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

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.)

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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:

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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:

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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

Sew perfect.

Dear friends,

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I finally finished up my sewing/quilting studio this weekend and it’s perfect. Perfect for me anyway.

It’s colorful. It’s light-drenched. It’s filled with some of my favorite things.

There’s a place for cutting. A place for sewing. A place for ironing. A place for all my fabric. An out-of-sight and spacious place for storing odds and ends.

I’m a bit of a voyeur when it comes to creative studios and I have studied many different kinds over the years. The custom ones. The makeshift ones. The sleek ones and the homey ones. The expensive ones and the budget friendly ones.

This one is improvised and patched together and as far from custom as you can get, but it has everything I need and suits me just fine.

Here’s what it looks like when you enter.

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See that huge window?

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Isn’t it a perfect spot to sew with all that natural light flooding in?

On my left is my ironing spot. I’ve had my large ironing board for more than 30 years. My mother spent countless hours ironing our clothes at that board when she was our nanny so I will never bring myself to buy a new one.  The small board is a recent acquisition from IKEA. It’s perfect set up right next to my machine when I’m constructing blocks.

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And on my right is my cutting spot.

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The upside to a tall and spacious cutting table is that there’s plenty of room underneath for storage. I wouldn’t have necessarily chosen a green table but I found it for a good price at a thrift shop. I don’t know what my life would be like without thrift shops.

By the way, this cart is perfect for corralling pending projects. With only three tiers, it keeps me from getting too far ahead of myself. It’s from IKEA too.

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This might be my favorite part.

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These jars of colorful scraps remind me of jars of candy in the confectionary that I’ve always wanted to own. The shelves are from Target. I have to drive 90 miles for the nearest Target but that does not deter me. The jars are from Wal-Mart and cost $4.50 each. I’m prone to saying “I hate Wal-Mart” but I like their jars.

Here’s another favorite spot.

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I originally purchased the “love” sign for Mr. Mom for Father’s Day, but then I decided I wanted it. Mr. Mom wanted a bottle of Red Breast Whiskey so I figured it was an even trade. The owl mug is one of several owl themed items I own. I’ve been friends with owls ever since one took up residence in a large elm tree outside my home in Mayberry. I miss him.

The tv corner is essential. My favorite television chefs  and home improvement gurus like to keep me company while I sew.

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When Mr. Mom hung my curtains, he had never heard of “puddled” drapes and he suggested I needed to hem the panels. But I snagged them for a mere $15 at Home Goods and part of the thrill of a bargain is no alterations necessary. I count the puddles as part of the charm.

Prior to claiming Kate’s former bedroom as my creative space, I had crafting supplies tucked away in several corners of the house. I’ve been able to consolidate everything into this room, which is handy and which I like to think encourages productivity. (We’ll see how many quilts and other projects I finish this summer as proof.)

This pitcher of paint brushes was too lovely to stash in the closet. I gave it an honored spot on my bookcase. It’s next to a heart-shaped box Mr. Mom gave me years ago.

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And I spent a good bit of time organizing fabric. Here’s the results.

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By the way, the white spaceship-looking thing on top of the fabric cabinet is my sewing machine’s embroidery module. I’ve never used it. I’m kind of afraid of it. Now that I have a sewing room, I’ve vowed to watch the installation CD and learn how to use it.

This year.

I hope.

Maybe.

Mr. Mom spent a good bit of time installing shelves and baskets in the closet. As you can see I’ve got room to grow!

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Which, for a magpie, is essential.

With gratitude {for a happy new space to call my own},

Joan, who inaugurated her new space Sunday morning by making quilted placemats to coordinate with the bar stool cushions she recently sewed for Kate’s apartment

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Empty nesting.

Dear friends,

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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’.

The case of the bad back and the beautiful bag.

Dear friends,

I’ve been happily sewing along, finishing a new mini-quilt and several zip-bags in the last two weeks. Everything was going fabulously until my back decided to go all wonky.

It happened Friday at work. If you’ve never suffered from back problems, they always seem to appear out of the blue. I was walking down the hall to my office when — snap — the pain hit me instantly and fully. I gasped, I stooped, and then I panted and grimaced my way to my office floor, where I spent the next half hour staring at the ceiling and thinking a neurotic back can sure put a kink in your plans, pun notwithstanding.

I managed to get myself home, but I spent the rest of the day and night on my back in bed, alternating between heat and gentle stretches, which I chased with a stiff drink right before bedtime. Because the pain was in my middle back and radiated to my left underarm (rather than my lower back, which is more typical for me), by evening I was convinced I was either having a heart attack or was about to come down with shingles. (My back might not be the only neurotic part of me.)

Neither happened, of course, and by Saturday morning, I was stiff but mostly pain free. I got up very early and got started on a project I had hoped to complete the night before — a zip bag for an upcoming quilter’s swap.

I hadn’t been up more than an hour when the spasms started again, this time in my lower back. I shuffled my way back to the bed/heating pad, took my daily allowance of Advil, and thought about how mobility is never overrated.

Two hours later, I was up and moving again and managed to finish my bag project.

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It’s a surprise for my swap partner so I hope she likes it. (By the way, “moda” is a fabric line beloved by most quilters. I “upcycled” some ribbon from a recent fabric shipment in hopes it would delight a fellow fabric hound.)

I have no idea what’s going on with my back. I logged four runs this week with nary a problem, so who knows? A couple of weeks ago when Mr. Mom was suffering from aches and pains, I called it Old Man Syndrome. Maybe I’ve got Old Woman Syndrome.

With gratitude {for Sewer’s Syndrome, which ultimately prevailed over lesser maladies},

Joan, who — 33 years ago next month — spent a week in traction recovering from the first of her neurotic back episodes

It’s all my brain’s fault!

Dear friends,

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Last week I had the opportunity to take a survey based on the “whole brain” research of Ned Herrmann. The survey resulted in a detailed profile that explains my preferences for thinking and problem-solving based on the four quadrants of the brain and the types of activity central to each quadrant. At its most basic, the profile tells you if your preference is to be a “thinker” (the analytic quadrant), a “feeler” (the emotional quadrant), a “planner” (the organizing quadrant), or an “innovator” (the creative quadrant) — or, if your preferences make you “balanced” in two or more quadrants.

Before seeing the results, I would have told you I am a thinker and a planner.  I consider myself very analytical and very adept at administrative/organizational tasks (and Mr. Mom concurs, for what it’s worth).

Turns out, I was wrong. Based on the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI), I’m first and foremost an innovator. A creator. An entrepreneur.

It’s true that lots of people say I’m creative. “No I’m not!” is my usual response. (Because the part of my brain that is authoritative and overly-confident says I know myself better than others, I suppose.)

After seeing my profile plotted out over the four quadrants of the brain, I learned that I’m mostly creative, with lesser but balanced strengths in analyzing and planning. I’m weakest in feeling. (Yeah, I knew that about myself. “Joan’s so warm and empathetic” said no one ever.)

The purpose of this profile was to better understand how I bring my talents to bear for my employer and colleagues. What I couldn’t stop thinking about, though, was my recent foray into quilting.

“No wonder I have yet to follow a pattern!” I thought to myself. Since I started quilting in April, I’ve started seven quilts and finished six. The one unfinished quilt in my sewing cabinet is the one for which I have a pattern. Somehow, it’s just not interesting enough to keep me going. Since I promised Kate I’d finish it in time for tennis season, I’ve got to get over my  hurdle and get going — but I keep getting distracted by other projects, like the star placemat pictured above.

Saturday night I was perusing the internet and tripped across this photo:

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Source: V and Co

I’ve been casting about for a quilt to make for a friend and this one seemed perfect for her tastes. And it looked so simple — except I’m too inexperienced to figure out on my own how to make the blocks that form the points of the star. After a little googling, I thought I had it. So I got up Sunday morning and used scraps to make a test block, which turned into an impromptu placemat because why waste a test square?

So — off I go in search of fun fabric for my friend’s star quilt.

And it’s all my brain’s fault!

With gratitude {for a brain that’s not what I thought it was but seems to work fine anyway},

Joan, who figures quilting by pattern is a lot like painting-by-number and she never did that either

The 5 stages of quilting.

Dear friends,

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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.

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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!

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Two days. Two minds. Two quilts.

Dear friends,

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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:

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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

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.

tucker

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:

tuckerquilt

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

tuckerquilt2

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

Love. Sew. Much.

Dear friends,

I finished Kate’s quilt top on Sunday. It took me all day to sew on a bit of ric-rac and two borders, but I got it done. It was harder than it looked — those corners are tricky — but I finally figured it out and spent the evening admiring my work and showing my finished creation multiple times to everyone in the house.

I’m not showing it to you just yet . . . because I want to surprise you with a photo of the finished quilt. I think you’ll like it. It’s as cheerful a quilt as I’ve ever seen despite the fact it was my maiden effort and presented no shortage of problems for me to solve. If I haven’t yet mentioned it, math and geometry are not my strong suits. I’m convinced somebody else could have figured out how to construct the darn thing in half the time it took me.  But Mr. Mom says even though I learned to quilt the hard way, I’ll never forget the lessons. He claims solving a problem with your hands is a sure-fire way to remember the solution forever.

I’m so excited to ship Kate’s quilt top off to be quilted. I can’t wait to get it back even though I know I must be patient. I’m told it typically takes most quilters weeks to return a quilt — and then I still have to bind it. I’m betting you won’t see my finished quilt until late July or early August, but won’t it be fun when it’s finally ready to be photographed?

In the mean time, I do have a little something to show you . . .

Since I finished Kate’s quilt with an entire day left in my holiday weekend, I woke up Monday morning just itching to get started on my next project, which is — yep, you guessed it — another quilt!

This one is for Kate, too. Even though I’ve tripped across at least three other quilts I’d like to make for myself, I simply couldn’t say no to this idea once it popped into my head. And the great news is that this one is super simple.  (I only needed to make one quilt without a pattern and instructions to learn my lesson. I may be foolhardy, but I’m not a hard-headed fool!)

My new quilt is called a disappearing 9-patch because the foundation of the quilt is a 9-block patch that “disappears.” Take a look:

9patch2

I first got the idea for this quilt in February when Mr. Mom and I sat through several of Kate’s tennis matches in very chilly weather. I noticed she and her teammates all took blankets to their competitions to stay warm while not on the courts, so I immediately dreamed up a special “tennis quilt” for my favorite player.

I began collecting small yardages of tennis themed fabric and coordinating prints and, before I knew it, I had enough to make a quilt. It took me about an hour to cut all my fabric into 5″ squares yesterday morning. But once I finished, that’s when the fun really began. Combining the squares into new and interesting 9-patches is the most enjoyable part. Here’s another combo of squares.

9patchuncut

Now here’s the “trick” of this quilt. Once you sew nine patches together in a 3X3 grid, you cut each grid in half — twice. What you’re left with is four smaller blocks made from a single grid. It looks like this:

90patchcut

Once you sew and cut a number of 9-patch grids, you’re left with an assortment of smaller blocks you can arrange in any number of ways. I think I prefer a “random” arrangement that looks something like this.

collage

The beauty of this quilt is that you get a lot of bang for your buck. The finished quilt looks like you did a lot more work than you actually did (which is the “magic” of sewing larger pieces and then cutting them into smaller pieces). Since my first quilt looks like it was a lot easier than it actually was, it’s only fair that my second looks a lot harder.

Perhaps that’s the yin and yang of quilting?

With gratitude {for a long weekend spent creatively obsessed and sew fulfilled},

Joan, who’s a little grateful that the weatherman predicted rain all weekend, prompting Mr. Mom to cancel the family’s kayaking plans and giving her ample time to hide behind the sewing machine