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.

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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

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.

whiteonwhite

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

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

Love. Sew. Patch.

Dear friends,

Despite the horrendous Headache Threat Level that has nuked my entry into the new year, I have managed to rack up three — that’s THREE — quilt finishes so far in 2014.

I figured my head hurts whether I’m up or down, so save 14 hours spent in bed on Dec, 31-Jan. 1, I’ve been sewing through the pain.

As for the first finish, I can’t tell you about it until it arrives at its new home, later this week or next. Same for the third.

But the second finish was for Kate, and she’s headed back to college in possession of one of the cutest and warmest quilts I’ve made.

Take a close-up look:

tenniscu

Last spring, I attended some pretty chilly college tennis matches (where chilly equals wearing a coat, hat and gloves and still being cold). I noticed some of the girls carried blankets to wrap around themselves in between matches and that’s when I got the idea that my CupKate needed a tennis-themed quilt to take on the road.

I purchased the fabric nine months ago and even cut it into the proper size squares. And then I got distracted by other projects and the tennis quilt has sat unattended all this time.

I vowed to get it done before she left home in January, but two commissions kept me busy through December. By Jan. 3, I knew I had less than a week to get it done so I sprang into action, spending all of last weekend sewing, squaring and arranging 122 blocks of green, yellow and black fabric. (Kate’s college colors are green and black.)

I failed to take a photo of the entire quilt before she packed up and left home, so here’s one she took with her phone from her apartment. It’s not great quality but you get the gist:

tennis

On Black Friday, I just happened to score some extra-soft white flannel with tiny lime polka dots for $1.75 a yard. It made a perfect — and extra warm — backing for the quilt. And while shopping the day after Christmas, Kate tripped across some black fabric with miniature tennis balls and multi-colored racquets that was perfect for the binding.

I’m so glad to get this one off the sewing table and into heavy rotation. Kate’s tennis season starts Feb. 4 and, if January has been any indication, she’ll need every ounce of warmth she can lay her hands on.

With gratitude (for deadline-induced productivity},

Joan, who’s relieved to report she’s been headache-free for a couple of days, though her energy level is still in the basement without liquid stimulants

PS: If you are at all interested in the quilt pattern, it’s called a disappearing 9-patch and you can find a tutorial here

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