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.)


And, a generation later, here’s a photo of Jane’s precious daughter, Evie Jane.


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

Packages near and far.

Dear friends,


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.



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

The double bonus.

Dear friends,

Remember that lovely surprise I told you about yesterday? I can’t wait to show it to you!

After spending my entire Friday wandering hither and yon and returning late in the evening, I found this waiting for me in the kitchen:


There’s almost nothing that makes my heart go pitter-patter like tableware, especially that of the Jadite variety.

I opened the card to find a note from Kate saying that she and Parker and Mr. Mom stumbled across this bowl and thought I’d like it. “Just trying to repay you,” Kate wrote, “for all the nice surprises you randomly bring home for us.”

Mothers do nice things for their children because it’s in their DNA. To delight my family delights me, so it’s a win-win. That they are thoughtful enough to want to return the favor is a double bonus that makes me melt.

And isn’t my new bowl a perfect place to gather my stitched pears?


Between the thrill of a new sewing machine and a thoughtful affirmation that my three favorite people adore me, I’m wallowing in bliss this weekend. And if I have to wallow, I can’t think of a better place.

With gratitude {for my three sweethearts, emphasis on the sweet},

Joan, who’d love to hear about a random act of kindness that made you swoon

A wondrous glimpse inside.

Dear friends,

I arrived home later than usual Thursday night and here’s what I found waiting for me on my desk:

Photo by Instagram

Is there anything that can make a girl’s heart skip a beat like a surprise package in the mail?

I removed the brown paper and it looked like this:

Photo by Instagram, X-Pro II filter

A wrapped gift and a handwritten note on February 2nd for no apparent reason? Be still my heart!

Turns out, it was an early Valentine. From my pen pal, Maridel. You’ve read Maridel’s comments on this space, no doubt. She’s a regular reader and a friend and a former colleague and a pen pal.

See that lovely hand-written note she sent? I get them all the time. I try to send a few, too, but she has me beat on the exchange rate.

Maridel and I worked together for many years. When she left our organization a few years ago, I was so traumatized that I wrote a short verse about how much I would miss her. I decopauged the verse, along with several clipped images, on the inside of a small, lidded jar and gave it to her.

Before you ooh and ahh, it was not my idea. (I’m not that clever.) It was an homage to my departing friend, who is both a stellar writer and an even more accomplished collage artist. I had long been a fan of her work, both her one-dimensional and her three-dimensional collages. We had enjoyed long talks about our mutual interest in three-dimensional pieces, especially those with surprises (like pictures or verse on the insides or bottoms of boxes or other containers), and the great fun to be had in haunting flea markets and junk stores in search of paper ephemera and found objects.

Whereas my gift to her was a one-off, Maridel (who’s a real artist) continues to create and to send me tiny surprises. I have two collaged seashells and a collaged stone from her scattered about my home, earlier treasures that arrived by U.S. mail.

Bet you’re wondering what was in the box, huh? Wait until you see it! It was inspired by what she called my “dress reveries” on this blog.

It is so full of visual delights, I literally gasped when I opened it.

If you’re not familiar with collage as an artistic medium or have never tried it yourself, think of this: every single one of those tiny images had to be hand cut and applied.

Collage is a medium for the patient artist, clearly. (Oy! All that cutting!)  Maridel’s creations are tiny puzzles that I love to observe and decipher.

And this most recent one is clearly a reflection of Joan-Marie . . . the images of fashion and flowers and home are so me.

And if I know Maridel, those three-dimensional petals on the side of the vase are also the work of her hand. I’m betting they are found objects she painted and reappropriated for this piece.

I really don’t have the talent with words to express my delight and wonder and awe at this gift. I think about how much thought and time my friend gave to finding and selecting the images. And to trimming them just so. And to positioning them just right. And to balancing color and texture and shape into a pleasing visual harmony. And to adding the three-dimensional petals as a final embellishment and touch of verve.

I think of all of that, and then I think she wrapped it up and mailed it to me, setting free her miniature work of art to bring beauty and love into the life of another.

And then I think . . . wow.

With gratitude {for dear friends and generous expressions of their hearts},

Joan, who packed up her collage supplies when she moved 10 months ago and thinks she just might have to get back in business (and who also thinks she may not sleep well until she finds an orange Chanel-esque suit in her size, just like the one on the vase)