Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Log Cabin Christmas

How do patterns begin? In this case, the idea was planted decades ago when I was a child and became entranced by the "Little House on the Prairie" books. If you didn't read the books, you may remember the television program. The very first book in the series was Little House in the Big Woods, a story of Christmas in a log cabin.

I tried to capture the essence of the story in this little quilt. The cabin is snuggled in the trees, and framed by traditional log cabin blocks. The red squares that represents a warm hearth are slightly off center to add interest to the layout.

Perfect log cabin blocks

Unfortunately, I'm not one of those quilters whose 1/4" seams are absolutely perfect every single time. It's hard for me to get log cabin blocks to finish with perfect dimensions. If the stitching is just a couple of threads too wide or too narrow, the block can come out all wonky. I'm pretty fussy about my sewing, so I sometimes cheat just a little to make things right.

Instead of cutting each strip to the exact measurements of the pattern, I fudge a bit and cut each one just 1/8" wider and longer. Then, I can trim each strip back to the exact size after sewing it onto the block. The extra effort is well worth it, and when you work assembly line style, it goes fast.

It's much easier to trim each patch back than as I go than it is to make everything fit when the patches are slightly crooked or a touch too small.
Playing with detail and telling a story

I love to have fun with my quilts, and it's adding in those little details and finishing touches that I enjoy the most.

Even with the big wreath and the red door, the house didn't look as warm and welcoming as I wanted. It needed a sign that happy children lived here, so I got to play in the snow and build a snowman. I gave him a hat and a scarf, twigs for arms, coal for his eyes, and a carrot nose. I played happily for one entire morning, and I didn't even get cold.

I played with the snowy white background, too. My free motion quilting is far from perfect, but it's so much fun.

 If you look closely, you might see a few snowflakes and some smoke from the chimney mixed in with the simple loops in the quilting.

The snow has landed in drifts, but someone has shoveled the walk.

I'm so glad this quilt is finished! It's already a full week into December, and I haven't yet begun work on my gift list or started my Christmas baking. I plan to get that first batch of cookies in the oven after lunch. It will be a start.

Not Panicking!!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Fowl Play - Mug Rugs for Bird Lovers

It's Thanksgiving tomorrow! I'm getting all prepared. Potatoes are cooked and ready to mash, sweet potatoes are cooling so I can peel them and get the sweet potato casserole ready for the oven tomorrow, the turkey is almost thawed, and veggies are washed and ready to go. Our little family will be celebrating three November birthdays tomorrow, too, so there's no pumpkin pie for us. Today I'll frost our traditional extra chocolatey Thanksgiving birthday cake.

Is it only because it's turkey time that it seems like I'm seeing more photos of birds every day? Facebook seems to be filled with pheasants in the fields, chickens in backyards, roosters crowing at dawn, ducks, geese, and exotic birds as pets, cardinals and robins in the bare branches of winter trees, birdwatchers in the woods, and, or course,Thanksgiving  turkeys.

Thanksgiving is also a reminder that Christmas is coming fast. Some of us could use some speedy project ideas for a gift or two. Since I have birds on the brain, I put together this group of bird themed mug rug patterns to stitch up for the bird lovers on your list.

Garden Birds

Summer Swallow


Four Seasons

Farm Fowl

Sun's Up

November Visit

Goose Gossip

Whimsical Birds
Hen Party

Run, Turkey, Run
Toy Bird
Just Ducky

Wishing everyone a very happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Log Cabins and Bean Soup

The Log Cabins

I'm been sewing log cabin blocks while dressed in a warm winter sweater, thick socks, and my fleece lined winter slippers. Our record breaking warm weather has abruptly been replaced by bitter cold and a brisk north wind, so I couldn't have picked a better project for this week. A log cabin with a big fire in the fireplace sounds so warm and cozy right now.

So far, I've been following the original plan, but now that the log cabin blocks are finished, I'm not completely sure that I want to finish it like this.

I'm using 9" blocks, so I have lots of options and space for experimentation. It doesn't hurt that I'm not feeling pressured to have this finished by any particular date.
A Recipe for Ham and Bean Soup

Winter weather and hot soup are perfect companions, so my kitchen soup factory is back in business. This week, I cooked up a pot of old-fashioned ham and bean soup - perfect comfort food for a day that requires fuzzy slippers and warm socks.

Grandmother's Bean Soup With Ham

  • 1 medium onion, chopped 
  • 1 T vegetable oil
  • 1 15 oz can of chicken broth 
  • 4 or 5 oz ham cut into 1/2" cubes
  • 1/4 cup grated carrots
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp dried parsley
  • 1/2 tsp dried dill weed
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 15 oz cans of cannellini beans
  • 1 T ketchup
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • salt, if needed (I found that the ham was sufficiently salty, so I added no additional salt.)

1. Heat the oil in a large, heavy saucepan. Saute the chopped onions in the vegetable oil until golden.
2. Add the chicken broth, ham, carrots, bay leaves, parsley, dill weed, and water.
3. Cover and cook on medium low for 30 minutes, or until the carrots are tender.
4. Add the cannellini beans, pepper, and ketchup. Continue cooking for another 30 minutes. Add additional water if needed.
5. Remove bay leaves to serve.

And keep warm!

Saturday, October 29, 2016

"Love, Charlie". How to Adapt a Child's Artwork for Applique Quilting

The Background Story
"Love, Charlie" is the first little quilt I've based on a piece of child's art. I had so much fun, and the resulting mug rug is one of my very, very favorites. I do hope it won't be the last piece to be inspired by a child.

Two years ago, Charlie made this painting in his art class. This lovely boy is the very talented son of one of my daughter's coworkers. I've sort adopted the family, and I designed the Tooth Fairy Pillow for Charlie when he lost his first tooth.

The Process

Step 1: Make a photocopy of the section of the artwork you want to use. Reduce or enlarge it to fit the size you need for your quilt.

The painting is greatly simplified, but it is definitely recognizable, and it retains much of the flavor of the original.
Step 2: Use a light table or a sunny window to trace a simple outline of the drawing onto paper. Working with fabric is quite a bit different than working with paints or a crayon.The artwork will more than likely need simplification and a bit of reshaping. The antlers were too skinny for fabric pieces, so I enlarged them and rounded them out. I eliminated some details.The black outline of the deer's head and the little white accents on the nose and ears were some of the details that I left out. The mouth ran into the chin, so I changed the shape just a bit.

Step 3: Back to the light table or the window. Flip the original drawing upside down and trace it onto a fresh sheet of paper. This will give you applique shapes that are already reversed and ready to use.

Step 4: Make dotted lines to show the overlap of the different pieces you'll need to cut for the appliques.

Step 5: Trace all the pieces you'll need onto a piece of paper or card stock and label them. You can trace them onto the paper side of your fusible web for quick fuse applique from here. This also works with freezer paper for turned applique.

Step 6: This step is optional. I always draw my pieces on card stock so that I can cut them out for tracing onto my fusible web. In this way, I know that I can make numerous identical copies of my pattern very quickly.

Finishing Touches

I embroidered the mouth, nose and eyes.

And finally, I embroidered a message to Santa. This wasn't part of the original painting at all, but when I looked at that little deer's face with those big eyes and that quirky smile, I knew this little guy wanted something.

What a blast! I do play and enjoy myself in my sewing room, but this was the most fun I've had in weeks. Charlie's deer was the lighthearted and very sweet pick-me-up that I've been needing.

I'd like to play around with other children's artwork to see how they might turn out. If you'd like to send me photos of your favorite child's drawing, I can see if anything else might adapt as nicely to applique as Charlie's deer did. No promises for using your photo, but I'll definitely respond to all emails.

Send photos to my email:

Happy Last Weekend of October! 

October Halloween.

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.