Empty nesting.

Dear friends,

studiocollage

A few sneak peeks of my work-in-progress sewing studio.

I’ve been away from this space for a long time.

I didn’t plan to take a hiatus . . . I’ve just been savoring every moment of my last weeks with Parker at home and I guess I lost track of time.

But guess what? He’s already off at college. (His program in Heavy Equipment Operations at our state’s technical college started June 2.) And Kate flew the nest, too, and decided not to return home for the summer. Instead, she rented an off-campus apartment in Oklahoma in hopes of playing USTA tennis with her coach and landing a summer job that lasts longer than the summer.

It’s weird — having no chicks in the nest. Mr. Mom and I have experienced three whole days of It’s-Just-You-and-Me-Babe Freedom. We have no idea what to make of it yet, so I have no pronouncements to offer.

Okay, maybe I have one: In times like these, it’s best to distract yourself.

To that end, I dove head-first into the deep waters of home improvement. You may recall that two years ago when I struggled with Kate leaving for college, I had no plan. The combination of idle time and her unoccupied bedroom haunted me for weeks and I vowed to avoid a repeat with Parker. It was a coincidence that we moved Kate to her Oklahoma apartment and Parker to his college dorm over the same weekend, but it was not a coincidence that I drove straight home and immediately embarked on two redecorating projects.

First, Kate’s former bedroom is being repurposed into my quilting studio. The to-do is long but the results are immensely gratifying. I mean, come on! I may have lost a daughter (and her assorted furnishings), but I gained a dedicated sewing space. I’m not suggesting it’s anything close to an even trade, but it sure takes the sting off. The recently painted black bookcase (to match my sewing table), the glass canisters filled with brightly colored fabric scraps, the celery green cutting table (a thrift store bargain), the Jadite bowl of fabric pears — it all delights me to no end. I’m quite a ways from finishing the entire space, but I can’t wait to give you a tour when it’s perfect.

Second, Parker’s former bedroom is being repurposed into a guest room. I know to some mothers’ ears this will sound harsh. “He leaves for college and you empty his bedroom?”

But here’s the deal. His academic program is only a year long, after which he will be employed and, if things go according to his 10-year plan, he’ll be traveling extensively. He told me he thinks it would be “cool” to operate a crane in New York City. The point is — the boy has dreams and plans and they don’t include living with me anymore. When he is at home, he’ll need a bed, not a bedroom. (And, let’s be honest, the presence of “his decor” in “his room” makes me miss him even more so I’m creating a room that doesn’t remind me he doesn’t live here anymore.) Plus, I have overnight guests coming later this summer and his boring white walls, oak furniture, and teenager bedding and posters simply won’t do.

Some people drink. I paint. To each his own method of coping, I say.

Anyway, I’m busy cleaning, painting, organizing, decorating, and generally pouring every ounce of my personal time into two big projects. I hope it will be Labor Day before I look up and notice my house is empty, by which time I’ll be used to it. (Makes sense to me!)

With gratitude {for interesting distractions and a partner-in-crime who seems willing to indulge my every DIY whim},

Joan, who has been remarkably composed during this difficult transition and still thinks she’d feel better if she’d just have a good cry

PS: I’ve been away so long, I can’t leave now without telling you about five, very important developments since you last heard from me.

ONE: Parker went to his first (and last) prom. To say he looked handsome in his tux is an understatement. Don’t believe me? Take a look at this boy!

parkprofile

TWO: Kate’s college tennis team once again qualified for nationals and competed in Orlando, FL. I didn’t get to attend this year due to work obligations but I’m bursting with pride for “my girls.” Their final ranking for the season is number #19. IN THE NATION.

NCAA

THREE: When Kate moved to Oklahoma, she took SweetPea with her. THINK ABOUT THIS! Both my kids and my dog left home at the same time. Okay, I know SweetPea is Kate’s dog. But she has lived with me for 8 years. It’s like a death in the family, I tell you.

sweetpea

FOUR: During the time I was gone from this space, Mr. Mom and I spent a week in Colorado for our mountain trial. I haven’t had time or inclination to write about it. Long-story short: It happened and we’re awaiting the judge’s verdict. There’s a lot of drama and twists and turns (including a near-death experience with a star witness and my verbal altercation with the Unfriendly’s attorney), but I’m saving it for later.

FIVE: I am married to the kindest, most considerate man in the world. If he wasn’t the foundation of my empty nest, I’m not sure what I would do. Just sayin’.

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

So there might be a slight problem with my business plan.

Dear friends,

I spent some time Saturday working on the Magpie Quilts product line. Here’s a photo of an idea I had for quilted key rings:

keyrings

Each has coordinating fabric on the front and back with free-form, rustic stitching, and a one-word affirmation. (The bright green “love” ring is tongue-in-cheek given that the fabric features tennis balls.)

I spent about two hours working through construction problems. Now that I’ve figured out most of the issues, I estimate that I could produce them assembly-line style (rather than one at a time, as these were) and crank out 20 or so in about an hour.

There is 75 cents of materials in each and I’m thinking of selling them for $6.50. Too much? Imagine admiring a quilt, priced between $200 and $300 and thinking you’re not quite ready to pull the trigger, so you grab a $6.50 keyring on impulse.

Yes or no?

Whether you think my marketing approach is sound or not, the “slight” problem with my business strategy is that none of the keyrings I sewed on Saturday made it into my inventory closet. I mailed them all to friends. I couldn’t help myself. In the business, I think this is known as inventory “leakage.” If I were any kind of boss I would fire myself.

I think the point is that the revenue from Magpie Quilts is supposed to fund the Unaquilter’s postal habit. I might have to hire Mr. Mom as head of security.  Either that, or I need a product line that’s harder to pilfer.

So I’m off — to the factory dining room table right now to work on a framing idea. Frames are a pain to mail. Maybe they’ll stay put in the inventory closet.

With gratitude {for faith, joy and love — and the keyrings that proclaim them},

Joan, whose skeptical husband thinks $5.00 is the right price and encourages his favorite entrepreneur not to be greedy

Stained glass showoff.

Dear friends,

I have a dear friend who makes beautiful stained glass windows. Her home is a showcase of her work and I’ve long thought I should a commission a panel for my home. The supplies are expensive and her time is valuable so I’ve just never quite pulled the trigger, but I’ve always admired her talent and wished I could do the same.

For the record, my friend, Alisa, is multi-talented. She also cooks and gardens and sews and paints (fine art) and builds (cabins) and pretty much does anything she sets her mind to. She’s been a creative inspiration to me as long as I’ve known her, which is pushing 30 years.

Anyway, I spent Saturday fabricating my own stained glass window of sorts on — you guessed it — my sewing machine.

stainedglassfront

The colored panels are a fabric called “Squared Elements” and, up close, they remind me of little windows. Take a look:

stainedglasscu

The gray strips around the panels reminds me of the soldered lines in stained glass, which might be as close as I ever get to using an electric hand tool.

I got the idea for this quilt from a photo I saw on Pinterest, which I replicated. I know there’s a whole sub-culture of Pinterest haters, but I’m not one of them. I’ve gotten several good ideas from my favorite pinners. (And not all the recipes are worthless. I know several really good food bloggers whose recipes are regularly pinned so, as always, consider the source.)

Before Saturday, I had never made a quilt with sashing (strips of fabric surrounding a block or fabric panel) so I wasn’t quite sure how to do it without instructions. But I figured it out and only had to pull out my seam ripper once. These kinds of challenges are, for me, the “puzzle” of quilting and why I keep resisting patterns and going my own way.

By the way, another one of my longtime friends received this quilt in the mail last week and called to say she was thrilled. I was so happy to hear she liked it — and even happier to hear it had arrived on her doorstop at the conclusion of a very bad day, which turned around when she opened my box. Aren’t surprise greetings and packages the best?

Speaking of surprises, I was astonished to hear my friend say that her mother saw the quilt and exclaimed “Is there anything Joan can’t do?” It’s something I’ve said about my friend Alisa many times, and a description I never expected to hear about myself . . . which just goes to show: talent is in the eye of the beholder, so looking upon yourself with kinder (outside) eyes is a gift to be relished.

With gratitude {for unexpected gifts that go both ways},

Joan, who has decided instead of Crazy Quilt Lady, she shall be known as the Unaquilter and her manifesto shall be Fabric Happiness for Everyone!

The 5 stages of quilting.

Dear friends,

quiltcu2

I finished my latest quilt on Saturday. It’s my sixth since I started in April. I continue to learn a little more each time I try a new pattern and/or a new technique.

The primary lesson I’ve learned is that quilting is a lot like grieving in that it has five distinct, emotional stages common to all projects. By describing them here, I’m hoping my experiences will resonate with others and that the legions of lonely and despondent quilters around the world will find solace and acceptance here.

The first stage is Glee. This stage is marked by restless anticipation and unbridled excitement as the quilter selects her fabric and plans what she is convinced will be the BEST QUILT EVER. The quilter in stage one will appear giddy and may babble uncontrollably. This stage varies in duration, especially if the quilter is a frequent fabric shopper and, therefore, is subject to regular fabric highs. (Fabric highs are followed by inevitable fabric crashes when the thrill of a recent fabric shipment wears off. This high-low cycle is the reason many quilters horde fabric as they seek to satiate their cravings.)

The second stage is Frustration. This stage is marked by annoyance and short tempers as the quilter actually begins her project. This stage typically commences during the cutting process, particularly if the quilter is weak in math, and often extends well into the piecing process. A sign that the second stage has commenced is frequent outbursts of negative exclamations, such as “This is so stupid!”, “I suck!”, “Why did I pick this <expletive> pattern?!” and “&%$#&**#!”

The third stage is Fear. This stage is marked by extreme anxiety prompted by the quilter’s sense of impending peril. She begins to imagine she will irrevocably ruin the project, waste her money, embarrass herself in front of her family and friends, and fail to complete a recognizable quilt. It is typical for a quilter experiencing this stage to retreat to a dark room, turn inward, and question her purpose in life. Some quilters consume alcohol during this stage as a method of self-medication.

The fourth stage is Despair. This stage is marked by depression and lethargy as the quilter is certain she is an utter failure. She may lose interest in other activities, such as eating and grooming. It is extremely important that the quilter’s loved ones encourage her to keep sewing through this stage. Frequent verbal affirmations may help propel her toward completion of the project, and expressing interest in any aspect of the quilt — such as the color palette, fabric selections, or pattern details — provides an important distraction to her despair. It is rare for a quilter to successfully endure this stage of quilting without outside assistance.

The fifth stage is Acceptance. This is the final stage of quilting and is marked by the quilter’s calm concession that she has not made the BEST QUILT EVER but has completed a worthy project and is better prepared to tackle the next. Signs that this stage is fully realized are verbalizations or behavior that may indicate the quilter is planning her next project. If these behaviors are noticed by loved ones, they should continue to encourage the quilter with affirmations and expressions of admiration for the quilter’s talent and fortitude.

If you know anyone who is experiencing the five stages of quilting (which, by the way, are almost identical to the stages experienced during a DIY project), please refer them to this post. And, most importantly, be gentle with their fragile, creative souls. Hugs are always in order.

With gratitude {for self-administered self-help, including all varieties of wine and healthy doses of humor},

Joan, whose most recent quilt pictured above and below was the most challenging and despair-inducing project so far

***

In case you’re curious, here’s a photo of the front. I used 21 shades of blue fabric and created the pattern myself based on this inspiration photo.

quiltfront

And here’s a photo of the back. The backing fabric is one of the most cheerful prints I’ve ever seen. I love it!

quiltback

Feeling blue.

Dear friends,

There inevitably comes a time in every vacation when the “Sunday night blues” set in. For me and my recent long stretch of time off, it started yesterday. I had four days left and I made the mistake of reading a few work-related emails. All of a sudden, my free-and-easy mindset evaporated and I started feeling edgy and glum.

I figured there was no better solution than to a tackle a project. Checking a box on my to-do list usually lifts my mood so I went blue-on-blue in an effort to shake my doldrums.

Here’s what I started with:

chair

I have eight of these chairs surrounding my dining room table. I recovered the seats in a silk fabric featuring red, gold, and camel stripes not long after I purchased them from an antiques dealer seven years ago.  They’ve seen plenty of wear as you can tell from the stains. I should have recovered them as soon as we moved, but you know how that goes. Plus, I could never make up my mind on a fabric choice.

Earlier this week, I received a shipment of fabric intended for a quilt. Turns out, I didn’t like a couple of my choices for a quilt project, but one was perfect for my chairs. Now they look like this:

chairs

How’s that for perked up?

I’m loving how well they (unintentionally) coordinate with my drapes and my new rug.

When we purchased this house two years ago, I spent a fair amount of time deriding the former owner’s proclivity for shades of blue. (I’d always been a green girl.) I immediately banished her blue Formica counter-tops but decided to live for a while with her high-end, blue shades in two rooms. Over time, I realized my green and her blue are awfully close together on the color wheel and can peacefully cohabitate.

bluehouse Collage

So I’m still feeling blue, but I’m no longer gloomy.

With gratitude {for pick-me-up projects done fast and cheap},

Joan, who welcomed a renter this week to her favorite house still for sale back home and is thrilled there’s a family living in the big white house in Mayberry

nowatahouseatnight2

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

MUDandSTUFF.

Dear friends,

Because I couldn’t wait — and because I just KNOW you are as excited as me about my big reveal — I finished up my Mud Room Friday evening so I could show it to you today.

I couldn’t be more pleased with how it turned out.

And because, of course, I want the biggest ahhhhhh possible, I’m going to make you sit through two “before” photos one more time.

Here’s the space before we bought the house:

mudroom

And here’s what it looked like for the first two years we lived here. (This photo is taken from the opposite side as the previous photo. The reflection in the mirror is the view of our laundry room, which sits just to the west of this alcove.)  And, yes, all I did initially to “improve” this space was hang a mirror and throw a bucket in the corner as a catch-all for shoes and other junk. It’s clear it wasn’t much of a catch-ALL, as most of our junk ended up on the floor.

before2

I have only one word for this photo: YUCK.

But all traces of yuckiness have been banished. And here’s what it looks like now, after my flurry of online shopping and with Mr. Mom’s help:

MRlight

This photo is a tad underexposed so you can get a sense of the new light fixture, which I love, love, love.

And here’s my very favorite part:

MUDandSTUFF

I knew I wanted something to really give a punch to the accent wall and I had my heart set on individual letters that spelled out something appropriate for the space. I decided on MUDandSTUFF because it just seemed so . . . so perfectly descriptive.

This addition was my biggest expense. The letters are custom fabricated from aluminum and painted in a high gloss paint. I chose this professional sign company as my source because they offered many font choices, virtually any size, and custom colors. They are adhered to the wall with a fast-setting epoxy glue that was a pain in the butt to use. As you can see if you look closely, we messed up a little on the capital D. And Mr. Mom hung the lowercase n upside down, but figured it out about 30 seconds later and managed to pry it off  the wall just before the glue set so hard we would have had to take a sledgehammer to it. In total, my MUDandSTUFF art cost just over $300 — definitely a splurge but worth it, I think.

By the way, the coat racks (there are two of them hung side by side) are from Bed, Bath & Beyond. I thought they were a bargain at $29 each.

Here’s another view of more wall art. I bought a $10 poster from Urban Outfitters and a $25 K-Mart frame. It helped offset the cost of the custom lettering.

MRposter

And here’s a close-up of the key rack, also from Urban Outfitters.

MRflowers

By the way, the beautiful girl in the photo is our niece. And the vase is a vintage treasure from my beloved native state.

Here’s a close up of the bench, from West Elm:

MRbench

My West Elm rug is on backorder, so the one you see in the photo is a runner from Urban Outfitters that I purchased for the hallway leading to the kitchen. It’s roughly the same color as the one I’m waiting on, so it worked as a stand-in for this photo.

I’m under no illusions that the space is going to stay this organized. By next week, there will be 25 pairs of shoes strewn around the bench and 14 jackets on the coat rack, but it looks nice for now and that’s what matters when the post-DIY glow is still strong.

And because I just can’t get enough, here’s one final look:

mudfinal

With gratitude {for Mr. Mom who puts the “Y” in DIY and who graciously did all my fetching, toting and hanging for this project},

Joan, who has loved wallpaper since she sold it for $4 an hour at Barlow Interiors, her very first job in 1981, which convinced her a college degree might be just the ticket out of retail hell

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