Great-great-great.

Dear friends,

A few weeks ago, I was cleaning out my linen closet and stopped to linger over two precious quilts my paternal grandmother made for me. Gram was an accomplished seamstress and crocheter and I was the happy recipient of much of her work — doll clothes, special occasion dresses and costumes, afghans and quilts, and more.

I’m the only one of Marie’s three grandchildren, six great-grandchildren, eight great-great-grandchildren, and one great-great-great-grandchild who has taken up sewing and quilting. It made me sad to think that the generations beyond Marie’s grandchildren wouldn’t have tangible evidence of Gram’s prolific talent. So, on the spur of the moment — which is how I make so many decisions — I decided that Gram’s first great-great-great-grandchild ought to have something handmade and that I would offer it to her in honor of the original Marie. I think it would tickle Gram to know I’ve picked up quilting and that her third great-grandchild’s first grandchild is a beneficiary. (Catch that? Third great-grandchild’s first grandchild? Yeah, talking about six generations gets a little tricky!)

The grandmother in this instance (my first cousin once removed) shares Gram’s name, just like me. Barbara Marie is nearly a decade my junior but I started my family late so our children are the same age. Here’s a photo of my CupKate at her first birthday party with Barbara’s first child, Jane, and another cousin, also named Kate. (My Kate is in the front; her cousin Kate is behind her; and Jane is in the back.)

Jane&Katecrop

And, a generation later, here’s a photo of Jane’s precious daughter, Evie Jane.

eviejane

Evie just turned three. I haven’t had the opportunity to meet her yet but — based on the many photos her grandmother and mother have shared — she seems to be full of spunk. But she’s also a girly girl, enamored of all things pink, especially pink hair bows. I decided her quilt ought to be full of sugar and spice and everything nice so I settled on a mixture of homey and fun fabrics in a pink and blue palette. See what you think:

evie quilt cu

My quilting tastes run more to the modern, whereas Gram’s were very traditional. So I tried to meld the two for Evie Jane’s quilt. The front features a more traditional composition of my design. (The block is called “square in a square” and is constructed using a technique known as foundation paper piecing with the blocks set on point.) The back – with its pieced design incorporating a remnant of the fabric’s selvedge and raw-edge appliqued initials – is a nod to modern quilters. Here’s a view of both sides in full:

evie quilt Collage

I often photograph my quilts while they are under construction and post the pictures on my Instagram and Twitter feeds. When Barbara saw the photo of a close-up of this quilt, she commented “Reminds me of Gram.” She didn’t know, of course, that the Unaquilter was about to ship the quilt to her granddaughter, so when I saw Barbara’s comment on my Instagram feed, my heart instantly soared and I trusted I had made the right choices for my tribute quilt.

There’s nothing quite as personal as the gift of a handmade quilt, both for the quilter and the recipient I suspect. When I look at my Gram’s quilts, I think of all the things I loved most about her. I think about how she always managed to buy me the things my mother couldn’t afford even though she was a widow living on my grandfather’s railroad pension. I think of how she used to let me do crazy things, such as fill a bowl with Pringles, pour Ranch dressing over it, and eat the concoction with a spoon like cereal. I think of her fried chicken — breaded and fried in a cast iron skillet first, then finished in the oven until it was as tender and soft as the mashed potatoes and skillet gravy she served with it. I think of her endless patience for the antics of me and my cousins who loved to spend time at Gram’s house so we could douse ourselves in her White Linen perfume and dress up in her jewelry and white leather evening gloves. I think of the $100 check she mailed me each and every month I was in college and the way she beamed on the day I graduated. I think of the hard candy she always kept tucked away in her “pocket book” and that she would pull out and hand to me if I started coughing in church. I think of the way my name sounded coming off her lips, Joan-Marie, both when she was proud as punch of me and when I  needed correction. I think of how so much of who I am and what I hold dear is a direct reflection of the woman whose third and final grandchild came to her late in life when she had the time and freedom to dote.

I know Evie will feel the same way about her Ba-Ba, and even though she didn’t know Gram and doesn’t yet know me, I hope when she snuggles under the Magpie’s quilt she will think of the woman whose name her grandmother and I share and who lives on through the stories of those of us who loved her.

With gratitude {for Marie},

Joan, who let out a big sigh of relief when she finished this quilt because, let’s face it, she’s been a little lazy lately

Legit.

Dear friends,

I came home today to the best stack of mail, ever!

First, there was a sweet and thoughtful handwritten letter from my CupKate . . . the kind that makes a mother’s heart melt and that somebody will no doubt find after I die amongst my most treasured keepsakes.

Then, there was a typed form letter from the Missouri Department of Revenue. Magpie Quilts is legit! I have a tax ID number and am finally authorized to do bidness in the Show Me State.

<Picture me here doing a spot-on Steve Martin/Navin Johnson impression after the phone book arrives in The Jerk. “I”m somebody now! Things are going to start happening to me now!”>

As I have a habit of reading the mail over dinner, I very nearly did the happy dance over my plate of Mr. Mom’s homemade spaghetti. For a day of the week that normally produces little to cheer over, this Monday kicked boo-tay.

So here’s the deal: I finished a new quilt last week. And because it doesn’t make sense to mail my quilts one at a time to my cousin in Oklahoma, I’m going to post it for sale here. If none of my 47 faithful and 13 random readers are interested, I’ll ship it off to my bidness partner after I finish two or three more and the shipping cost is worth it. (Yes, I’m going to keep saying bidness through this entire post. I’m sorry. Chalk it up to Government-Stamp-of-Approval giddiness.)

By the way, I’m still thinking about opening an Etsy Shop for Magpie Quilts, as a friend suggested I might develop a Missouri following who will be disappointed that my creations are only available in Oklahoma. (I realize she was probably just being nice, but I’m willing to run with it.) Anyway, it’s going to be a while before I can make that happen for a variety of reasons mostly related to not enough time in the day.

So here it is folks . . . Listen hard and you can hear the drum roll reverberating in my head.

Sunday in the Park (Strawberry Jam, #2 in a series) — $125.

cherrystripe

A picnic basket. A shady spot under an oak tree. And a soft and colorful quilt on which to stretch out and spend a lazy afternoon with your sweetheart. These are the elements of a relaxing Sunday in the park, and Magpie Quilts’ latest design creates the perfect landing spot for your next outdoor excursion.

Strawberry Jam is the second in a series of Sunday in the Park quilts. It is made from 100% cotton fabric and features cheery and modern prints, with a touch of old-fashioned gingham. The front is an expanse of whole cloth featuring pink “berries,” punctuated by a column of multi-colored geometric and floral patterns.  The back features four large panels of pink gingham with window-frame sashing made from the primary print. The quilt is entirely hand-made — pieced, quilted and bound by a single artisan in her Missouri studio — and measures 58″ X 60″, making it suitable for covering your lap as well as your picnic spot.

All Magpie Quilts are safe for the washing machine if laundered in cold water with a gentle detergent and dried on a low-to-medium setting. The batting is an 80/20 cotton-polyester blend, which gives the quilt an exceptional drape and a light weight. The quilt was made in a smoke-free environment and has been pre-washed to give it the vintage appearance of well-loved linens.

If you’re interested in Strawberry Jam or have questions about Magpie Quilts, don’t hesitate to leave a comment here or email me at magpiequiltsbyjoan@gmail.com.

With gratitude {for a creative passion that is definitely lighting my fire},

Joan, who wishes to say one more time that Magpie Quilts is the brainchild of a woman who grew up in a heartland town she calls Mayberry, where catching fireflies on summer nights, sleeping under quilts hand-stitched by the local quilting bee, and sharing the bounty of a backyard vegetable patch never went out of vogue. Her quilt designs combine both vintage-inspired and contemporary fabrics in unfussy patterns that evoke a simpler time, a slower pace, and a love for the creature comforts of home.

Practice, schmactice.

Dear friends,

runnersnapseed

I spent Sunday working on more ideas for Magpie Quilts, which I’m sure comes as no surprise. My guess is you’re thinking to yourself “Does Joan have any idea how OCD she is?”

Truth is, I do. (I’m trying to make it work for me, man!)

I’ve known for a while that to take the next step in quilting, I needed to learn how to free-motion quilt (FMQ in the biz). Without this skill, I’m either stuck in straight-stiching land or doomed to pay someone else to quilt all my tops. Neither option suits me, so I spent the weekend reading up, watching videos and diving in.

Like anything worth doing, free-motion quilting requires practice. And the online quilting forums are chock full of people who practice drawing their designs freehand first, then sew on paper (yes, paper, because it’s cheap), then scraps.  Practice, practice, practice, they say. I practiced Saturday afternoon, where practice equals trying it for the first time and getting bored with practice in about 20 minutes and moving on to making key-rings.

It occurred to me that the only reason I got good at cooking is because I am allowed to eat all the “practice” dishes. Quilting, suffers, I think, from a  lack of instant gratification, especially when most of the quilters you meet talk about how much they practice and how they spend months piecing a quilt top.

To heck with that! I’m about getting it done, for better or for worse. Which is also why I’m pretty good at devising shortcuts.

To wit: Saturday night as I read in bed, I noticed this lovely tablecloth on the cover of a favorite catalog.

catalog

And I thought how pretty that tablecloth would be as a quilted table runner. But appliqueing that many berries? No way, Jose.

Instead, I used thermal adhesive (the kind you iron-on to fabric). First I free-hand cut tree branches and berries (yay for freehand cutting “practice”) then I ironed them onto a fabric panel that would become the top of my table runner. After making a “quilt sandwich,” which consists of a top, a piece of batting, and a back, I free-motion quilted the whole thing, which killed two birds with one stone. (I both “appliqued” the cut-out elements AND quilted the runner all in one fell swoop). All that was left to do was bind it and sew on a Magpie Quilts label.

I saved so much time, I even managed to help Mr. Mom put away the groceries, prepare our Sunday Supper, and set a proper table — using the new runner, of course.

In case you’re curious, here’s a close-up view:

runnercu

It’s not without imperfections — but then neither are tree bark and branches, so Mother Nature and me are sympatico, don’t you think?

With gratitude {for having never been a perfectionist but almost always finishing},

Joan, who can’t decide whether to keep this one, because it’s clearly practice quality, or give it away, because  — you know — practice schmactice

The mud room. Errrr, space.

Dear friends,

As if I wasn’t planning enough activities for spring what with my newly rekindled passion for needlework and sewing, I’ve also got another big project on the front burner — a new mud room.

Okay, room is a stretch.

A mud corner?

A mud alcove?

Mud space?

Whatever you want to call it, no matter the size, I’m planning a re-do. Actually I’ve been planning a re-do since the day we bought our home, it’s just that it took me two years to move from planning to doing.

I perused untold photos on Houzz and Pinterest looking for mud room inspiration. And all this time, I figured the perfect execution of my plan involved hiring a carpenter for built-ins.

Finally, I realized my little spot just needs better organization, function and decor — and all of that could be achieved without custom woodwork.

You see, my space is five feet wide and nearly three feet deep. It sits right between the garage and the laundry room, so it’s the perfect spot for shoes and coats and bags and all that stuff that accumulates near doors.

Here’s a photo of the space that I snapped on the day we toured the house with a realtor in February 2011. I’m standing in the laundry room looking toward Mr. Mom, who’s going out the door to the garage. The hall to the kitchen is behind him. You can see my mud space is a perfect little spot. You can also see the former owners cared more about functionality than decor.

mudroom

I mean really . . . could the space have been anymore boring?

The first thing I did when we moved in was paint the walls in this area a nice gray (Stonington Gray by Benjamin Moore), which I continued throughout the hallway and the kitchen. I also took down the previous owners’ ugly coat rack, which is the only thing in this photo they left behind, thank goodness, and which Mr. Mom was thrilled to put in the garage for his grimy motocross gear. I also hung a mirror and added a big basket to catch shoes, but you know that wasn’t enough. The space is still dreadfully plain. And horribly cluttered.

So my plan is to add a bench, a pillow, a coat rack, a key hook, some artwork, a rug, and a new light fixture. Oh, yeah, and I’m going to hang some wallpaper for a graphic punch. Here’s my source board of all the items I ordered on a day off two weeks ago.

PicMonkey Collage2

Can’t you just IMAGINE it? I can! All the items have arrived except the rug, which is on backorder until May. Mr. Mom has already hung the new light fixture and a professional wallpaper installer is coming on Wednesday. After that, there’s just a few more things to do, including picking up my poster from the frame shop, and I’ll be done. If all goes right, my mud space might be finished this coming weekend.

I’ll be sure to take the “after” photos I know you can’t wait to see.

How do I know you can’t wait? Because I can’t either . . . and you know what they say about birds of a feather.

With gratitude {for online inspiration and a tidy little tax refund that is finally making my mud room project a reality},

Joan, who thinks turquoise blue and seafoam green are two of the best colors of all time

Oh Tannenbaum.

Dear friends,

I bought a Christmas tree on Sunday. For most people this would not be remarkable; for me, however, it represents my first tree purchase in more than a decade.

I’m notoriously cheap when it comes to some things. Food is not one of them. Certain other necessary items such as fashionable clothing and shoes and purses are also not among the things I scrimp on. Nor are Christmas gifts.

But holiday decorations — I’m always looking for 80% off or better. Which explains why I only buy lights and wrapping paper and such on the day after Christmas and why our family used the same faux Christmas tree for as long as everybody can remember.

When we left Oklahoma 18 months ago, our not-so-gently-used Christmas tree had long passed its expiration date so we tossed it rather than pack it. The problem was, once we settled into our new home I couldn’t find a tree I considered suitable for our thoroughly modern home.

Maybe I was homesick. Maybe I was too sentimental to unpack all my careworn ornaments and hang them on a new tree in a place that didn’t yet feel like home. Or, maybe, as I claimed, a traditional tree would look silly in my contemporary living area. Whatever the reason, I decided to make my own “modern” tree. (It was a cinch. Mr. Mom cut a tree branch and I spray painted it, strung a bit of tinsel and lights, and hung a few tree-themed ornaments.)

At the time, I thought it was Charlie-Brown cool and funky, my own little art installation. Holiday visitors to our home said they liked it, but I secretly wondered if they were just being polite.

See what you think:

Anyway, this year I just couldn’t get revved up to create another funky tree. Even though Kate is off to college and there’s no way I could ever talk Parker or Mr. Mom into helping me decorate a traditional tree, I was itching to pull out all my beloved ornaments collected since my childhood and throughout my kids’ school years.

For me, Christmas is about cherished memories and my memories, for better or worse, are inexplicably tied to my ornaments. There’s the ones I made in grade school and gave to my mother. There’s the ones I sold to raise money for my high school cheerleading squad. There’s the ones given to me in college by my sorority sisters. There’s the ones hand-painted and given to me by a family friend. There’s several given to me by coworkers over the years. There’s the ones collected for my children, who were allowed to select their favorite Disney characters and Barbie dolls.  There’s a slew of “Baby’s First Christmas” and 2nd, and 3rd, and so on, for both Kate and Parker. And then there’s the ones Kate and Parker made in grade school out of dough or Popsicle sticks and beads. There’s far too many to fit on a single tree, but that’s part of the fun, rotating the display each year.

So I broke down and bought a new tree. I decided to give it a run in the den, where the furniture and colors are far more traditional and where a tree overloaded with homespun ornaments won’t look so out of place. I think I’ll spend Saturday decorating the new tree and playing Christmas carols and walking down memory lane and probably even getting weepy, but what’s the Christmas season without a few tears, nostalgic or otherwise?

With gratitude {for a lifetime of Christmas memories packed away in tissue paper},

Joan, who invites you to tell me about your Christmas tree and favorite ornaments because she’s convinced she can’t be the only woman who knows and treasures the origin of every single ornament in her stash

The pretty thing.

Dear friends,

I promise after this post I’ll retire the naming convention of “The+adjective+thing” for my headlines.

It’s just that I had a bunch of stuff in my brain — all of which has been swirling around for more than a week and some of which I plucked out here and there and plopped down in a post. And I promise this is the last of that bunch.

Although I want to reiterate, as a thing, what I’m talking about today is very pretty.

But I guess by now you know I love pretty things.

Anyway, here’s a photo of my dining room I took about a year ago.

I have despised the dining room light fixture since the first day I toured the house in January 2011. The previous owners had a pool table in this space (guess they weren’t high on dining), so that sorta explains the billiards-appropriate light fixture even if it doesn’t explain the cheap, fake-brass approach to lighting up a room.

It’s shocking, really, that I lived with this monstrosity for more than a year, especially given how quickly I tackled the other eyesores in this house. (Anybody remember the awful blue Formica counter tops?)

Problem was, my house is contemporary. And I’ve never lived in a contemporary home, so all my stuff is not. Even though I’m learning to like the contrast of antique/vintage furniture in a contemporary home, I have been stumped on the lighting front.

Which way do I go? Vintage? Modern? Something in between?

I’m not kidding you when I say I’ve looked at thousands of chandeliers over the last year. I considered everything from starkly modern ones . . .

To something with a little mid-Century flair . . .

To something far more traditional (but with a twist) . . .

And part of the puzzle is that I’m cheap. I found chandeliers that, as Goldilocks would say, were just right, but they cost upwards of two grand.  So finding something I liked AND that was in my price range ($500 or less) was one tough assignment.

In the end, I decided the room was busy enough that I didn’t want a light fixture that made a statement. Something simple, something not too heavy, something with decent wattage for a big room, something not too modern but not too traditional was what I searched for. And I finally found it at Ballard Designs. Take a look:

I think it’s even prettier up close.

The white finish of this light fixture helps it recede against the white walls of the room. Given that my dining room is open to my living room — which means there’s a lot going on in a big space — I found this to be especially important. Better yet, the jute-wrapped shades bring a little warmth and earthiness to the decor and also match the jute rug in the living room (which, unfortunately, you can’t see in these photos but is visible in this post if you’re curious).

Ballards’ white coral chandelier is a knock-off of an insanely expensive designer version that’s been photographed in some very chi-chi rooms. I love a good knock-off and even though coral is hot right now, I also think it’s classic enough to last a good long while.

I’m getting very close to finishing up what I envisioned when we purchased this house. I still need two major light fixtures (one for the master bedroom and one for the den) and a couple of lesser ones (for the laundry room and the back hall), one more window treatment, and a couple of rugs, but I’m getting there.

And we all know getting there is most of the fun.

With gratitude {for the convenience of online shopping and a very handy man who tackles my honey-dos},

Joan, who’s not ashamed to say she’s mad for twinkly lights and always has some wrapped around her buffet mirror, which you might have noticed in the last photo and which she considers another very pretty thing

From boring to bravo: Bathroom re-do uno.

Dear friends,

After a few obstacles (there’s always obstacles), Mr. Mom and I finished up one of our bathrooms yesterday.

The powder room off our kitchen and pantry was beyond boring when we bought our house. It was downright tacky. Take a look:

The good news is the bathroom was tacky in a clean-slate kind of way. I’ve told you before how much I disliked the golden oak cabinets and blue Formica counter tops that were everywhere in this house. But at least there was nothing seriously bad to tear out. And the house was sparkling clean. I would have eaten off the floors (before we moved in — not so much after.) The previous owner painted everything white for a reason. She had an eagle eye and banished every speck of dirt. Even the garage floor was clean. Emphasis on was.

So what did I do to jazz up this small space? I added a little drama in the form of color and texture. Some wallpaper, a little paint, a new light fixture, a frame around the mirror and, voila, I suddenly had a powder room worthy of guests.

Isn’t it amazing what a little wallpaper and paint can do to a space?

I’m not usually a silver wallpaper kind-of-gal. But in a space this small, daring can be good. And this is essentially a contemporary home, so I needed to break out of my vintage-cottage shell.

The crazy thing is — I actually thought that wallpaper was going to work with the blue counter tops. I pulled a similar trick in the kids’ bathroom — I used wallpaper to tone down bad counter tops. (I’ll show you that re-do in a future post.) But as soon as this paper was hung, I realized it was never going to work. So I simply broke out the paint and a sponge and remade the counter tops with my own hands.

Here’s a close up:

Painting Formica is the oldest trick in the book to update on a shoestring. You just have to use a really good primer (I’m a Benjamin Moore fan) and cover the paint with three or four coats of polyurethane. Repeat with a new coat or two of polyurethane annually, and you’re good to go.

If I had my druthers, there would be white marble in this bathroom. But we don’t always get our druthers and I solved my counter top problem for $20 and a little elbow grease.

I know a lot of people are afraid of wallpaper, but I have always loved it. (My first job at age 18 was selling wallpaper, flooring and light fixtures in a home improvement store. I think I’ve had a pretty good eye since then.) Nothing transforms a space faster than wallpaper so, in that way, it’s really an economical decorating choice. The pattern is this room was on clearance for $9.99 a roll. I often buy wallpaper on clearance because it’s just too pricey otherwise.

By the way, I’m not a fan of wallpaper in large expanses. It gets boring fast. I find it works well in bathrooms, closets, pantries, laundry rooms, rooms with wainscoating, or rooms where a single “statement” wall is appropriate. And, by the way, I went through a wallpaper-border phase in my life. Please don’t go there. The time for wallpaper borders ended about 20 years ago, though I’m sad to say they had a longer shelf life in my homes.

One thing I haven’t figured out is how to photograph a room like my bathroom without capturing  myself in the mirror. I guess if I knew how to use Photoshop, I could cut myself and my camera out of the photo, but I’m not that skilled.

At anything except painting. (I told you I was an excellent painter.)

With gratitude {for my early stint in the home improvement store where I learned all about home decor and determined a college education was my ticket to something more than a minimum-wage retail job},

Joan, who, kitchen and bathrooms completed, can now turn her attention to the master bedroom where surely something fabulous awaits

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