You Can Make Anything

I’ve long had a quilt in my mind called Family Lines in which I would record oft-repeated lines from family members.  It would bring warmth as a cover, but also warm memories for others to recall the voices from the past.  Some of those lines I’ve already written about, like Daddy singing “Pa, he bought him a great big billy goat…” or Wallace’s oft-quoted line “you shore can’t sop syrup with ‘em.”  Advice like Aunt Nellie’s, “Always plant geraniums in clay pots,” and Jim’s   query to the girls, “did you unplug the curling iron?” will add practical notes, too. (Details of those stories are here, here, and here.)

One line I would have to include from my mother is, “You can make anything.  But you can’t make everything.”  I quoted this to a young quilting friend of mine last year as we were discussing some of the tempting patterns for making tote bags.  Though they are lovely and give one a unique accessory that displays favorite fabrics and techniques, they are time consuming to make.  She repeated my mother’s line and said, “Wow.  That’s so true.  And a powerful line to remember.”

Yes, she was right – it is a powerful message.  I’ve had that line running through my head a lot lately.  I look around my sewing space and see fabric waiting to go in the dye pot, fabric that’s been dipped in the dye pot and ready to compose into Rescued Remnant pieces, photos to print on fabric, strips of fabric waiting to be woven backgrounds ala Jude Hill.  In my sketchbook is a series of churches I want to put on cloth. On my design wall are components for my Paducah journal quilt in progress. In another basket are luscious wools cut and ready to stitch.  Of course, the time for the guild challenge draws closer.  And there’s more, including a few UFOs that could command my attention.

Then there’s the avalanche of images and ideas that press into my mind wherever I look.  Especially if I look online.  Projects that are physically unbegun, but I have to resist the temptation to begin them.  My mother also said, “Finish what you’ve started before you start anything else.”  ( I know –  the mention of a few UFO’s tells that I don’t always follow that advice.)

I try to use the brainpower generated by my morning walk to plan my “work” for the day. (I put that word in quotes because I do think of the “do the work” advice given to artists fits my daily activities, but in no way is what I do in the sewing room anything but FUN.)  Lately my focus of that brainpower has been to narrow the field of possibilities and remember, to paraphrase my mother’s advice, “I can do any of these things, but I can’t do all of them today.“

The photos show snippets of today’s temptations.  At least one of those will get some focused attention.

Free Form Log Cabins

I love hand piecing.  There’s something about pulling a needle and thread through cloth that soothes me.  It’s the rare day that I don’t have to do a little stitching before going to bed.  Most of the time, it’s during the couple of hours after supper when we watch tv.

Even after spending hours in my sewing room as I did yesterday, cutting and sewing at the machine, I still find it necessary to unwind by stitching a bit.

My current project is pictured here.  Log cabin-style blocks that approximate 5” finished.  Mostly in blues and whites.  I was inspired by a blog entry by Jude Hill a few weeks ago when she was piecing some free form log cabins.  I started my own and can’t stop.  It’s so addictive.  Part of the fun is using special fabrics.  Many of these pieces came from clothing remnants, some from scraps of vintage linens.  I selected some special fabrics to be the “heart” of the blocks, too.  Some bits of embroidery, some pieces of a friend’s silk jacket, various old treasures lying about.

In theory, the blocks start with 1” squares and use 1” logs.  But, if the chosen center element is larger, I just adjust as I go.  I have some templates lying nearby and use them sometimes, but other times I just eyeball it and start stitching.

I’m using Jude’s technique of invisible basting the seam allowances open, too.  It makes subsequent stitching so pleasant.

I have no plan.  I’m just stitching for fun.  Enjoying the process, letting the assembly evolve.  I did scatter a few blocks on the design wall a few days ago, on top of a piece of silk I had dipped in the dye pot.  Here’s how that looked.



Some years ago, I made this little wall hanging.  (I wrote about this before, remembering that I sewed the binding on while visiting a B & B.) Here, I hand pieced tumbling blocks from assorted blue fabrics.  Then I did use a template to have exactly the same sized blocks, and I used commercial fabric.  I collected beloved blue fabrics, including the fossil fern (I love that fabric!) in the border.

A blue and white toile on the back is a favorite of mine, too.  I quilted it using free motion quilting, invisible nylon thread and cotton batting.  It measures 26” square.

Generally, commercial fabrics are not nearly so much fun to stitch as the softer, thinner, more loosely woven fabrics I’m using now.  And the memories ….memories of the homespun jumper my mother made for me and I wore for years, the shirt Jim wore with his overalls, the threadbare linen jacket of mine, and the remnants I dyed indigo last summer make these pieces special to handle.  Those memories don’t come off a bolt in a store.

Soulful Stitching

I’ve written before about how stitching soothes my soul.  That happens when I’m in front of the tv and multitasking, when I’m visiting with family and friends and my hands are busy, or sometimes when riding in the car.  Those are often the times when my hand stitching gets done.
I realize I need to add some opportunity to quietly do some hand stitching when I’m alone. Watching Jude Hill’s videos remind me of how studying the texture formed by stitch gives way to thoughts about light and shadow, contrasting textures, symbolic meaning of weave and stitch, even relationships between people.  Though I’m not sure my thoughts run as deep as do hers, I know that mindful stitching leads to deeper appreciation of everything.

As I watched her video where Jude is adding white hearts to a heavily stitched white nine-patch and emphasizing the touch points of the hearts with red thread, she notices that they remind her of a scar.  Her perception always gives me pause, and this struck me deeply.


I can’t explain why, but I had a flashback to my life working with teachers.  One of my colleagues heard a teacher say, “we like this book because we can go in the classroom and teach without having to think about it.”  Harriet said to me, “I don’t want teachers who don’t think about what they are teaching.”  Indeed.

Sometimes I sew without thinking about sewing.  And, that is relaxing to me, to be sure.   The rhythmic pulling of thread through cloth allows my mind to be somewhere else, planning something.  But Jude’s symbology in her work, her soul searching thoughts remind me to pursue even more depth in my stitching stories.  She reminds me that only when we share the stories behind our work, the symbology we’ve included, the strategies we’ve used, do others really appreciate our art. I admit if I had seen the white hearts on white stitching, I might not have noticed the red thread, and if I had, I might not have made the “scar” connection.

A needle and thread are how I’m stitching myself to the universe these days, so I don’t want it to be shallow.  With the recent art quilts I’ve been making, I try to ensure that the viewer knows the story behind the photo or appreciates the handwork in a vintage remnant.  I hope that seeing the connection between my work and some element of the past will cause one to think of their own family’s past generations and find the stories that are there.

Another word on Jude Hill and her influence on me.  I found her online a few years ago and realized she was offering some online courses.  The latest series was already underway and i had missed it.  I resolved right then to get in the next one.  But then she opened up her vast base of videos and audios for free.  You are free to watch them and make a donation or not (I have).  But I found a quote from her in one of them that resonates with me.  She was responding to a comment from someone who had warned her, “you share too much of your process.  Protect your art.”…

Jude’s response:  “And, by the way, just to be clear, sharing IS my art.  And in case you haven’t noticed, I am out singing in it.” Sept 10, 2015

Wow.  I have noticed.  And, I am amazed by it.

You can learn more about Jude Hill and her work at

My earlier posts with references to her work are here, and here, and here.

Photos:  The photos of the “beast” piece is one I was fortunate enough to buy from Jude.  When her pieces go on sale, you have to be sitting at the computer watching (or lucky) because they sell quickly.  I love having this piece to examine.  Seeing her stitches and handling her work informed me of her techniques so much that I began to consider selling some of my own work.  If my work could help another quilt maker with a particular technique, or if the final result gave a viewer satisfaction, than I would be willing to share it that way.   You see images of the whole piece, approximately 6” x 9”, and closeups of the front and back.

The photos of the blue hearts are my work.  I made that piece after watching Jude’s Whispering Hearts series of posts on her Feel Free site.  That piece may become part of something else or be finished as is.  That’s one thing Jude and I have in common.  A work may be started, then incubate a while as ideas mature, then later become complete as it is or as part of something else.

This post is published with permission from Jude Hill.

Home Again

Version 2“Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jog,” is one of this family’s oft-repeated phrases when we pull into the driveway.  I know, it’s a misquote from the nursery rhyme, but we like it.  It has history in our household.

But today, my version might be, “home again, home again, figgity-fog.”  Today was our first full day at home in several weeks without another trip on the horizon.  And, even when we were home between trips, there were meetings, and deadlines, and classes, and you get the idea.

So on this day without pending preparation for another trip, I’m unraveling the impressions of the past few weeks.  Impressions which have become almost a blur.

I have been inspired by images from all our travels.  The scenery on backroads, quilts from contestants and vendors in Paducah, art in galleries, techniques from fabulous textile teachers, and Nature herself are all jostling for position in my brain.

Those forms are mingling with fabrics, threads, buttons, and beads found on these travels, too.  Now I am processing all those tidbits as I stow the treasures and sketches and thoughts, anxious to begin combining some of them in new work.

In my resting phase, I turned to Jude Hill’s Spirit Cloth blog.  Her textile work is amazing,  her words poetic.  I have read her blog for years.  Since she opened all her former online classes to all of us through her Feel Free site, I’ve browsed many old posts, too.  Her words soothe, much like handling cloth does.

On all our travels, I carried my sewing basket.  I accomplished some soothing stitching on an ongoing project, and even worked on a new one on the road.

But being at home with all my implements is a different kind of creating.  So now I’m ready to combine thoughts and materials anew.

The photo is Headed Home, a small piece I made for our local guild’s “two-color” quilt challenge in 2014.  The house is hand appliqued, the background machine quilted with vaguely parallel lines stitched closely together.  The twigs are from our yard, whitewashed and couched down by hand.  The quilt finished at 8” x 20”.