Simple yet Effective


Indigo Pearadise
Indigo Pearadise

I was just looking at some of my favorite quilts on Pinterest and once again noting how appealing some of the simplest designs are.  A little charm pack sewn together with wide sashing and quilted.  Divine.

But, I’m afraid I don’t often make those quilts.  I love designing and tend to add my “what if” philosophy to the process – adding and complicating things.  I like doing that.

Indigo Pearadise is one of those quick, relatively unplanned projects that resulted in a pleasing outcome.  Minimal preparation, some very pleasant zen time with my needle in hand, some dancing with my sewing machine, and I have a little wall quilt.

Last spring, I had been stitching pears in preparation for an upcoming class I was planning to teach at my favorite local quilt shop.  I had drawn this pear as a design to use for the introductory class. With gentle curves and a few pieces, I could focus on the beginning steps in needleturn appliqué, making a template, marking the background, learning the stitch.

In doing my homework for the class, I made numerous samples varying fabrics and backgrounds.  Pears are like chocolate (pears are good with chocolate, too); they can become addictive.

We were anticipating an upcoming trip, and is usually the case, I spend more time thinking about the sewing project I’m taking than the clothes I will wear.  I wanted to continue my pear exploration with minimal preparation.  I had a charm pack from Minick and Simpson’s Indigo Crossing fabric line from Moda and knew I would love whatever project I made.  Anything blue is good.  Anything these two sisters design is good.

So I reduced the size of the original pear pattern I had made for the class (from 6″ x 9″ to about 3″ x 5″), made a plastic template, and marked a linen background with guidelines for even placement of the pears.

I stitched all the pears in the evenings in our B & B in Blue Ridge and later at Amicalola State Park in Ga.  No, the fact that one of our destinations was Blue Ridge did not enter into my fabric choices.  It’s serendipity.

Now when I see this project, I see blue pears.  But I also see rainy days in Blue Ridge, delightful walks about the town, nice meals with my husband, and fun with family at Amicalola.

The quilting is done with 60 weight silk thread using a continuous curve design.  I mark a grid, in this case 1/2”, with a removable marker to guide the free motion quilting.  Dream Wool batting.  This project finished at 16″ x 21″.



suset Mt Dora

We recently visited Mt. Dora, Fl. (elevation 176 feet).  It was spring break but there were no crazy balcony jumpers there.  Mt. Dora is a nice little old Florida town with a modern art museum, art galleries, shops, and a lake with a lighthouse.

On the evening before we left home for our trip, we had dinner with friends.  En route to their house, we stopped at Publix for a bottle of wine and dessert.  Jim said, “something chocolate” when asked for a recommendation for the menu.  I found their Decadent Chocolate Cake and bought my first one ever.  It was decadent indeed.

In Mt. Dora, our innkeeper was Melanie.  Over coffee, she revealed that Publix bakes fresh bread for the B & B’s gourmet breakfast every day. Our menu included strawberry and ricotta stuffed french toast, served behind a tropical soup of strawberries, blueberries, yogurt, and banana, topped with diced Fuji apple.  Yes, if you suspect that this was amazingly delicious, you are right.

MelanieMelanie knows that Publix uses only the best ingredients because the company was one of her customers when she worked as a salesperson for some of the world’s finest chocolate.

In fact, Publix’s Decadent Chocolate Cake?  She developed that recipe.

Jobs well done, Melanie; at breakfast in Mt. Dora…and on the cake recipe.  I just love unexpected connections.


I planted some geraniums today.  That’s a sign that I think it’s springtime!

I love geraniums.  Especially red geraniums.  They are so perky and straightforward, “I AM A BIG SHOWY FLOWER.  LOOK AT ME!”.

Even my brown thumbs can keep them producing blooms through the summer.

Maybe because Aunt Nellie always had them, I find their presence comforting in the yard.  I put them in terra cotta pots because she said “their roots like to breathe.”

So I found myself thinking of this little quit in the photo.  I made it for our guild’s challenge in 2011.  The challenge that year was to make a “two-block quilt”.  Further details in the rules said you must include two different pieced blocks.

Since I like to try to find an unexpected way to follow the rules, I pieced several sawtooth star blocks; not all the same size, from red and white fabrics in the top section of this quilt.  For the lower section, I pieced square-in-a-square blocks using some of my precious indigo collection.  These fabrics were printed in Africa using copper plates that are several hundred years old.  I bought them from a vendor in Paducah one year and treasure them in a special basket.  But I thought a geranium themed quilt was worthy of putting these treasures under the knife.

Atop the pieced background, I appliquéd the flower pot, stems, leaves, and geraniums using felted wool.  There is minimal quilting on this piece, a simple vine and leaf design that is one of my favorite hand-guided, free-motion quilting motifs.  It finished at 14” x 20”.

I confess that this was likely done at the last minute.  No label is attached as yet and the imaginative title of “Geraniums” is another clue that the deadline was nigh.  The geranium in the pot was inspired by one of Maggie Bonanomi’s designs,  I added a big satin bow to give dimension.

The geraniums in the watering can are a colored pencil Version 3drawing I made last week from a photo taken in our backyard.  I love old, well-worn watering cans almost as much as I love geraniums.  Anything in blue is beautiful  So, the three working together make my soul sing.

Ollie Jane and her Basket quilt

Version 3Ollie Jane Wheeler Hasty was my paternal grandmother.  She grew up in the foothills of north Georgia, married my grandfather in at the age of 17, bore him seven children there.  Then they bundled up the six living children and household goods, drove a wagon to the flatlands of south Georgia where she gave birth to three additional children.

A faithful farm wife and mother, I don’t think she ever got over leaving her parents and her two-year-old Susan Margaret in the cemetery in Cherokee County.

After sixty-eight years of marriage, she was widowed and shortly thereafter came to live in the house with us.  For the last seven years of her life, she educated me by example.  An example that a woman’s hands are never idle, that an old person still has a role to fill and contributions to make to this world, and that kindness is the only attribute a lady needs.

When I was 15 and she was 93, Granny died in the kitchen while washing dishes after lunch.  She had been sewing that morning.  I hope to be able to sew on the day of my death.  And, at age 93 would be good, too.

Granny made many quilts in her lifetime.  Daddy, the ninth of the ten children, recalled that she made their clothes from feedsacks, then when they the clothes were worn out, she cut them up and used the good parts in quilts.  I have disassembled old quilts she had made to discover that another old worn quilt had been used as the batting layer.

Her quilts were generally utilitarian.  Often they were string pieced on a muslin background with big stitches using a coarse thread.

Oj basket quiltBut I own an exception.  I have the quilt that she made prior to her marriage.  It was on her bed on her wedding night in 1890 and on every anniversary night for sixty-eight years.  Some of the binding is worn and replaced, which indicates that it was used more than sixty-nine times, but I suspect as time went on and it was beginning to wear, this quilt was put away to preserve its story.

When Granny “broke up housekeeping,” she passed the quilt and its story on to Christine, the oldest granddaughter.  As Christine’s life was coming to a close, she chose to pass the treasure on to me, the youngest.  And treasure it I do.

Now that I make quilts, I’ve examined the details of this construction more closely.  The young girl Ollie Jane pieced the half-square triangles by hand, but appliquéd the basket handles on a machine.  Yes, this was prior to 1890.  The Baptist fan quilting is done by hand.

I did not know this quilt even existed while I had Granny to tell me about it.  I fear that even had I known I would not have listened intently to the details.  But I can learn from examining it and can be inspired by its existence.  Perhaps this explains why I’ve made so many basket quilts.

Treasures Under the Knife

treasures cut upI’m upstairs now in my sewing haven cutting up some coveted fabric collections and sewing them back together.  I boast in Fifty-Two Tuesdays that I’m all about using the good stuff.  But sometimes I think I should experiment with less desirable fabric, “in case I mess it up.”  How’s that for a negative self image?

I watched Katie Fowler ( on the The Quilt Show ( yesterday.  I, like many audience members, was astounded as she cut up her beautiful quilt.  “Dramatic” is not strong enough to describe that episode.

Katie has mastered many quiltmaking techniques and is a creativity coach, helping others to “find their voice”.  Subsequent to the show (#1807) with Alex and Ricky, she revisited them to share the finished product of her cut up quilt in its new life.  Today I watched a skype session between Alex and Katie.  They discussed our reluctance to “untie the bow” on coveted stacks of fabric.

Inspired, yes I am.  Their conversation has me pressing and cutting and resewing some beautiful woven art.  Kaffe Fassett prints, shot cottons, and stripes have made their way off the shelf and are headed into a familiar pattern with a twist.  What fun!

I realize that my quilts I love the most are those in which I dared to explore the unknown with treasured fabrics.  GBI Blues, Indigo Pearadise, and Miss Lily’s Baskets are three examples.  All are in the gallery.

A personal design note:  Though these fabrics “go together” in that they are parts of distinct fabric groups, they are not from one collection.  They span several releases of Kaffe’s over the years.  And I pulled some other fabrics, too (non-Kaffe stripes, something that “reads” solid, other big bold prints).  When I do use a designer’s collection, I usually spice it up with some outliers.  Joanna Figueroa ( advises 85% collection/15% stash.  I don’t analyze, but I’d say that’s about right.



clematisMy friend Marie, who did such an excellent job with the layout and editing of Fifty-two Tuesdays recently worked her magic again on one of my publishing attempts.  When I asked her fee, she replied, “consider it part of the original fee you paid me.”  I said, “oh, it’s lagniappe.”

The subsequent discussion led me to pull Celestine Sibley’s book, Small Blessings, off the shelf and reread some of her delightful columns. Included in this volume is the one where she introduced me to lagniappe.

As I read this treasured volume from my library, I realized that if Celestine were writing today, she would be one of my favorite bloggers.  Her personal stories have touched me for probably more than fifty years.

I have at least one copy of all Celestine’s books, have given many as gifts, and reread portions of them often.  As a young girl, I looked forward to reading her column in the magazine section of the Atlanta Journal and Constitution on Sundays.  I got directions to her log cabin near Crabapple, GA from relatives who lived there and begged my Daddy to drive me by the house when we were near there attending a family gathering.  He did.

What an impression that woman and her writing made on me.  On Mother’s Day weekend circa 1995, my daughter and I went to meet Celestine and hear a lecture – a treasured day for me.

Isn’t it funny how one conversation leads to an word you haven’t heard or used in a while, then that leads to more memories of where you first heard the word, then to other associations with that person and others who share the story (our New Orleans’ friends are well acquainted with lagniappe), and you fall down an enchanted rabbit hole of memories?

Celestine’s definition of lagniappe is a “little something extra”.  Wikipedia says about the same thing.  Today’s photo of my first clematis bloom is your lagniappe.

Dancing with my Sewing Machine

Miss Ruby's Red Bouquet
Miss Ruby’s Red Bouquet

Occasionally I will stitch layers of fabric and batting together with a hand stitch–to revisit history, or pay homage to my foremothers, or because it “suits the piece”.  But my real love is hand-guided, free-motion quilting on my sewing machine.

I use my simple, straight stitch sewing machine without a stitch regulator.  The “domestic” sewing machine where you sit and move the fabric under the needle.  Some people liken the process to drawing something by holding the pencil in place and moving the paper underneath the point.  That’s it.  Except this pencil point is sharp and is moving up and down.

It did take a lot of practice to become adept at the process.  But I was determined.   Once I became satisfied that I was getting the hang of it, I relaxed and realized I thought of it as “dancing with my sewing machine.”  Now I can stitch and talk at the same time.  I can draw designs with the sewing machine without marking the fabric first.  And, I enjoy it.

How did I learn to do this?  By reading and watching videos.  Diane Gaudynski’s books were the most helpful to me when I started this process.  I watched videos of her at work, as well.  Then I tried the technique myself.  Once I had to have a book at hand at every step of the process, selecting the needle, remembering how to start and stop, adjusting the tension, troubleshooting.

Later on, websites like Leah Day’s 365 Free Motion Quilting Designs  gave me ideas for filler designs and how to stitch them.  Now, I have a file of designs in my sewing room, a bulletin board of designs on Pinterest, and a sampling of ideas in completed projects.  I sometimes run downstairs to look at a quilt on the wall to examine a stitching design.

I do tend to quilt my quilts heavily.  Bullet proof.  Within an inch of their lives.  I can spread the quilting further apart, but I’m usually disappointed in the end result.  My stitches end up being about 1/4″ apart in all motifs. That’s just how I like it.

Details of photo:  This quilt uses cotton fabrics, wool batting and cotton thread.  The variety of textures comes from several quilting designs: a feathered plume, curved grid, pumpkin seeds, some echoing, free hand vines, and paisley loops.