Thursday, December 30, 2010

Number 9 on the list.

imagesCABOO1X3I found my journal.  I hid it last March when I had company for a few days and I offered them my bedroom because the bed is more comfortable than the guestroom mattress. 

Hiding the journal that I usually keep in my bedside table was an unnecessary act of insecurity, on my part.  When the guests left, I forgot about the journal for a while and then later, couldn’t remember where I’d hidden it. 

I’ve been keeping a journal since 2001 (keeping it was a resolution I made that year) but I’m not a very consistent writer.  I often skip days, weeks even months between entries.  At the end of each year, I do like to list the books I read during the prior twelve months along with my resolutions for the coming year.

Finding my journal now was serendipitous  because the last entry that I wrote was dated January 1, 2010 and contained the nine resolutions I made for this year with the sincere belief I would keep every one of them.  But the only one I did keep was creating this blog.

Making new year’s resolutions reminds me of elementary school.  After report cards came out, the nun who was our teacher  used to change our seat assignments and give us time to empty our desks and clean out the old papers, broken crayons and dull pencils.  We’d even bring our books home and make new covers from brown grocery bags.  It always felt like another chance to get straight “A’s”.  That’s what making resolutions is like for me.  Time to rethink what didn’t work last year and another chance to get “IT” right.

By the way, Number 9 on my list of resolutions last year was to journal more.  If only I hadn’t hidden it, I might have kept that resolution as well.imagesCA0HJE5O

Happy New Year,

Gail Smile

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Another Mystery Quilt 153 years later

I really have nothing to post today.  I never did get outside to shovel.  I got up, had my coffee, took one look at the thermometer outside the kitchen window and said—“Tomorrow”.   I’ve spent most of the day trying to catch up on the 600 hst’s for the RRCB mystery quilt on Bonnie’s blog and I’m making progress.  I think I have about 300 sewn, pressed and trimmed so far, but I’m still a week and a half behind on this project.

I like to string piece the hst’s in units of 25.  This helps me keep count of how man I’ve sewn and they don’t end up in a tangled mess when I go to press them. You can also see that I sew all of them with either the light triangle on top or the dark on top.  This makes it easier to press the blocks in the same direction (towards the darker triangle).

DSCF3767 (2)

I wish I’d bought the “thangles” for this project, though.  Even using the EZ Angle, all of my blocks still need to be trimmed down.

DSCF3752 (2)



I want to share a few pictures  and the story of the first antique quilt I bought at an auction almost 20 years ago. 

I was very new to quilting back then, had just joined a quilt guild. I had made a few small quilts on my own but was just starting my first large quilt (Old Ugly).   In other words, I knew very little about quilts, period.

My quilt came up for auction right after a set of 18th century crystal goblets from an historic house in Ipswich, Massachusetts. During the bidding frenzy for them there was a lot of audience buzz that George Washington MAY HAVE visited that particular house and been served wine in THOSE goblets.

There were also several quilts auctioned off that day but I hadn’t seen them at the auction preview, because frankly,  I wasn’t looking to buy anything.   To be honest this auction was way out of my league and we were just there as spectators.  The real bidders that day were  antique dealers and collectors from New York, Boston and Chicago.  International bidders had agents bidding for them via satellite phone.

When my quilt came up next, the auctioneer just said it was an antique red and white quilt dated mid-19th century that appeared to have writing in some of the blocks.  I don’t know what came over me  but when the bidding opened at $25.00 I raised my hand and energetically waved it.  My husband sat next to me with a look of terror on his face and tried to pull my hand down from the air,  but it was too late and the auctioneer acknowledged my bid. 

That would have been the end of it had the bidding gone higher, but amazingly, no one else raised their program to bid against me and I went home with my $25 prize and the cheapest item that sold that day.

Later when I got home and  examined my quilt, I was excited to see signatures in most of the block centers along with dates and locations.  The dates range from 1857 to 1859 just prior to the start of the civil war.  There are a total of 64 blocks which each measure about 9 1/2 inches square.

To this day, I’ve never seen this pattern in another quilt.  I think it’s a variation of a reel and orange peel block design.  I love the double saw tooth border.  You can’t see it in the pictures but the hst’s of the saw tooth border form a flying geese design in the corners. 

I don’t think all of the blocks were signed.  Some definitely look newer and may have been added to fill in or enlarge the quilt so I’m thinking the quilt was assembled much  later after the blocks were made.  The binding is machine stitched and could be a replacement or could be further proof that the quilt was assembled later.

Over the years  some of the India ink signatures faded but a lot of the Antique Quilt Unknown 001 (2)stampings and signatures are still clear and readable.  Most of them are from Grand Prairie, Edgar County, and Paris, Illinois.

But here’s the mysterious part—one of the blocks was made by someone from Raymond, NH.  I can’t read the signature on that block but Raymond is less than eight miles from where I sit, so what was the connection between the block maker in Raymond, and the other block makers in Edgar County, Illinois--a distance of over 1,000 miles. My guess is that the quilt travelled from west to east because it ended up here in the Manchester auction where I purchased it. 

Some of the block makers must have felt very close to the person they were making this quilt for and added sentiments “Forget me if you can” and “Remember me” beneath their signatures.  DSCF3754 (2)DSCF3758 (2)

It makes me sad to think that this quilt was probably gifted to  someone that moved so far away, leaving their home and all that was familiar behind, perhaps never to return.  Who were they and why did they move?  At least they carried these blocks with them and the signatures of those friends left behind.  It must have been comforting coming to an unknown place to have something so familiar and a reminder of home.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Rolling with a Nor’easter on the 2nd day of Christmas.

It started snowing here yesterday around 4:30PM. Of course I was out on the road right when it started coming down the heaviest because I’d convinced myself that I needed a few extra bundles of firewood and some fire starter—just in case.


I went out earlier to pick up some groceries and get gas for the car and  fill up the gas can so I could use the snow blower if my driveway guy didn’t show up but this time he beat me to it.  I still need to go out and shovel the walkways and deck but I’m waiting till tomorrow  to do that. 

The wind is howling as I write this.   It’s been a good day to stay inside and catch up on the RRCB mystery quilt.  I made some soup  this afternoon and I’m working on the 600 hts’s.  At this point in time,  I’m  two weeks behind  after being on track for the first four weeks.

  DSCF3753 (2)

I opted to spend Christmas Eve home this year.  Just didn’t feel like driving 2 hours and sleeping on the sofa bed at Laura’s house (even though it is a very comfortable sofa bed) .  It was Calvin’s first Christmas eve and Todd’s birthday but since I was seeing both of them the next day and Todd was having dinner out with his parents I didn’t think they’d hold it against me. 


Calvin and Aunt Carolyn

My sister asked me to make the raspberry trifle, I’ve been making  for the last couple of years.  It’s delicious and easy to assemble except for sieving a package of frozen raspberries to remove the seeds (what fun that is). 


Stay warm!

Friday, December 24, 2010

...”And a partridge in a pear tree” or, maybe not.

It’s Christmas Eve and my house is quiet.  Today is the day to put the final preparations on our decorations,  tidy up the house, wrap our gifts, and contemplate the coming of tomorrow.  

This time last year I was doing all of the above while listening to Christmas music.  “The Twelve Days of Christmas” was playing when I looked out the kitchen window and saw this…

...And A Turkey In A Crabapple Tree... 009

May your partridge in a pear tree be the real thing and your Christmas too!

Merry Christmas,


Friday, December 17, 2010

Ho, Ho, Ho! Hints For Santa's Helpers

After today, there's only seven more shopping days till Christmas so  I thought I'd post a few of the items I own and use regularly in case you need a suggestion or two for the gardening enthusiasts on your shopping list.   
  • Atlas Gardening gloves are always a good bet and my favs at this time. They cost about $10.00 to $12.00 a pair retail and come in a lot of colors and sizes but the best thing about them is that they stretch so you can literally pick up a dime wearing them. This is important when you're transplanting seedlings. They have a light latex coating on the palm and fingers that makes them useful for wet work and keeps your hands dry. I love them so much, I often forget that I have them on. Another nice feature is that they are machine washable and dry able.
  • Florian and Felco Pruning Shears - Every gardener needs at least one pair of pruners, two is preferable--a lightweight pair for deadheading and snipping blooms and a anvil type for pruning thick branches.  A good quality pair of pruners, taken care of will outlast all of us.  I recommend either Florian or Felco, both make fine quality pruners from about $27 to $50.  Florian is made in the US, Felco is made in Switzerland.
  • Florian Pruning Saw - I bought mine (the smaller 7-inch blade) from a vendor at the Newport Flower Show in 2008 for $25.  It is the best hand-pruning saw I've ever used.  I routinely use it to prune my trees.  It gives an excellent clean cut and literally saws through hardwood like "budda".   I also like that the blade folds for safety and storage.
  • Garden edger or Trough - I'm not sure what the technical name is for this tool.   Its a long-handled tool with either a curved blade or a flat blade.  I've had mine for years, passed along from my Dad and I remember my grandfather had one too.  I use it to give a nice sharp edge to my flower beds.  It works by cutting the sod and creating a "moat" between the garden bed and the lawn, similar to what plastic edging does, but I think this is a more elegant look. I use mine every spring to create a neat curved edge along my beds.
  • Wheelbarrow or Hand Cart -  No gardener should be without a wheelbarrow or hand cart of some kind.  I won't go into all the differences but believe me this is a must have for anyone who lives on a lot bigger than a place mat.   I have two.  One is a wagon that tows behind my garden tractor and the other is a vintage cement wheelbarrow with an inflatable tire.  I have to say, I use the cement wheelbarrow the most because it's narrow and I can access a lot  more areas with it.  Whatever kind you get, they are invaluable for moving mulch compost, tools, hoses, plants, etc. 
  • Books - If you aren't sure what titles to buy, I recommend buying a region-specific book or a reference book.   Why?  Because region-specific books include information about your particular zone and the micro-climates within it,  along with information about the soil where you live.  They also recommend varieties of plants that will do well in your location.  Which is why I don't try to grow fancy French carrots in my rocky soil anymore. :)
  • Taylor's Perennials is a reference book that we use every year at our garden club's plant sale. It's a great reference because of it's small enough to tuck in a purse and has hundreds of colored pictures of perennial flowers in bloom.  Sections are arranged by color so it's easy to quickly look up a plant.  There is also a great cross-reference index with both the common and Latin names of plants, along with growing requirements and plant descriptions. 
  • Another favorite of mine is the New Hampshire Gardener's Companion, by Henry Homeyer.  I have seen other states in this series too.  My reasoning for selecting this book is that it gives some interesting information about the geological formation of the soils where I live.  I always knew "Granite State" wasn't a randomly picked nickname for NH but I did learn that I live in a glacial wash out zone. This particular book also has some good information about invasive species, organic gardening and new developments in biological pest control. 
  • My third pick is another regional book, titled New England Gardener's Almanac.  It's written by the former Boston Globe Garden Editor, Carol Stocker.  Almost like a planner, It lists weekly  chores for each month.  It's a pretty neat book, has great colored photos and I like that there are even  chores for the winter months.  I look at this book  a lot because it inspires me and I learn something new every time I read it. 
  • Garden clogs - sneakers just don't make it as garden footwear and if they're your only sneakers, you won't be wearing them to the gym after the first day digging in the garden.  I know some gardeners prefer Wellies or tall boots, but I own two pairs of garden clogs made by Smith and Hawken and Muck Boot Company.  I have no preference for one over the other.  Both  are roomy, comfortable, keep your feet amazingly dry (my daughter has worn them in lieu of snow boots) and give good traction when you need to push a shovel into the ground with your foot or when the grass is wet and slippery.  One drawback is that they usually only come in whole sizes.  Made of heavy neoprene rubber, they can be hosed down when needed and air dried.  Having a pair in the garden shed or garage prevents a lot of dirt from tracking into the house.
  • Soap & Hand Cream - This is definitely one of the last gifts most people would ever want to receive for Christmas but a serious gardener's hands (gloved or not) take a lot of abuse from exposure to sun, heat, cold, being wet, handling plant material, handling soil and mulch, rocks, debris, etc.  Regular hand creams just don't work as well as one designed specifically for gardeners.   I keep a pump bottle of Stonewall Kitchen's Garden Barrier Cream next to my kitchen sink.  It's lightweight, non-greasy, scented with Clary sage, lemon thyme and orange blossom so it smells good too.  Made from olive oil, cocoa butter, aloe vera and a little silicone it stays on your hands when they're wet.

    I love "Mrs. Meyer's" brand aromatherpeutic hand soaps.  Along with being cruelty free soaps (never tested on animals), they are gentle on the skin and biodegradable.  Packaged in 25% post-consumer plastic, Mrs Meyer's is easy to find these days.  I found mine at the big box store not long ago.  I love the lemon verbena and basil scents.  I keep a bottle next to my kitchen sink for washing up when I come in from the garden.       

Garden Clogs

Florian Pruning Saw

Stonewall Kitchen's Barrier Cream for Gardeners and Mrs. Meyer's Basil hand soap

Atlas gloves

Regional/Local Gardening Books

Garden edger or "trough"

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

White Stuff & Holiday Flavors

You know the old New England saying..."If you don't like the weather just wait five minutes"?   Well I wouldn't say it was literal but yesterday's temps were in the low 50's and it drizzled on an off all day.  It felt more like spring planting weather than mid-December "put-the-tree-up" weather.

I was feeling a little better so I stopped at my favorite garden center for a "feel good" trip through their greenhouse but I was one of only a couple of customers who came in.  The weekend rain had apparently dampened every one's holiday spirits and no one was interested in buying trees or wreaths.  The staff were all hoping for a little snow to make business pick up.  Apparently snow is a shopping stimulant and rain is a shopping suppressant, LOL :)

Well that was yesterday and this is what I woke up to this morning.  It's a start on a white Christmas but I think we still have a ways to go.

Besides the usual goodies that I look forward to during the holidays, I love the limited edition coffee flavors that show up now.  I just finished my bag of "Pumpkin Spice" coffee that I bought before Thanksgiving and this morning I woke up to the smell of "Gingerbread Cookie".   When that's gone I have a bag of "Cinnamon Sticky Bun" in the freezer, Yumm!  I'm not a heavy coffee drinker and only have one or two cups in the morning but I really look forward to that first cup and savoring it.  Who said mornings are bad?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Another rainy day

I've been battling a cold since sitting for Calvin last Monday. Today is the first day I've felt like leaving the house. It's really warm today too. The thermometer outside my kitchen window registered 50 degrees! I had to look twice and rub my glasses on my shirt before checking the second time. It's still damp and rainy though which if you don't have to go anywhere is a good excuse to do a little "catch-up" sewing.

As of this moment I'm all caught up on Quiltville's RRCB Mystery Clue #4! I just hope Clue #5 doesn't involve more string piecing! Have you guessed what the block pattern is yet? Several times I thought I had but as the grinch would say, I've taxed my puzzler trying to figure it out. I guess we'll just have to wait till Bonnie does the big reveal. LOL.

I'm also working on the Martinique BOM's. Block #3 is a challenging one. It's a variation of a feathered star and I keep sewing triangles on backwards which means I have to rip them out and resew them which I do--wrong again. I'm definitely challenged when it comes to directional sewing.

I'm so behind on this BOM project that it's embarrassing. Everyone that was in the group has already picked up their finishing kits! I'm going to put the "pedal to the metal" and commit to finishing at least one block a week with an ETC (estimated time of completion) by January 30th.
I'm thinking of a new year's resolution that goes something like this--"I will not collect or create UFO's in 2011"

I got some "squishies" in the mail today. My cousin, Sheila who lives in Seattle sent me the cutest gifts. I just loved her card and wrapping so, of course I had to photograph them before opening them. The 3-D gift tag on the card is removeable to use on another gift. Cute, huh?

Look what she sent me--a microwave potato bag and a clothespin bag---how cute are these? I can't wait to try the potato bag. I chuckled when I saw the fabric. The clothespin bag was made from a child's GAP shirt. Is that not the cutest? Even though I don't have an outdoor clothesline, I'm going to use the bag for my fabric softener sheets and lingerie bags.

Have you been watching Christmas movies? I have every night this past week. Tonight I'm watching "The Polar Express" one of my all-time favorites. When my daughters were young, I'd buy a new Christmas book and /or movie every year and we'd read a story or watch a different movie every night from the first of the December till Christmas Eve which always culminated with "It's a Wonderful Life".

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Going Green - Wreath Making 101 Part 2

Three sizes of crimp rings
It's pouring rain here in New Hampshire today.  I know that the midwest is going to have white Christmas but ours is still up in the air or should I say in the White Mountains, lol.   It's a good day to stay inside read, sew, pick up a crochet hook or start knitting a pair of socks--or, maybe it's a good day to go out in the garage and make a Christmas wreath.  

So Let's Get Started...

You have your supplies, tools, your greens are gathered or purchased,  you've found and cleared a work space and you're dressed appropriately---warmly if working in an unheated garage or shed and dressed in your yard duds or clothes that you don't mind getting dirty.  I guess that means we're ready to make a Christmas wreath!  
This is about the amount of greens I pick for a 12" wreath

Wire knot

For a little added holiday atmosphere, I like to have a hot cup of coffee or hot chocolate (w/a candy cane and marshmallows) nearby and a little Christmas music playing while I'm working.    It's also fun to make a pot of veggie soup and invite a friend over for an afternoon of making wreaths and merry!   

The first thing you have to do is attached your wire.  Take the paddle of wire and unwrap about a foot of it.  Then take the loose end and tie a knot around the crimp ring as shown in the above photo.  You might need to use a pair of pliers to help you pull the knot so that it's tight against the ring but you shouldn't pull tight enough to break the wire.  Once you have the wire tied to the ring, wrap the remaining loose end of the wire around the ring. 
Now take a good-sized  bunch of greens in your hand.  I like to use all of the evergreen branches that I cut but I use the "tips" (the ends of the branches which are usually the fullest and greenest).  I put these "tips" on the top of my bundles.  
The length of the greens should be about six to eight inches but don't cut them exactly or measure them.  Winding in a few longer stems gives the wreath  stability. Use a good thick handful of greens.  If I have any that are broken or missing needles I put them at the back of my bunch.  I use almost everything that I cut.   Don't think the commercial guys don't use the twigs and broken branches because  they do.   The thicker your bundles the fuller your wreath will be. 

Take your bunch of greens and hold it against the ring and with your right hand take the paddle of wire and make several tight wraps around the greens and the ring.  I give a few extra winds down along the stems and then wind back up to the green part again.  [You can see this in the picture].  I work from left to right, but you can do right to left if that works better for you.

The first bunch should be fairly tight, you don't want your greens loose enough to roll around the ring.  I normally give a slight tug to my wire each time I wrap it.

Now grab your second bunch of greens and slightly overlap it on the first so that it hides the stems of the first bunch but doesn't leave any gaps and take several more wraps with the wire.  Make sure you are giving the wire a slight tug after each wrap so that your greens are securely attached.   Here is where I sometimes like to add another type of greenery.  In this picture I'm adding a few white pine tassels, sometimes I add holly or bunches of rose hips--get creative.  Once you learn how to make a wreath you can weave in any type of greenery you want, even artificial greens.   

Below you can see that I use a good handful of greens and woody stems to add strength and bulk to the wreath.  Because I place them behind my green bunches, you don't see them. anyway.

Continue adding more bunches and overlapping them until you are about six inches from where your wreath begins. 

This wreath is about halfway done. 

See how full and pretty it is?  If you find any greens that stick out too far or that are brown, you can snip them off with a scissors and no one will ever be the wiser.  I have friends that trim their store bought wreaths.

When you get to the last six inches, you should tie back the greens at the starting point so that you don't wrap over them again.  I use a twist tie for this. 

In the picture below, you can see I'm pretty close to the my starting point so now I'm making my bunches a lot shorter and working them under the starting point.  Here is where I usually tie the greens at the starting point back so that they don't get caught in the wire.  From here on, you have to weave the wire underneath starting point when you wrap and bring it back towards your last bunch, adding & overlapping another smaller bunch, wrapping and weaving, etc. until there's no more room to add anymore greens.

Cut the wire leaving about 10 inches free and turn the wreath over.  Weave the end of the wire through the stems and wire on the back of the wreath as far as you can.  I sometimes use a large eye needle and needle nose pliers to do this.  

This is where the end meets the starting point.

Don't worry if the place where you started/stopped is more obvious than you'd like.  Normally that's where you will tie your bow anyway.  To give you ideas, here are pictures of some of the wreaths I've made so far this holiday season. 

Wreath for my parents front door

Wreath made for my daughter's house

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Going Green - Wreath Making 101 - Part I

When it comes to holiday decorations, my taste is pretty simple. I like a fresh green wreath on the door with a big red velvet bow, pine comes, holly and berries. I like white lights on my tree and candles in each window and that, in a nutshell, is how the outside world views my house during the holidays.

I like to make my own Christmas wreaths. It's something I've been doing for quite a few years now and I usually start the day after Thanksgiving. I used to buy my wreath undecorated at the supermarket or local garden shop and then add my own bow. My friend and former neighbor, Diane, who now lives in Tennessee, always decorated her little log home with festoons of fresh hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), winter berry (ilex verticillata), and white pine (Pinus strobus) that she gathered in the woods behind her cabin.

The planters of colorful annuals that lined the walkway to her door in summer were filled with big bunches of the same greens and birch twigs that she sprayed with white flocking. Tiny white lights twined around the lamp post completed her outdoor decorating. There was no glitz or sparkle unless it arrived in the form of snow from mother nature. The cabin has new owners now but I fondly remember how it looked while Diane and her husband owned it. I loved the look she created. It was simple, joyful and festive and a bit nostalgic. Her influence rubbed off on me and stuck. Before Martha Stewart there was Diane H.

My wreath making doesn't stop when I've adorned my own doors with wreaths. I also make wreaths for my parents, family and friends. Sometimes I even like to play "Secret Santa" and drop a wreath off at a house where I know there's a need. It makes me smile inside when I pass by days later and see that wreath hanging on the front door.

It doesn't take a lot of patience, skill, or materials to make your own Christmas wreath. A 10 or 12 inch wreath takes about an hour to make (assuming you've gathered your greens) and cost-wise if you use your own greens, the materials should run less than $5.00.

My greens of choice still remain white pine and hemlock and holly because that's what I have the most of, but spruce and juniper (though they are a little prickly) also work beautifully if that's what you have growing nearby and that's my point to use what you have available and only purchase what we really need.

Yes, balsam wreaths smell wonderful, but you can't smell them hanging on the door! I've seen lovely wreaths made from blue spruce selling for $30 undecorated and juniper with its gorgeous blue berries is often sold by the bunch so go see what's growing in your own backyard and think how you can incorporate it into your holiday decorating.

Here are all of the supplies needed to make your own wreath. Instructions will follow in Part II.

  • One metal crimp ring slightly smaller than your desired finished wreath. For example a 12" crimp ring will make a wreath about 15 to 18 inches in diameter. Crimp rings come in a lot of sizes from 6" up to 36". I make a 6" wreath every year for my dad's garden shed. It's really cute. (see picture above) Note: this type of crimp ring can be hard to find these days in the regular big box craft departments so check out garden shops and florist supply stores.
  • A workspace and old newspapers to cover it
  • A pair of pruning shears
  • A bucket or box to keep your greens in before trimming and a trash can with liner to toss the stems and twigs into.
  • Garden gloves (so you don't get all the sticky pine resin on your holiday manicure)
  • A spool of green florist's wire
  • Fresh Greens (look in your yard for evergreen shrubs, try non-traditional evergreens too such as Euonymous and golden Cyprus, laurel, there's even some ground covers and vines that are evergreen).
  • Ribbon Bow (your choice). Make sure it's suitable for outdoors and or will hold up to snow and rain.
  • Florist Picks and/or pine cones (available at Michael's or any craft store). Pick colors that compliment or contrast with your ribbon or your house's trim color.
  • Nice to have handy --a pair of needle nose pliers, wire cutters, scissors

Friday, December 10, 2010

Holiday Doings

I can't believe that today is already December 10th. I feel like I've just woken up from my after Thanksgiving dinner nap, LOL. Well, blog-wise that might be true but actually, I've been busy around here making Christmas wreaths, sewing, entertaining, babysitting and visiting the folks.

The home improvements are ongoing, but for now the outside stuff is D-O-N-E. The new gutters are up and the wood trim around the garage doors has been replaced, the new windows and slider are in. The only thing left to do is inside work and that can wait till after Christmas. [Note to Santa: "Dear Santa, Please bring a gift card to the HI store for paint."]

After following her blog for almost a full year now, I decided to make Bonnie Hunter's Christmas Mystery Quilt "Roll, Roll Cotton Boll" over on Quiltville's blog. I'm finished with Step #3 but just barely...I was up till 3:45 am this morning... finishing the strip-pieced blocks and was determined to have all 60 completed before I even peeked at the posting for Step #4 (a new Clue is posted every Friday). I'm determined that this time I'm not going to end up with another UFO.

This is my first mystery quilt and my first string piecing project. Having 60 string-pieced blocks to make in 3 days (I had a busy long weekend) got me over my fear of high-speed sewing and any color inhibitions I had about using neutrals other than cream on cream or white on white. I really like how the blocks turned out and I'm anxious to see it when the different sections are all put together. Up until today, I thought I had guessed the pattern, but I'm stumped again after viewing Clue #4.

Oh by the way...remember my first quilt "Old Ugly", the longest recorded UFO? Well drum roll please...I finished binding it on Saturday night. "Ta dah"! After 24 years of being a UFO it is still a UFO only this time it's a Useful Finished Object. :)
Of course no victory comes without cost and what you don't know is that I knocked over a large DD iced coffee immediately after completing the last stitch, soaking the quilt. I was a little skeptical about tossing it in the wash unbound but it survived extremely well and why wouldn't it after 24 years in the basement and nearly being donated to Goodwill on several occasions. It's definitely a survivor and I'm looking forward to a winter nap under it one of these days when the snow falls. You can already see Amy, my daughter's friend and Ernie enjoying a good book together with it.
Well Ernie is listening attentively, as always.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Turkey Day

It's the day before...and this is the first year that I'm not baking pies. We're having turkey "take-out" and it comes with pie. This was my dad's idea, not mine.

I'm for having dinner here at my house, cooking the turkey at home, getting up at the crack of dawn to stuff and truss and toss the bird in the oven, setting the table with pretty linens and the good china and hoping that the gravy is lump free and my sister brings cranberry sauce.

My dad doesn't see it that way anymore. He's for keeping it simple, with easy clean up, and no left-overs so after all of us have left, he can put out the garbage and watch TV. He'd rather not drive too far anymore, and my house is a harrowing one-hour drive through a multi-lane tunnel and the busy interstate highway. Dinner at my house would have to be timed perfectly because after dinner, he and my mom would skedaddle--even if it meant missing dessert--so they'd have enough daylight for the ride home.

It's hard to see your parents growing old; harder still to imagine a thanksgiving someday without them. I'm thankful that I've shared so many Thanksgivings with them when I was living at home and later when I was a young wife cooking Thanksgiving dinner for the first time. I'm thankful that their quality of life has been, for the most, part good. I'm thankful that they've been able to watch their granddaughters grow up and see their first great-grandchild. I'm thankful that they've been able to stay in the house my sister and I grew up in and I'm thankful that I can call them on the phone and they remember my name.

In the end, it doesn't matter what we eat, or where, its only important that we are all together sharing it, savoring the memories, and knowing what we are most thankful for.
So I'm giving in this year, hanging up my apron and letting my Mom and Dad do it their way--turkey take-out.

Friday, November 19, 2010


My outside projects are done, the leaves are raked up, reflective markers have been pounded into the ground so the snowplow guy won't tear the new driveway up, and I've even managed to plant a few daffodil bulbs around the lamp post. Hooray!

I'm really pleased with what's been accomplished since August. The old UG fuel tank is gone, the ugly pipes that stuck up out of it are gone, the broken brick steps are gone, the sink hole in the middle of the driveway is gone, the stone walls have been replaced and repaired, the ruts in the lawn have been filled and reseeded, a new asphalt driveway has been installed and I'm sighing with relief that the "to do" list is shorter.

What's next? Well, this week the town handyman extroardinaire, is replacing some windows that were a tad more energy efficient than a gaping hole and one dysfunctional sliding glass door along with a few broken and missing pieces of trim both inside and outside. After that he's going to replace the gutters which are now hanging onto the roof for dear life.

The John Deere guy will be here tomorrow changing over my lawn tractor, removing the mower deck and installing the snowblower and chains. It's been unusually warm for November and that's helped with getting everything finished, but winter is coming and now I think I'm ready.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Quick Post - Have You Seen This Quilt?

This beautiful antique quilt was stolen from John Saul's booth at International Quilt Festival about two weeks ago.

Please keep an eye out for this quilt if you happen to be shopping for vintage quilts or antiques or if you attend any auctions. It could turn up anywhere in the US (hopefully undamaged). Please share this post with other bloggers and lets get the word out into the quilting community. If you are a quilt appraiser or are connected with a quilt museum, share this info with them and with your guild members.

If you do spot this quilt please do not confront the person in possession of it--be safe and let the authorities handle this matter-- just send an email to with the location where you saw it and any other information that could aid in its recovery and return.

Friday, November 12, 2010

To Prewash or Not - An Easy Way to Dye Your Underwear

Last weekend I bought 1 & 3/4 yards of a dark red cotton print for a quilt I'm going to start next month. I really love the fabric and it works great with the other colors I'm using.

The first thing I did when I got it home was to toss it into the washer with warm water and detergent, but then I forgot to turn the agitator on, so it soaked all night. I've never had issues with red fabrics before so the next day I was very surprised to see a tub full of red water! I'll give this fabric another chance (wash cycle)with a cup of vinegar but I'm not sure I'll use it in my project. I just don't trust it not to rub onto my other fabrics. I am glad that I took the time to find out that it bleeds before I sewed it into a full-size quilt. So a word to the wise quilter--prewash, unless you like to live dangerously.

Last summer, I asked a busy quilt shop owner if the fabrics in her block-of-the month kits were pre-washed. She hesitated a minute before responding to my question, as if trying to understand what language I was speaking. I guess it was a stupid question but I've asked the same question several times since and been told by both quilters and shop owners that the better quality cotton fabrics have very little shrinkage so they don't really need to be prewashed. There are also some quilters who just like the vintage look that puckering gives a quilt after a wash or two.

If there's any shrinkage or color bleeding that's going to happen, I'd like it to PLEASE happen BEFORE I start sewing. How embarrassing would it be to gift a quilt or tablerunner and have it bleed in the recipient's wash? Think lots of pink underwear for an entire family!

You'll probably think I've got a compulsive disorder but I even prewash my scraps, sometimes by hand if the pieces are very small. If I can't wash it, I'll steam it with my iron a couple of times using the cotton setting and lots of steam. Yes, It's an extra time-consuming step when I'd rather be stitching but I think it's worth my "piece" of mind [pun intended] :)

Sewing Projects Update

It may seem like I blog more about gardening than quilting which is probably true (after all I am the Fairy Gardener) but I have been working on some sewing and quilting projects too. I just haven't had the time to post pictures afterwards because of everything else that's been going on here.

For instance, I made a Glow Worm costume for Calvin's first Halloween. This was the first time I've worked with polar fleece and I can understand why it's so popular and why you see huge bolts of it when you walk into Jo-Ann's.

It's really and truly a dream to work with. The only trouble I had was pinning it. My straight pins were hard to get through the fabric. I even tried ball-point pins but they weren't any better so I'd suggest using pattern weights and you need really sharp scissors. I used my best Ginghers for cutting. That being said however, I did use a regular machine needle, size 80 and the normal sewing thread I use for patchwork and both worked perfectly. My machine had no trouble sewing through multiple layers of the fleece.

I adapted the Glow Worm costume from a Kwik Sew Pattern I got off of Ebay. I've used Kwik Sew patterns before and like them because they include a master pattern with multiple sizes and views. Instead of cutting the master pattern, you trace the pattern pieces you're using onto non-woven tracing material and use them to cut your fabric. This may sound like extra work but trust me, once you use this method, you'll never want to wrestle with those commercial tissue paper patterns again.

Aren't the Glow Worm's antennae cute? They're made from two strips of fleece that I sewed into tubes and turned right side out. This is another area where fleece is great, it has a little bit of stretch, that helps in turning small pieces but doesn't lose its shape. I tied one end of the tube and stuffed the open end with a wired chenille craft stem called "Noodleroni" the wire allows them to bend.You can't see it in this photo but I found an image online of the same Playskool label that's on the real toy, enlarged it and printed it onto a June Taylor design fabric sheet then sewed it into the side seam of the costume just like the real toy's.

You can see in the picture that the costume was a little big for Calvin. That was my fault, not the pattern's, for adding an extra six inches to the length. When I compared Calvin's measurements to the pattern, I forgot to add the hood length and miscalculated. Because I didn't want the hood to be too tight on the baby's head, I also cut the elastic longer than the measurement given, so it was a little loose too. It certainly would have fit better if I'd been able to fit it to the little wearer in person instead of by phone, but no matter, the costume still got great reviews from everyone who saw it and Calvin was warm and comfortable while wearing it.

This summer I finished Calvin's baby quilt and also made matching crib bumpers and a pillow sham for his crib layette. Just in time for his baby-naming too. The quilt is a variation of the "Patience Corner" block. I found a beautiful Winnie-the-P00h toile that I used for the backing and bumpers and added checks and plaids in the same colors for the blocks.

Working with plaids and checks for this quilt turned out to be more of a pain than I anticipated. I wasted a lot of fabric because I had to make a new straightening cut after cutting each strip for the blocks to make sure the fabric was not going off kilter. If I hadn't done this the checks & plaids wouldn't have run in a straight line when the blocks were sewn. I suppose it wouldn't have made much difference if I were using triangles or smaller shapes.

I'm still working on my Martinique BOM quilt. This is month 7 and I'm ashamed to say I only have 4 blocks done out of the fourteen I should have finished. I have other projects in the works too but I'm going to have to start wreath making soon and prepping for Thanksgiving and the Garden Club's Xmas party. Here it is only November and I'm already looking forward to January, to a fire in the fireplace and holding up in my den with a steaming hot cup of tea and a project to work on. How about you? :)