String of pearls.

Dear friends,

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I’ve been quilting again. Actually, I haven’t paused much since last time I showed you my work. Yesterday, I got one more baby quilt crossed off my list and I couldn’t wait to show it to you.

It’s for the first grandchild of a friend and colleague. Sweet baby Pearl was born two weeks ago but I’m a bit behind so she’s just now getting it.

It’s not her first quilt and it will be far from her last. Her grandmother is a talented seamstress and both her great aunt and her great grandmother are experienced quilters — so my little creation is just one of many handmade keepsakes the little girl will have. At first I thought twice about making a quilt for the first grandchild in a family of sewists but then I decided what the heck. Once I found out the baby would be named Pearl, I couldn’t resist making her a quilt with one of my favorite fabric lines called “Pearl Bracelet” by Andover Fabrics.

And, really, can you have too many quilts?

I decided not.

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My quilt is a petite 39″ X 39″ so I think it will be perfect for tucking into small spaces like car seats or playpens.

Pearl’s mother decorated her nursery in bright, gender neutral colors so I chose several hues from the fabric line. In fact, I bought far too much material so, after finishing the front, I decided to piece the back with all the leftover colors.

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I like how the rows of bracelets are slightly off-kilter as it gives the quilt a bit of a fun-house vibe. And I think the curves on the front of the quilt are a nice contrast to the cascading frames on the back of the quilt.

Not long ago I discovered a terrific long-arm quilter in a city two hours from me. To save time, I’ve been sending my quilts to her for quilting. I rather like the precision of a computerized long-arm quilting machine and Crinkleove does fantastic work. Plus, outsourcing the quilting allows me to make even more quilts. (There’s some 22,000 stitches in the quilting alone so you can see why these things take time.)

Speaking of even more quilts . . . I’ve got to run. I’ve got to get going on a quilt for an upcoming wedding gift.

With gratitude {for so many happy reasons to sew},

Joan-Marie, who for obvious reasons loves old-fashioned baby names

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Cranking out the awesome.

Dear friends,

In the last few weeks, I’ve taken refuge in my quilting studio. Five years ago as my mother lay dying, I found solace in long runs. I cried my eyes out through most of them (and let me tell you . . . snotting through seven miles is no easy feat), but I managed to find the release I needed to make the transition to life as a motherless daughter.

Now that my father is dying, I’m quilting my way through it. It’s not that I’m not running. I am. But I have running buddies now and instead of being overcome by emotion as I pound the pavement, we chat about the minutiae of  our lives. So the place I go to escape, to reflect, to occasionally burst into tears, is my quilting studio.

The silver lining to this dark cloud is that I’ve been cranking out the awesome. Back in January, I committed to four quilts — two for babies of friends and two for strangers in Instagram swaps. After a long spring of doing very little, I finally kicked into high gear and got two quilts out the door last week and have another more than half finished. It feels good to turn my restless worry and sadness into something beautiful. Would you like to see my work?

(That was a rhetorical question. I’m going to assume you’re nodding.)

The first and most difficult is a baby quilt for a colleague. I was charmed by the pattern months ago and thought it would make a perfect child’s quilt with some whimsical fabric I had been hoarding for a long time. I started the quilt right after the new year, but it was a tedious pattern to construct so after making a block or two, I stalled for a very long time.

Nevertheless, I unveiled it last Wednesday at the baby shower and I think it’s the finest quilt I’ve ever made. Here’s a close up view.

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Isn’t it just as sweet as can be? When I began the quilt, I didn’t know the gender of the baby so I tried to keep it as neutral as possible. I later found out my colleague is having a girl so I started using a lot more of the dark pink tones. Little Hattie was born yesterday and here’s a view of her entire quilt.

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The back is also as cute as can be, with grey fabric that coordinates with the front border and pieced stripes using pink fabrics from the entire line.

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Once I finished this quilt, I quickly finished another — a mini I began back in March and also stalled on. It should arrive at my secret swap partner’s house TODAY, so I’ll be excited to watch my Instagram feed and see if she likes it.

The rules of the swap specified that we use a particular fabric line and do our best to match our partner’s tastes. She said she likes blues and greens and prefers traditional patterns, so — even though I like improvisational designs — I gave it my best go. Here it is:

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It’s a petite 24″X24″, perfect for hanging on every quilter’s coveted “mini wall.” By the way, the fabric line is called Cotton + Steel by RJR Fabrics and it’s the hottest thing to hit quilting in a long time. I kept the back simple with just  navy fabric from the front and a snippet of the selvedge to commemorate the Cotton + Steel theme.

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As soon as I finished this mini, I started another baby quilt. This one is for a colleague and dear friend’s first grandbaby. Unfortunately, sweet baby Pearl was born two days ago so I’m behind the curve on this one. But see what you think about what I’ve completed so far:

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The fabric line is called Pearl Bracelets. I used it a long time ago in Kate’s tennis quilt, so as soon as I learned my friend’s grandbaby would be named Pearl, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.  Pearl’s nursery is decorated in bright colors so I think my quilt will strike just the right note.

Finally, after I started the first baby quilt (but before I finished it), I made three table runners as birthday gifts for friends. I won’t bore you with photos of each since they were all made with the same fabric selections and constructed with slight variations, but I’ll show you one of my favorites:

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Purty, huh?

And, somehow, that helps. The act of creating and sharing has sustained humans since the start of time, especially during periods of great pain and loss. The definition of art is “something created from imagination that is beautiful and expresses important ideas or feelings.” I’ll let the recipients decide if my work is beautiful but I’m certain it expresses the love I’m feeling in abundance as I contemplate the last Father’s Day with my Daddy.

With gratitude {for another day, to breathe, to love, to create, to share},

Joan, who wishes you and yours the happiest of Father’s Day near the ones you love

The Unaquilter strikes twice!

Dear friends,

zebra

I’m not sure why I’ve been blogging so infrequently lately. Part of it is an exceptionally busy time at work combined with a revved-up workout schedule, but part of it is that I’ve been trying to catch up on backlogged quilts.

I finished two of my languishing projects last week. Both are for baby girls due later this spring so I really needed to get going. One quilt was for a colleague and features the most adorable and whimsical animal print ever. I had so much fun stitching up this quilt that I would have been tempted to keep it for myself had it not been crib sized.

Here’s another view of the adorable Cori Dantini fabric line.

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The second quilt features a lone, framed star on front and an impressionist floral on back. It was an improv design with mix-and-match fabrics including a couple of pink prints left over from my Cori Dantini stash.

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For some reason, this quilt gave me fits and I spent two nights ripping out row after row after row of stitches after discovering multiple puckers on the back. Ugh.

On the bright side (literally), my favorite part of this quilt was the white-on-white floral fabric with simple white quilting.

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This quilt is for a friend of my CupKate’s. I’ve known B since she and Kate met in Kindergarten. I don’t know where the time went and I can’t believe I’m already creating wedding and baby gifts for my oldest child’s friends.

Still, I had so much fun I bought another star pattern — aptly titled Swoon — that I’ve been eying for months.  And I’ve got just the girl in mind for it.

Once I cross a few more projects off my to-quilt list, that is.

With gratitude {for a busy but productive spring},

The Unaquilter, aka The Magpie, who wants to come back in her next life as a Cori Dantini-illustrated magpie

Restitching the favor.

Dear friends,

Forty years ago, I was an ungainly young girl, where ungainly equals skinny, bucktoothed, freckled, and half a foot taller than most of my contemporaries. Looking back, you could have called me a living illustration of the word awkward.

Of all the things that made me uncomfortable about my appearance, I was most sensitive about my height. In the ’70s, clothing sizes were much more limited than they are today.  If you were “unlucky” enough to be both skinny and tall, you had a heckuva time finding clothing that fit. All my shoes were flats, all my jeans had fringed bottoms (I let out the hems to create another half inch in inseam length), and all my nightgowns looked like they belonged to a child five years my junior. I fretted excessively over my lot in life.

Then one year, my dear friend Julie gave me a special gift: an extra-long flannel nightgown that she had sewn herself. I couldn’t believe when I opened up the package and tried on the gown to see that it fell all the way to the floor! For the first time in my life, my feet and ankles were not visible under the hem of my nightgown, even when I raised my arms. I later learned that while making my special gift, Julie had forced her brother — a tall farmboy — to try on the gown and stand still for several minutes while she pinned the hem to the proper length. I’m not sure Julie’s brother has ever forgiven her for that onerous chore and I chuckle to this day when I imagine a teenaged cowboy trying to stand still in a flannel nightgown just so Boney Joanie could have one garment that didn’t make her feel like a freak.

<Go ahead . . . take a minute to smile about such a touching gesture of friendship>

Anyway, despite the fact that I, too, knew my way around a sewing machine, I never managed to make a single item for my friends. And as you know if you’ve been reading my posts, I only recently took up sewing again after a 20-year hiatus.

So it seemed high time to return the favor, don’t you think?

That’s where this little cutie comes in.

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He’s the apple of Julie’s eye, her first grandchild, a tow-headed little boy named Tucker. Here he is “watering flowers” with JuJu on her front porch.

He turns 1 on July 9th and, earlier this week, I sent a package to him with this in it:

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I think it’s my cutest quilt yet (says the woman who’s made all of three quilts). Here’s a closer look:

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I’m pretty happy with those purty stitches, thanks to my new Bernina. There’s not an unintentional pucker or pleat anywhere, and my corners are beautifully mitered. It’s my best work yet, and I couldn’t be happier to share my new passion in tribute to my thoughtful friend. It’s been a long time coming, but I hope sweet little Tucker sleeps as contentedly wrapped in my quilt as I did in the nightgown his grandmother made long ago.

With gratitude {for lifelong friends of the J variety},

Joan, who learned in her 20s to embrace her stature and now regularly wears high heels because she’s still only the third tallest person in her family

All sewn up.

Dear friends,

babyquilt2

I crossed the finish line earlier this week with my very first quilt stitched from beginning to end.

Strangely, it was both easier and harder than I expected.

Harder in that I made so many mistakes I lost my patience during the home stretch and exclaimed to Mr. Mom “I suck!”

Easier in that a friend’s mother, who is an award-winning quilter, was mightily impressed when she heard I did this on a $65 machine purchased at Wal-Mart without necessary tools like a walking foot and a quilting guide. Hey, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Still, the results were not spectacular (at least not up close) and I cringed at the many visible mistakes. So I’ve gone in search of a new sewing machine, one specifically made for quilting, which I will purchase as soon as I have time to drive to our state’s capitol for a visit to a recommended dealer.

By the way, wanna see the whole thing?

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I bet you’re going to say it looks pretty good. And it does, as long as you don’t look too close. And I suppose the beautiful part is that nobody really examines a quilt up close except the quilter making it. I’ve been told by other quilters that all happy recipients can see is the love and care that went into it.

So I’ve got that going for me.

And the mother of the child — sweet little Audrey who turns 1 soon — now has a perfect “park quilt.” I wrote her a note saying it’s not too precious to lay in the dirt and I hope she’ll use it anywhere it’s needed. I also noted it will be handy if Audrey gets a tummy bug and my friend is worried about her barfing on the good bedding. I mean that with all seriousness.

I am a lot of things, but a perfectionist is not one of them. I prefer finishing imperfectly now over finishing perfectly later. I guess I have trouble deferring gratification, but it’s also reflective of a kind of fearless ambition that compels me to ignore the obstacles that frighten others. A friend once told me “I’ll say one thing about you, Joan. When you make up your mind, you’re all in.”  It made me chuckle at the time but, this week, I smiled knowing it’s the thing that’ll get me through many more challenges, including a second baby quilt I plan to stitch up for another friend very soon.

With gratitude {for the contradiction in character that allows me to be simultaneously assertive and amenable, which just might mean this girl’s found balance, though certainly not the perfect kind},

Joan, who was once told that the worst kind of perfectionist is one who claims she isn’t, a label she steadfastly resists and offers as proof the fact that she promptly mailed the quilt to her friend, flaws and all