a project for autumn. That was about three weeks ago. I took my time with this one. I love the single block and it's versatility, so I fiddled with placement and changed my mind several times. When it was finished I had two projects rather than just one. One table runner and one square table topper are finished and ready for fall.

I love these batiks!

I made two completely different designs by rearranging the placement of the blocks, but I can envision full lap quilts and bed quilts, too.

The complete block, 8" x 8".
Square Table Topper.
Table Runner
Now, I'll get back to that mug rug! 

Wishing you a super last week of July!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Christmas in July

It's July, and it may be hot and humid in Nebraska, but it really is time to start thinking about Christmas projects. I had planned to have new patterns ready by now, but life got in the way. Funny how that happens.

So, instead of showing you brand new ideas, I've placed some my favorite holiday patterns and tutorials in this blog post so they can be more quickly located. I've tried to pick patterns in a variety of styles, sizes, and color schemes. Links are included.

Most of the patterns here can also be located under the label "Christmas" on the right hand side of this page.

For other ideas, feel free to visit my pattern page on Craftsy.

I wish you a wonderful second half of summer! 

Patterns Available for Purchase on Craftsy

Candlelight: wall hanging or table topper
Snow Family: wall hanging or table topper

Ice Skates: wall hanging or table topper

Holiday Toys, Soft Christmas Ornaments

Holiday Tabletop Trio: wall hanging or table topper

 Christmas Houses: wall hanging or table topper

Let's Rock: mug rugs

Wrapped and Ready: mug rug

Ready for Takeoff: mug rug

Holiday Rag Doll: mug rug

Winter Romance: mug rug

Tutorials on my blog:

Holiday Gift Bags

French Braid Oven Mitts

Home for Christmas: lap quilt

New Toys, Part 2: constructing the styrofoam wreath used with "Holiday Toys"