String of pearls.

Dear friends,

pearlcu

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.

pearlfront

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.

pearlback

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

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

A lifetime of love.

Dear friends,

This quilt story is a long one. But it’s so dear to my heart, I hope that you will grab a cup of coffee, settle in, and indulge me in the telling.

I’ve written before about my oldest and closest friends — the Js. Joan-Marie, Jami, Janet, Johnna and Julie all grew up together. Four of the Js have known each other since Kindergarten. I joined the tribe in 5th grade when my mother moved us from Tulsa to “Mayberry,” the loveliest hometown ever. Three of the Js still live in or near Mayberry (as I did until three years ago) and we remain fast friends to this day.

Today’s story begins with my friend, Janet. Here we are, circa 1976, preparing for an appearance in Mayberry’s Pioneer Days Parade.

jbandme

Janet and Boney Joanie enjoyed their stint as Minnie Mouse and Raggedy Andy so much, we parlayed the experience into a four-year stint as “Spuddy and Spry” in our high school’s clown troupe. We shared a love of acrobatics and performance and we spent untold hours in her yard and mine perfecting our tricks and tumbling routines. At one point, we both learned to juggle and Janet learned to ride a unicycle in pursuit of a more entertaining performance.

Janet was petite and remarkably strong and athletic. I have vivid memories of her standing on her head and pushing up into a handstand, which she could hold on balance as long as she desired. I was far too tall and skinny to have much athletic potential, but I could contort myself into all kinds of shapes and I was a fearless and loyal companion of the girl I idolized.

jbandme2

We were inseparable for years and I can’t count the number of sleepovers we shared. At her house, we listened to Barry Manilow until the wee hours then wedged ourselves into her twin-sized bed where we slept like interlocked Lego pieces. At my house, we begged my mother to make us SOS (a hamburger and white gravy concoction we loved) and watched television on the tiny black-and-white set in my bedroom.

Years later, Janet and I would also “share” pregnancies. Her first child, Sarah, was born on Dec. 8, 1992, and my CupKate was born exactly three months later on March 8, 1993. Janet and her husband were living in Texas at the time and both her mother, Carolyn, and I couldn’t wait to see baby Sarah. So Mr. Mom, Carolyn, and I loaded up in our 1967 Plymouth Belevedere and made the trip to Ft. Worth as soon as she was born.

I was six months pregnant, uncomfortable, emotional, and unsure what to expect. I’ll never forget baby Sarah’s non-stop wails and what seemed like incessant breast-feeding sessions. Janet and her mother seemed unperturbed by the noisy soul demanding all the attention in the household, but I was suffering from pregnancy exhaustion and I was more than a little unsure how well suited I would be for infant care.

Fortunately, I found my sea legs quickly, and by the time Janet Elaine and Sarah Elaine visited Kate Elaine and me three months later, all was well. (It’s no surprise we love the symmetry of a shared middle name.)

Like Janet and me, Sarah and Kate have been friends forever. This is one of my favorite photos of our girls at age two.

kateandsarah

While Kate was quiet and reserved, Sarah was a tempestuous swirl of energy and passion. In their youth, they were a feminine yin and yang not unlike Spuddy and Spry.

It doesn’t seem possible these adorable babies are turning 21. Or that these beautiful, sweet, and mature girls are ours.

KateSarahPromCollage

Sarah is like a second daughter to me or, more to the point, the kind of daughter you would select for yourself if there was choice involved in these kinds of things. She’s smart, thoughtful, passionate, loyal and, despite her boisterous beginnings, sweetly considerate, focused, and determined.

So when Janet texted me on Halloween to ask if she might commission a quilt for Sarah’s 21st birthday, I couldn’t say no. I was flustered I had so little time, and chagrined I didn’t think of it myself much earlier, but I sprang into action.

Turns out, Sarah is studying abroad in Malawi next month, so Janet suggested I create an “African themed” quilt. I had no idea what that meant but, together, Janet and I decided it meant bright (an array of Batik prints seemed perfect), simple (large panels of fabric with a bit of patchwork and sashing), and personalized (with Sarah’s name, trip dates, and an appliqued African dancer).

See what you think:

janetcollage

Janet texted me yesterday to share this photo.

sarah

I can’t see Sarah’s hands, but I’m going to take this as two thumbs up.

With gratitude {for a lifetime of love and a new generation to nurture it},

Joan, who’s already received another commission and can’t wait to get going

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

By the skin of my teeth.

Dear friends,

I finished my very first quilt earlier this week . . .

. . . the one I started in this post, and struggled mightily with in this post, and finished the “flimsy” in this post. (By the way, a “flimsy” is a quilt top waiting to be quilted.)

If you’re doing the math, I started and finished the quilt top in about month. Then I did nothing for nearly three months.

Well, not exactly nothing. Actually, I started six additional quilts and finished five of them. But the first one — well, it languished.

I can’t explain why because I had a deadline. And it was the most sentimental of all my projects. I had intended to finish the quilt in time for Kate to take it back to college. I knew it might take a month or two for a quilter to quilt it for me (waits of 4-8 weeks are common in the quilting world), so by mid-July when I had failed to wrap up the finishing touches, I knew I had blown my deadline. Earlier this summer I had purchased Kate a store-bought quilt for her home bed, so I told her to take it to college instead and maybe we’d have her mother-crafted quilt ready by Fall Break.

So a couple of weeks ago I knuckled down and spent a Saturday finishing up the final details. I pieced a backing and I spent a few hours hand-embroidering Kate’s name and the date on one of the blocks. Then I bundled the whole thing up and delivered it to a friend’s mother who promised to put it in the hands of her favorite expert quilter several hours away.

Unfortunately, the “expert” was backlogged past November.

This did not fit into my plans.

Fortunately, my friend’s mother graciously agreed to do it for me instead. (This is a woman who’s been quilting for decades and had more than one quilt accepted at the prestigious Paducah quilt show, so I’m not really sure how she doesn’t consider herself the “expert.”) She knew Kate had left for college two days earlier and my deadline was blown, but she inexplicably decided to do it right away anyway.

There is where it gets weird.

Turns out, Kate ended up coming back home unexpectedly. She had left a week early in order to attend a wedding and shuttle her tennis teammates from the big-city airport to their small-town college. But with several days left before classes started, she decided to make another trip home for more gear.

About two hours after Kate arrived home, my friend’s mother called to say she had finished quilting Kate’s quilt. This gave me a little more than 24 hours to bind the quilt and FINISH-finish it before Kate headed back to college. It wasn’t ideal, but I stayed up well past 2:00 am that night and crossed the finish line with less than four hours to spare.

And Kate drove back to college with quilt in hand, as originally planned.

Can I get an amen?

Oh yeah . . . Would you like to see it?

(I thought so.)

Katequiltoverview

Here’s a close-up view:

katequiltcu

And here’s a photo Kate texted me after she made her bed at college. It sure made my heart happy to know she’ll be sleeping under my labor of love every night.

kateroom

(It didn’t make me happy that she didn’t pack an iron and her new bedskirt is wrinkled, but that’s the mother in me, I suppose.)

With gratitude {for serendipitous but totally cool outcomes},

Joan, who thinks the Pottery Barn Teen sheets we snagged on deep discount are a perfect match

Homemade.

Dear friends,

Homemade.

Today, the word evokes many positive connotations. Bespoke. Custom. Handcrafted. Artisanal.

But depending when and where you grew up, homemade could easily mean inferior. Makeshift. Unrefined.

When I was 10 years old, my mother made me a fabric-covered bulletin board for my room. One day, a very popular girl a year older than me visited my house and when she saw my bulletin board, she asked where I got it.

“My mom made it for me,” I said.

“Hmmmm,” she said, giving it a long look. “It looks cruddy enough to be homemade.”

Please don’t rush to judgement because I’m not trying to embarrass my friend. I’m guessing she has no memory of her words or that day and I don’t believe I’ve ever reminded her. And lord only knows what came out of my mouth at that age. I’m just grateful that nature’s greatest coping mechanism is failed memory so that I’ve forgotten the worst of my embarrassing or careless moments.

And, yes, the words stung a little, but the girl was otherwise so sweet and so adorable — and I so wanted to be her friend — that I didn’t hold it against her. To the contrary, her words became my own private joke that I’ve quoted innumerable times in my lifetime, especially lately as I’ve tackled quilting.

To wit:

heartquilt

My latest quilt presented no shortage of frustrations.  The design is my own and even though I’m pleased, I was mightily challenged. I tried several new products and techniques this go-around (including a higher loft wool batting that was tricky to work with), and the result was a bit “rustic.” As I eyed my many mistakes while hand-stitching the binding, I chuckled and thought to myself “Yep, this one definitely looks cruddy enough to be homemade.”

So it’s rather fitting that the quilt is going to the woman who coined those words decades ago, don’t you think?

She found new love a couple of years ago and, last month, she gave birth to beautiful twins, a girl and a boy.  I haven’t seen her in several years but I couldn’t be happier for her. As soon as I saw photos of her twins on Facebook, I just knew I had to make those babies a quilt.

Here’s the full view:

quiltfullview

And here’s a close up of the backing fabric, which I love because it’s peppered with soft colors, sweet sentiments, a rustic alphabet and, of course, my favorite . . . owls.

quiltback2

Bonnie Bea — I wish you and your hubby all the love in the world.  (And Batt and Jennie all the warmth and comfort a homemade quilt can provide.)

With gratitude {for the patience to stick with this homemade thing in the face of sometimes laughable results},

Joan-Marie, who idolized Bonnie Bea for a million reasons as a young girl including her lyrical and memorable name

Two days. Two minds. Two quilts.

Dear friends,

wavequilt2

Guess what I did last weekend?

You got it! I quilted.

Two days, two quilts.

Before you tell me I’m obsessed, I already know that.  What I didn’t know is just how virulent my particular strain of quilt fever is. It’s like I can’t sew fast enough to quench my insatiable patchwork appetite.

I spent 12 straight hours on Saturday constructing a new applique quilt of my own design. (I can’t tell you about that one until after it arrives at the surprise recipient’s door.) By bedtime, I was bone tired and bleary eyed by what Mr. Mom called “Joan’s Sweat Shop” set up on my dining room table.  Sunday morning I woke and vowed to rest, but I stumbled across this photo while drinking my coffee and by 9:00 am, I was off to the races again.

It seemed like the perfect design to make for an upcoming gift occasion, but I’ve learned just enough in my 60-day patchwork odyssey to be leery of quilts that look simple. So I gathered up my scraps and — in a rare moment of enlightenment — decided to make a test quilt.

First I read the directions. When they didn’t make sense to me, all enlightenment disappeared and I thought “Oh, how hard can it be?”  I promptly made up my own rules because if it works in my head . . .

Well, you’ve heard the same song (first verse) from me before so you can surmise my made-up rules didn’t work. And while I was bemoaning this fact out loud, Mr. Mom took one look at my cutting board and said “Of course that won’t work.” Then he spontaneously proceeded to demonstrate for me exactly how to do it as if he were a master pattern-maker.

Sometimes you hate a smart man, sometimes you love him. On Sunday, his instructions not only made sense, they worked perfectly and I have to say I was smitten.

(Did I ever tell you that he got me through two graduate-level statistics courses where my tutor failed, despite the fact that he never took a single statistics course? The man has a powerful and intuitive understanding of math and geometry, which thank God, because somebody in our house needs those skills and it sure isn’t me and the kids.)

AND . . . when I finished stitching and I moaned about how caterwompass this quilt was, he demonstrated the precise measuring and cutting techniques to square it up. My apologies to Audrey and Tucker and Surprise Recipient #3 for their off-kilter quilts. It’s all Mr. Mom’s fault and I don’t know why he waited until now to share his knowledge.

Anyhow — here’s how my “test quilt” turned out in full:

wavesquilt

I absolutely love the “waves” of pattern and I can’t wait to select the fabric for my gift quilt. AFTER next weekend.

For now, I’m basking in the glow of one exceptionally productive weekend, an unusually talented partner, and the stamina to sew like Norma Rae.

With gratitude {for team efforts},

Joan, who’s contemplating founding a chapter of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union in her dining room because maybe she needs a couple of weeks of lazing around eating buttered crackers on the sofa