Chinoiserie crush.

Dear friends,

I have a crush. While many crushes can be fads, mine is not new; in fact it’s age-old.

It’s chinoiserie, and if my growing predilection for clean, stripped-down spaces weren’t so strong, I’d probably have a home filled to the brim with china and tapestry and art and furniture adorned with Chinese motifs.

As it is, I mostly admire chinoiserie from afar and dream of winning the lottery so I could build a winter home, stuffed with the finest examples of the decorative arts, and a summer home as pure and simple as a Hans Wegner chair. (I am nothing if not multi-dimensional. Or antipodean; you pick.)

But a couple of months ago while fabric shopping, I tripped across several patterns that stopped me dead in my tracks. I knew I had to buy them and I had to find a purpose for them or my soul would forever be diminished and forlorn.

Here’s what I came up with:

miniquiltcollage

I made a mini-quilt — 20″ X 13″ — with my treasured fabrics and I sent it off, Unaquilter style, to my friend and regular reader Maridel. She lives a couple of hours away in a mid-century ranch carefully curated with the loveliest objects d’art. I hoped the mini-quilt would fit right in at Casa M’del, either on a table or buffet or perhaps as a wall hanging.

I know you might be thinking “Mini quilt? What a rip off!” But let me tell you . . .  hard core quilters LOVE mini quilts. They’re low commitment and manageable canvasses on which we can play out our many creative fantasies.

The pattern and the piecing are both improvisational, as are the various decorative stitches. I had as much fun making this quilt as any I’ve touched. I loved it so much I thought about keeping it. But it wasn’t meant for my home, it was meant to travel down the interstate a ways, so off it went.

Fortunately, M’del thinks so, too, because she sent me the sweetest thank you note.

And that’s what makes the Unaquilter’s heart go pitter-pat.

With gratitude {for endless opportunity to find creative fulfillment},

Joan, who invites you to take a look at the mini-quilt in full:

miniquilt

Packages near and far.

Dear friends,

bdaygift

Last week the Unaquilter mailed two packages and received two packages. I swear I didn’t begin my quilt odyssey for the benefit of return favors, but this time it worked out that way.

One package was from my mini-quilt secret swap partner and came all the way from Australia. What a surprise!

The second and favorite package came from longtime friend (and regular reader) Maridel, who sent me some beautiful fabric and a pincushion for my birthday. Isn’t it the most perfect gift you’ve ever seen? I plan to spend today stitching up quilted coasters as holiday gifts for co-workers, so Maridel’s timing is perfect, too.

By the way, one of my packages found its home last week (while another is still in transit), meaning I can finally show you one of my latest creations. It’s a sock monkey quilt made for a young girl who ADORES sock monkey. Take a look at the quilt and the girl.

rachelcollage

rachel

Her name is Rachel and her father is a friend and former colleague. They live back home so I never see them anymore, but Rachel appears occasionally in my Facebook feed, sometimes with her beloved sock monkey in tow. When I tripped across the sock monkey fabric line while shopping recently, I realized I knew one young girl who would likely find the fabric as charming as I did. I just couldn’t resist.

With gratitude {for the surprise symmetry of brown paper packages},

Joan, who’s got two more big quilting projects on tap for December and January and won’t mind a bit if continued wintry weather facilitates quiet evenings holed up sewing

Day 6: The project.

Dear friends,

I started a new project today — a quilt for a special friend.

It’s a surprise, so I won’t say much here except I hope she likes it.

Based on what I know and what others have told me, bright colors, bold graphics, and a modern layout will please her. I skipped using a pattern and decided instead to improvise the size and placement of each fabric piece.

Here’s a sneak peek:

improv

Once the quilt has been gifted, I’ll tell you the story of the person it’s for. And when I show you the finished quilt along with the story, I think it will all come full circle in the way that only a lifelong friendship, a milestone occasion, and a mother’s love can stitch together.

In the meantime, I’ve got to get back to the sewing table, er, dining room. I’m on deadline.

With gratitude {for the joy of piecing together the story of a life},

Joan, who loves nothing more than a tight deadline and a challenging assignment

Remember when I told you I was blessed with confidence?

Dear friends,

magpie

Well, my confidence is buoyed by an unflagging optimism. And the optimism causes me to believe I am very nearly superhuman.

Mr. Mom doesn’t subscribe to my theory that confidence creates optimism, by the way. He says there’s something about my childhood that makes me crave chaos. And so when life is calm, I create self-imposed havoc by taking on too many projects, putting too many irons in the fire, juggling too many plates until a few come crashing down.

He’s such a Daddy Downer.

Anyway, the real point is that it appears I am happiest when I’m juggling. And lately I’ve been juggling a new endeavor that has me bursting with excitement.

I’ve decided to start a quilt company.

I’m convinced I’m the next Heather Jones or Elizabeth Hartman. Or as Mr. Mom said, “I think you could do for quilting what Ree Drummond did for home-style cooking.” (Okay, so he’s not always a Daddy Downer because that was pretty sweet, albeit delusional.)

Anyway, my little company — known as Magpie Quilts — is currently located on my dining room table. And I haven’t actually sold anything yet. Oh, and did I mention I don’t aspire to go all Kelly Rae Roberts and get a merchandising deal (although I lOVE KRR and am thrilled she’s hit the big-time)?

Here’s what I want: to make as many quilts as I have time for and to send them into the world, free of charge, to surprise recipients and spread happiness. And world peace. (Okay, world peace is a tall order so I’ll settle for happiness.)

I know — that’s kind of what I’m doing now. So you might think why do I need a company? Because these darn quilts I’m making are darn expensive. ($200 in materials alone for the last queen-size one I made. Have I mentioned I have two mortgages, a child in college and another child nine months away from college?)

So my business model is this: make just enough money to off-set the cost of everything I give away. It’s kind of brilliant. I might just turn modern capitalism on its head and win the Nobel Prize in Economics. (There’s that confidence thing again.)

The first step is getting a tax ID number so I can buy wholesale. (Retail is killing me, Smalls.) I sent my application and tax bond to the Missouri Department of Commerce yesterday. The next steps are to buy some fabric, make some quilts, and sell some stuff. (I am also a master of planning simplification.)

Since I’ve got that day-job obstacle, I plan to sell my stuff in the booth of a local antique mall. (I’m a little too busy to ring folks up and collect sales tax, after all.) And even though I plan to price my quilts affordably, I realize not everyone is going to be a big-ticket spender, so I’m planning an entire line of small soft goods and packaged fabric bundles in the $5 to $50 range for the impulse buyer. (You gotta diversify your product line, after all, even if your store is a 6′ X 6′ booth!)

I scratched out a to-do list and a modest business plan while eating my salad at Panera today. I figure it will take me at least 90 days to get things organized and accumulate enough inventory to open up my booth. But then I’m off and running!

It might be a bust. But, I’m okay with that because — after all — I’ve got a day job and Magpie Quilts will thrive, even if limited by my modest budget.

If it’s a boon, well I realize that could be a problem, too. I’m not sure what I’ll do if I sell my inventory faster than I can replenish it. I guess I’ll cross that bridge if I come to it.

In the mean time, I’m “pert near” bubbling over with creative energy. Bear with me, will you, if my posts are a bit one-track? Like my proposed product line, I’ll try to diversify my writing. (Just as soon as I finish stitching up my new company.)

With gratitude {for happy, creative, productive seasons in life},

Joan, who wishes to reinforce her Unaquilter pseudonym and shout her manifesto from the rooftops: Fabric Happiness for Everyone!

Why? What do you do on a Friday night?

Dear friends,

It was a long week. A long week with a VERY GOOD middle, but a long one nonetheless.

So what’s a girl to do at the end of a long week besides cook a tasty supper and quilt a little?

Oh — you mean that’s not what you do?

(If that sounded snotty, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be. Truth is, I never cook on Fridays and I only recently started quilting, as you know. So it’s not what I do either, except last night I did.)

I have no photos of my supper so I guess I won’t talk much about it. I’ll just say this: I made the most sublime risotto with Shitaki mushrooms purchased at the Farmer’s Market. I wanted to eat the entire pot, but I pushed away from the kitchen island and walked to the dining room table. (Where I quilt.) I’m pretty certain I’ll eat the rest of the risotto for breakfast in the morning, but I know you won’t hold that against me.

After supper, I made a patchwork potholder. I’m kind of embarrassed typing this, because you know . . . Patchwork. Potholder. It sounds like a bad 8th grade Home Economics project. But it was surprisingly fun.

potfront

I trust you’ll overlook the fact that it’s a little lopsided and my curved binding is puckered. You sew, you learn.

But look — even the inside of the pocket is cute!

potinside

I get style bonus points, right?

The thing is — I needed I small gift/giveaway for an upcoming retreat. AND I needed something to hold several slips of paper for a drawing. I came up with the idea for a quilted heart potholder after I realized I could put the slips of paper in the pocket and get double-duty out of it as a giveaway.

I designed it myself and drew my own pattern, which is a pretentious way of saying it took me longer than it should have. (About three hours.) I’m hoping future potholders will go faster.

Future Potholders of America. I’m thinking I might have coined a phrase for a cottage industry.

With gratitude {for Friday night adventures involving Italian rice dishes and the kitchen linens that tote them},

Joan, an aspiring Miss Future Potholder of America

A present in a pear bowl.

Dear friends,

Last week was grueling. I worked six straight days that each spanned 12-14 hours, leaving home before anyone else had awakened and arriving home just as my boys were bedding down.

One night I came home and found a package awaiting me on my kitchen desk. Carefully wrapped in brown paper and sent by USPS from my friend Maridel, I had a hunch what it contained. Given my schedule, though, it was yesterday morning before I even had a chance to unwrap it.

It was totally worth the wait . . . A trio of pears to complement my own (featured here), each more lovely than the last. Here’s my favorite:

photo

It’s made from a vintage fabric kitchen calendar. It’s beautiful, and charming, and perfect in a way I never could have imagined before it landed on my counter.

Here’s all of them, in a bowl on my kitchen island as if I might wish to choose one to eat.

photo[1]

I couldn’t be more delighted with my quartet of stitched pears. If you’d like to know more about the artist, just click here.

With gratitude {for gifts from the atelier and from the heart},

Joan, who thinks presents made by hand and sent through the mail are a brand of 0ld-fashioned divine that can’t be matched

No experience necessary. Unless you want to finish.

Dear friends,

quiltblock

I’m not sure why I thought with no instructions and no experience whatsoever I could become a quilter overnight.

I’m one of those people who is blessed with confidence. I’m convinced I could have been an architect or a filmmaker or a novelist (to name but three professions I believe I’m suited for) if only I had tried. That I ended up in my current (unnamed) profession that’s really nothing like those I just named has more to do with the vagaries of decisions made in my 20s than talent. Or that’s the story I tell myself. Still, I’m smart enough to know that if I woke up tomorrow and decided to actually become an architect, I would need education and training.

So nothing explains why I saw this quilt on the internet  and — even though the pattern isn’t identified and I’m breathtakingly inexperienced at this sort of thing — went to bed Saturday night thinking I was going to wake up Sunday morning and make my own pattern and construct myself a quilt. Forget the fact that I’ve never taken a class on quilting, nor read an instruction booklet, nor even watched a video tutorial.  “I can wing it,” I thought.

The thing about winging it is that it’s not the fastest way from point A to point B, usually.

Try not to laugh out loud, but it took me about four hours to produce that single quilt block shown in the photo. Actually, I LAUGHED out loud as I typed that last sentence. Because if you look at the picture, it looks so simple, right? It’s eight little pieces of fabric, for Pete’s sake, and there’s not even any weird curves or points.

I thought about the quilt quite a bit as I fell asleep the night before. I had it figured out in my head, or so I thought.

Turns out, figuring it out in real life is very different than in your head.

I did everything wrong. I measured wrong, I cut the fabric wrong, I stitched the wrong sides together, I pieced it wrong, and I even ironed it wrong. (Who knew there was a right way to iron until I took a break and watched a couple of online tutorials for simpler patterns?)

And in the middle of stitching all those wrong pieces, I even threaded my bobbin wrong (because I ran out of thread and it’s a new machine and, of course, I didn’t read the instruction booklet on how to wind my bobbin).

The upside to making every mistake possible is that you eventually stumble on to doing it the right way. (The ol’ blind squirrel theory applies to crafting, I suppose.)

Anyway, now . . . now I think I’ve got it! The finished block is 1″ smaller than I imagined, but who cares? It’s not like I’m following a pattern.

I’m hoping that next weekend I can make several blocks. I need 42 to make a full-size quilt, which is the size I’m going for unless continued extemporaneous stitchery leads me elsewhere.

With gratitude {for improvisation skills learned in high school speech and drama},

Joan, who in the interest of full disclosure wants you to know she intends to make a quilt top, which she’ll ship off to somebody else for the actual act of quilting, an activity she has no desire to master anytime soon

Because why not get a head start?

Dear friends,

summercu

I know spring just sprung and all, but I spent Saturday feeling all summery.

It was sunny and 70 degrees. Mr. Mom and I went for a long drive near the Big Piney with our sunroof open and our windows down. We stopped after an hour and ate two big platefuls of pan fried chicken at a truck-stop diner, then found an antiques store where we whiled away another hour. It was the best Saturday afternoon I’ve had in a very long time (and I’ve got two gorgeous, pink china plates to prove it). Lordy, lordy my soul needed the sunshine and the quiet time with my favorite companion.

You know what other summery thing I did? Before we hit the road, I made an adorable red-white-and-blue pennant banner. It will be Memorial Day before you know it and I’ll be itching to remake my Easter-decked buffet.

Here’s what my newest banner looks like in full.

summerfull

It was super-simple, thanks to this tutorial from my new favorite fabric source. I modified the instructions a bit, opting for a rod pocket instead of muslin ties on my flags,  and I machine stitched everything rather than hand stitching. The pennants were easy enough to figure out on my own. I simply cut out hand-drawn triangles, stitched around the edges (so I could fringe them), stitched ric-rac across the tops (leaving room for a fold-over pocket to hang them by), stitched the pockets, then glued on fabric letters that I traced and cut out. (Before cutting out the letters, I ironed fusible interfacing on the backs to give them a little more stiffness.) From start to finish, I made the entire banner in about three hours.

All in all, it was a great way to spend a day, a pretend-summer day in April.

With gratitude {for adventures on the road and at the sewing machine},

Joan, who’s insistent on getting her money’s worth out of her new sewing machine

First I swooned. Then I stitched.

Dear friends,

While searching the internet recently for embroidery inspiration, I stumbled across this creation . . . so charming, so lovely, so startlingly original that I swooned.

pearsample

Source: Etsy

For days, I was obsessed with the notion of a stuffed pear. In the same way I get obsessed with an elaborate dessert and plan it over and over again in my head, I was inspired by this delightful combination of crazy quilting, embroidery and fiber art. I was determined to replicate the design.

So I spent Saturday afternoon making a prototype. Because I had no idea if I my experiment would be a rousing success or a colossal failure, I kept it simple — where simple equals starting at 1:30 pm and finishing at 7:30 pm. So, yeah, even simple art takes time. But I was happy with the result.

IMG_1849[1]

I had no idea before today that six hours stitching nothing more than a pincushion (or a windowsill tchotchke) could be such a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. Had I adorned my pear as lavishly as the inspiration photo, I would have spent two or three afternoons stitching. Today, I just wanted to finish. To know whether or not my fading eyesight and increasingly stiff fingers could pull off such a thing. The answer, apparently, is yes, so next time I’ll take all the time I need to bling my baby up.

Speaking of next time, I recently ducked into a flea market on my way home from work and found a vintage quilt for a song. It was terribly tattered around the edges and ripped down one side. But at $17, enough of the quilt was intact that I couldn’t pass it up, especially since the top was made from a lovely shade of faded cotton the exact color of Jadite. (If you read this post last year, you know I have a kitchen full of Jadite dishes. The serene seafoam color associated with these vintage dishes is a shade I simply can’t resist.)

I envisioned cutting up my tattered quilt for a number of craft projects, including another pear pincushion. But before I cut into my vintage treasure, I had to know I could pull it off.  Today’s prototype pear made from inexpensive fat quarters purchased at Wal-Mart gave me the courage I need to stretch my sewing wings a bit more.  Now I’ve got more designs than I can keep up with swimming through my mind, all competing for my limited weekend  crafting time.

The good news is I won’t be bored for pretty much the rest of my life.

With gratitude {for my kickin’ new sewing machine, limitless inspiration, and enough spare time to pursue my textile dreams vigorously},

Joan, who thinks the internet is the coolest thing ever for crafters and is especially grateful to the lovely people who post free patterns and tutorials like this one

Love.

Dear friends,

mirror_Snapseed

You know what I love in January?

I love a national holiday that gives me a Monday off.

I love easy craft projects like Valentine’s pennant banners strung with heart-shaped twinkly lights.

I love afternoon naps under wool blankets when it’s 20 degrees outside.

I love being home all day with my boys.

I love chicken thighs cooked in wine and butter and then braised for several hours with mushrooms and leeks and brussel sprouts for supper.

And, I love a workweek that’s 20% complete before it ever begins.

With gratitude {for all of these things on a bright January day},

Joan, who can’t seem to reconcile her love for homespun pennant banners with her modern house and has given up trying

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