Ollie Jane’s Flower Garden

Ollie Jane's Flower Garden
Ollie Jane’s Flower Garden

I recently described this work as “my first major quilt.”  It was completed in 2007, so it doesn’t belong in the catalog of my latest work, but the elements I included in it still appear in many more recent designs.

The quilt was made over a period of six years.  I completed other quilts during that time, but this was an ongoing project.  One of the first piecing techniques that intrigued me was English paper piecing.  I basted the 1” hexagons on freezer paper and had a portable project.  Since I was still working full time, I stitched while riding in the car and on visits with my mother in her assisted living facility, on the porch with her at her nursing home, and in hospital waiting rooms when my sister was ill.

As I was learning more about the world of quilting, I began to think of ways to combine these hexagons with other quilting techniques.  Once I learned needleturn appliqué, I wanted to add some curves to my pieced elements.  I assembled ten of the Grandmother’s Flower Garden units, appliquéd them to a background, and planned to add a vine with leaves in the border.

detail from Ollie Jane's Flower Garden
detail from Ollie Jane’s Flower Garden

I actually made another small quilt to explore the technique of the two-colored border with the vine separating them.  That worked, so I interpreted it large scale.

I wanted a bit more interest in the center of the quilt (well, not really the center…I was already embracing the idea of asymmetrical balance), so I made a bouquet of flowers using some elements of flowers from Barb Adams and Alma Allen’s Quilting in the Garden (a quilt I completed sometime in this process).

detail from Ollie Jane's Flower Garden
detail from Ollie Jane’s Flower Garden

I made my first bow with trapunto here.  I loved the bow.  I still like bows.  Especially plaid bows.  They reveal the folds created when a ribbon is rumpled to tie a knot.

Certainly not the least challenging was the quilting.  Then a beginner, I quilted the hexagons with a continuous curve motif, echoed around the appliqué, used my version of one of Diane Gaudynski’s filler designs in the inner border, and stitched a double grid in the outer border.  The only element of the quilting that was marked was half of the straight lines (they are 1” apart) and then quilted 1/4” away from that using the edge of the free motion foot.  Then, as now, the straight line quilting is the most challenging motif in free motion quilting, but I do still love the effect.

When it was time to give this quilt a title, I enlisted my husband’s input.  He came up with Ollie Jane’s Flower Garden to honor the traditional blocks of hexagons and give tribute to my quilting grandmother, Ollie Jane Hasty.

This quilt has had quite a career appearing in quilt shows and going to lectures with me.  She has earned some ribbons and accolades, but I haven’t retired her.  She hangs in the stairwell of our home, as close to the center of our lives as she can be.

The quilt used all cotton fabrics, some reproduction feed sacks.  Batting is Dream Cotton request.  Quilting thread is DMC machine embroidery cotton 50 weight / 2ply.  Finished dimensions are 58” x 68”.

Time Travel

Barnsley Gardens houseI am creating a journal quilt again this year, Fifty-two Wednesdays.  Each week, I select one image from my life and stitch it into a rectangular block.

The week ending on Wednesday, April 27, was filled with possibilities.  We were in Padcuah, KY at the annual AQS show there, ending each day with time on the river.  Of course, the thousands of inspirational ideas from quilts and vendors there would make many quilts, and we played on a caboose, saw bison in a prairie at Land Between the Lakes, and made a special trip to photograph fields of canola.

But the image that has been front and center in my brain since Sunday morning is that of the hauntingly beautiful walls of the house at Barnsley Gardens.  Cotton broker Godfrey Barnsley bought 10,000 acres of land outside Adairsville, GA, and began building a manor house in 1842.

More than a century of misfortune had brought the mansion and its once magnificent gardens to ruin.  You can read details at wikipedia or other online sources, but the Civil War and a tornado in 1906 explain a lot.  In 1988, the remains of the property including the manor house were purchased and restoration begun.

I was entranced.  Spellbound.  On this quiet Sunday morning, Jim and I were in another world, another time.  The skies were spectacularly blue, the sun bright, but at that early morning angle that photographers love.  Shadows changed with every tilt of the head and with every step on the wooden floors.

Bare brick walls nearing two centuries in age reached to the sky.  Window openings, sometimes with wooden frames clinging to the old mortar, were more spiritual than any stained glass window.  Empty tealight holders nestled in openings in the brick walls, hinting at how magical this place would be in the darkness, too.

Before we left the trails surrounding the house, Clent Coker, author and historian, caught up with us and filled in some details of the restoration.  His knowledge gave us a more complete understanding of the family and the land here.  I am so thankful that someone decided to preserve this beautiful place as part of the lovely resort that is now on site.  I am more thankful that they stopped before recreating a fine Italian villa.  I love the crumbling bricks covered with algae, the skeletal structure of the building revealed.

This place will appear in Fifty-two Wednesdays and perhaps other quilt projects as well.  I photographed bare walls with plans to stitch vines growing on them. I photographed the foyer floor whose brick inlay pattern looks like a unique quilt layout to me.  And the three-tiered fountain and flowers blooming may show up in yet other projects.

“Seemingly insignificant moments…”,  Jim remarked as we drove away.  Had it not been for traffic delays and detours on Saturday, this magical Sunday morning might not have been part of our story.

Treasures from India

Oh, I feel loved!

Indian scarvesEarly this morning I got a text message from someone who loves me.  My son-in-law is literally halfway around the world on a work assignment and sent the photo you see here.  He said, “I saw all this fabric and thought you might want some.  There is wool.  There are wool/silk blends.  There are more.  Tell me what you might like.”

Oh, really?  WOW!

I have no shortage of fabric.  I’ve even been on sensory overload this week seeing fabrics of all descriptions at vendors’ booths at the AQS show in Paducah. I bought a lot that thrilled me and I can’t wait to play with it.

But, exotic fabric yet unseen thrills me more.  I’m so excited!  I actually felt a spring in my step as I walked around after the text message exchange.  WooHoo!

Making fabric is a multi-step process involving many people, often in several countries.  Someone plants and harvests the crop, or raises and shears the sheep, or tends the worms. Someone spins the yarn.  Someone weaves the cloth.  Someone grows the dyestuff, mixes the dyes, applies the color, prepares it for distribution and markets it.  I usually don’t know any of those people.  But when I touch the fabric they have produced, I am connected to them.  Across miles and maybe oceans, we share something that helps me realize a comforting project for someone or a piece of art.

But to know that Kenny selected the fabric and brought it to me from a land far away will add a special link in the chain that somehow makes it stronger.  He mentioned scarves.  So I may get to wear it a while and cherish it that way, making memories with it before it becomes anything else.

Not Perfect, but….

front porch in summerThere is a phrase buzzing around on Facebook these days when people describe their husbands, “not perfect, but perfect for me.”  Well, that is certainly true of my husband, but I recently thought of the phrase with respect to houses.  I was cleaning out some old file folders filled with inspirational ideas for decorating, sewing, and gardening.  Along with those, I have kept a folder filled with house plans. For many years,  I thought my dream house was in there somewhere.

I threw the contents of the folder away without even riffling through it.  Not because the dream is dead, but because I am living it.  Our house is not new, and it’s not what I once would have thought I dreamed of.  It’s not perfect, but it’s perfect for us.

We bought this one several years ago and the minute the former occupant was out, it felt like home to us.  Even with painters and workers tromping through for a few weeks to spruce things up, Jim and I knew we were home.  There were nearly thirty years of memories in our former home – memories of our little girls and then their little boys, but this was the setting our souls desired.

What we had come to realize is that we were looking for was a few acres in the woods that had a house we could live in.  That’s what we found.

Home:  a front porch with swings.  A screened back porch which was the favorite room of a little Corgi we loved.  Rooms inside big enough to move around and house all our stuff.  A kitchen where we can eat and feed friends.  A house for us needs books, so we built bookshelves.  A place to compute, to read, to sew, to store a few cameras.  We are good.  We are home.

Some people who read this are looking for words related to quilting.  As I proofread this, the title resonates with recent advice I’ve been reading related to creativity.  The pursuit of perfection is the enemy of creativity.  So, my quilts are “not perfect, but….” But I still love to make them.  I once strived for near perfect execution of the details.  Now I’m more excited about playing with new color combinations or layout or techniques.  It’s all about the fun I’m having!

Cyndi’s killer quilt

killer hexagonsToday at a community event where I was invited to share my quilting story, members of the group were invited to bring some of their family quilts as well.  Several did just that.  What fun to hear others’ quilt stories.

Cyndi brought a beautiful quilt pieced of hexagons.  Of course, the shape of the pieces got my interest immediately.  The arrangement of those hexagonal pieces was one I had not seen before, but the captivating feature of the quilt was its multigenerational story.

The quilt was begun sometime prior to 1917 by Alma, for her daughter Cleona.  Sixteen-year-old Cleona died that year at the age of 16, and  grief-stricken Alma stopped work on the project.  Alma herself died before ever getting back to work on the quilt.

Cleona’s aunt, Norma, took on the project at some point, but she, too, died before completing the work.

Years later, Norma’s daughter Cleona (niece to the first Cleona) married and asked her mother-in-law, Sarah, an accomplished quilter, to complete this piece of history.  Sarah refused, citing “that quilt has already killed three people!”

Determined, but out of connections to help, the younger Cleona took on the task herself.  Her husband built quilting frames for her and she began work.  When the master quilter Sarah saw the sub-standard stitches going into that gorgeous design, she gave in and completed the task.

Sarah lived to be 100 years old, so it seems the curse was broken.

Part of my talk emphasized labeling quilts, writing down the stories for future generations.  Cyndi had already done just that, complete with a genealogical chart to accompany the story.

Version 2Now I’m itching to grab some hexagons and assemble them in the pattern these women used.

Orphan Baskets and Bunnies

framed pearMany quilts are made in small units, or blocks, which are then assembled into a larger quilt top.  Most quiltmakers I know have an abundance of “orphan blocks”.  These can result when a project is abandoned, when extra blocks were made to test color combinations or size, or when the stitcher simply changed her mind about where the design was going.

I sometimes intentionally create orphan blocks.  I find hand stitching to be therapeutic and if I’m not in the midst of a big project, I love to explore single block designs.  Whether piecing or appliqué, I love playing and planning.  Many times, a big idea grows from a small block.

After I completed the appliqué for Indigo Pearadise, I continued to play with this motif in the smaller size.  A single pear fit comfortably in a 5” x 7” frame and makes a sweet little gift.

Early in my appliqué experience, I found that I could successfully stitch the running rabbit pictured in the design below.  To practice the appliqué stitch, to have handwork to do while visiting with my mother, and to explore the soft colors of Spring, I stitched many running rabbits.  Somewhere along the way, I began hearing the phrase “Baskets and Bunnies” in my mind and a theme emerged.  I found patterns for other bunnies, drew a simple basket with a rickrack handle, and kept sewing.

baskets & bunniesSome of these baskets and bunnies still reside in a basket awaiting their opportunity to shine.  The photo you see here is a quilt top that came about when my minigroup needed a quick project for a donation effort a few years ago.  The timing was Spring, my stitching sisters remembered my collection, and we got busy.  The completed top was quilted by a local longarm expert and we had a sweet little quilt in record time!

That little block with the rickrack handle has reappeared in reds and framed for Christmas gifts, too.  I don’t read many books twice, I don’t watch a lot of reruns on tv, but I do my share of repeating blocks I love.

Wool felt – Felted wool – what?

beauty & beesIn my quilts, anything goes.  I love quilting cottons, silk, linen, denim, and wool.  All together or separately, depending on the project.

I’ve worked with felted wool in many ways.  Wool as the background with cotton appliquéd on top.  Wool as the fabric to be appliquéd on a cotton, or linen, or wool background.  Because the wool doesn’t ravel, you don’t have to turn under the edges, and appliqué is fast.  Because the wool is plush, stitches can hide easily, so if your stitches aren’t perfect, and you use a matching thread, no one notices.  If you want your stitches to show, a contrasting or heavier thread or a blanket stitch will do the trick to add another element to your project.

Wool stitched on wool is like sewing through butter.  Both layers are soft and easy to needle.  Stitching goes quickly.  The result is bulky, though.  That’s something to consider if you are making a large quilt.

Wool stitched on cotton is fun.  You get a firm background which layers easily with batting and backing to get a traditional kind of quilt with dimensional wool applique.

Linen, or a 50/50 blend of linen and cotton, is widely available now in quilt shops.  It has a rougher texture that supports the weight of the wool beautifully.  And, I was surprised to see that quilting stitches show up nicely on the linen.

My preference for wool appliqué is to use felted wool, not wool felt.  There is a difference.  Felted wool is woven wool which has been washed and shrunk to tighten the weave.  The holes between the threads are still there. Wool felt has a flatter appearance and is harder to needle. Wool felt is made from fibers tightly pressed together and has no holes.  It’s a personal preference.  Some people like the wool felt.  I’m all about the process, and I like the feel of felted wool.

Note:  wool felt is not woven, it’s smushed.  It may have glue in it.  It lies flatter and ravels less, they say.  But it has a hard hand and a flat appearance to me.  My blog, my opinion.  Only my opinion.  Play with it and draw your own conclusions.

You can buy some absolutely delicious hand dyed felted wool now.  It’s sold in quilt shops, at shows, and online.  But, there is adventure in felting your own wool from recycled garments.  I recently bought a beautiful red cashmere coat for $10.  The store owner was surprised I didn’t need to try it on for size.  I brought it home, disassembled it, then washed it in hot water and threw it in the dryer.  It is the most luscious wool in my stash.  The linings, interlinings, and interfacings are interesting, too.

To felt your own wool, look for a tag that says 100% wool (blends can work, but the higher the wool content, the nicer the finished product).  I don’t bring it in the house until I’ve prepared it for washing.  I didn’t intentionally buy someone else’s bug problem.  I remove buttons, zippers, linings and interfacings.  I also cut away shoulder and sleeve seams before washing.  It’s hard to cut through all the layers after it’s felted.  I might leave some seams in a skirt or the back of a jacket, though, to have a bigger piece of wool.

Put it in the washing machine with detergent and your hottest water for the longest cyle.  Then put it in the dryer, again on hot.  Do check the lint trap frequently as you may have a lot of fibers in there.

Interesting things can happen if you wash red wool with white.  I sometimes am careful about color separation, but usually not.  I like surprises.

Details of photo:  Beauty and the Bees, 31″ x 24″, based on pattern by Maggie Bonanomi.  Felted wool from recycled clothing along with a few purchased hand-dyed wool pieces.  Tendrils and berries are free-motion couched by machine.  Quilting is all free-motion machine stitching.

Daddy was a Beekeeper

bee skep in frameMy Daddy was a hard-working man who loved sports, good conversation, good people, and a simple life.  He did not have a lot of hobbies; didn’t play golf, didn’t go fishing.  I heard stories of his past exploits (before I came along) going hunting, but whether that was for food or the social drinking that came with it, I don’t know.

He did have a hobby that I enjoyed as a participant or a spectator; beekeeping.  During a phase of not-going-to-church during my childhood, Sunday mornings were the time he would choose to “check on the bees.”  I was allowed to go along sometimes with Mama cautioning him to make me wait in the truck.  He didn’t.  Daddy wasn’t afraid of the bees and neither was I.  We both knew that Mama was afraid, however, and that my visits to the hives would be our secret.

Daddy’s hives were kept in an old family cemetery on the farmland of a friend and neighbor, Uncle Hal.  He wasn’t my uncle and his name wasn’t Hal, but if you are from the South, you understand.

We would bump along a rutted road through the pasture to the wooded cemetery.  Daddy would lift the top off a hive or two, lift up a tray to check the status of the honey, and I could hear and see a quivering.  I suppose he was gentle about it.  The bees seemed to be undisturbed and went on about their business.  Daddy would gauge the time to return to collect honey and we would continue on with our day.

If the scuppernongs were ripe, Daddy would have a ladder in the back of the truck, and we would climb up and get some for Mama to make some jelly.  Other times, he would let me respectfully explore the overgrown grave plots. The graves had once been well tended, some groups surrounded with wrought iron fencing.  But now moss-covered headstones, cracked slabs, and invading roots were signs that the bees were mostly undisturbed.

On days when Daddy went to “rob the bees,” I usually stayed home or waited in the truck.  I don’t think he minded my participation, but just knew Mama would not be happy if I did get stung.  She was very afraid of the bees and thought anyone who wasn’t was crazy.  Daddy said the bees could smell her fear.

I remember the preparation included rags, kerosene, a smoker.  I guess he wore gloves and a mask, but I really don’t remember.  I remember his not being afraid and thinking he possessed a kind of magic that the bees respected.  I do remember the big blue enameled canning pot in which he brought home the honey.  It would stay in that pot until Mama sterilized jars and poured it up.  I loved to walk past , sneak open the lid, and get a pinch of honeycomb with honey oozing and chew on the comb for a while.

I have honey on hand at all time and enjoy it in my coffee every morning.  My way of starting the day with Daddy, I guess.

Beehives enter my textile work frequently.  The image above is of all needleturn appliqué on cotton, with free-motion machine quilting.  I designed it to fit in the 8” x 10” frame.  The sampler background fabric is from a line by Blackbird designs.  I’ve used their sampler fabric a lot.  It always adds an element of historic needlework to the piece.  The bees are little charms I picked up somewhere.

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.