Grandmother’s Fan Wedding Quilt Part 3: Quilting the Beast

You’ve made it to part 3 of my Grandmother’s Fan quilt story! If you’re puzzled about what happened till this point, see part 1 and part 2.

Quilting Taught me A Lesson in Humility

In mid-July I planned a sewing weekend in hopes of getting a lot of quilting done on what I was now calling “the beast.” It was the largest quilt I’ve ever attempted to quilt. I packed up all of my gear and headed to my in-laws’ house, as they were out of town and I could work without kids underfoot.

The following quilt was my muse and so I got to work outlining the fans (stitching in the ditch around each section) and would do the fill in part (the off white/background) after.

PrairieMoonQuilts fans

I had already spent many days trying to sketch and create the perfect pattern to trace onto the quilt for the background loopy part. It was not coming along well so I ignored this small problem and dove into quilting the fans.My quilting attempt on the fans

It was hard. Really hard. I am not skilled at free motion quilting (FMQ) so I was using a walking foot and was trying to use one color thread on top and another on the bottom and it was just…no. I was especially disappointed because I had this beautiful new Juki that CAN do this kind of work. I was the problem!

Panicked, I contacted Backporchquilters, the guys who do all of Dana at Old Red Barn Co’s quilts. They do fabulous work and I needed help. Even though a job like this would cost over $300 to do the fan part (no borders) alone.

Russ and I went back and forth but ultimately, because I had already started quilting this, he could not load it onto his big long arm machine and I was on my own again.

I reached out to my quilty friends for encouragement/help/guidance. Because this is unacceptable:

Fan quilt bunching

Should I tear out the hours of work I had put into this already? Soldier on and hope the puckering would go away? Hire it out?

My friends said that I had worked too hard on this to let it have puckers. My friend Amber, who does beautiful FMQ on her home machine (not a fancy long arm), offered to quilt this fan quilt for a very reasonable rate.

So I let her. I spent hours ripping the seams out of probably a dozen fans (leaving the center and 2 other fans quilted) and then mailed it to Colorado to let her work her magic, and she did. She sent me snippets of her progress and I was so excited. My brother and SIL’s quilt was getting the treatment it deserved.

Are you ready for this??

Ambers quilting on fans

She came up with a better solution for the background quilting. She said that the original loops wouldn’t work in the space–which probably explains why I couldn’t get it to work myself!

Ambers quilting on fan circle

I felt guilty for not doing it myself, because the whole point was that I was making them a gift. But I also had to let pride take a backseat (or maybe even get out of the car altogether) because I am not skilled enough for this kind of quilting. I need way more practice to get to Amber’s level and she is also way faster than I am. She turned that thing around in a week! That would have taken me like 6-8 weeks!

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This gave me hope that I could finish my brother’s gift by the wedding. I had Amber leave the off white side border unquilted because I had hoped to do some cool nod to Poland with my quilting job and also wanted to do at least some of the quilting myself. Greta’s Polish heritage lies in the Kurpie region, where they are known for beautiful paper cut designs like this:

paper Kurpie design

I’m not worthy! I’m not worthy!

I ended up quilting a simple crosshatch because the Polish ideas were too intricate to replicate. But they are damn cool.

The wedding was in less than a week and I was too busy prepping for it to finish the quilt. (My house had 2 flower girls, 1 ring bearer and an officiant participating in this gig.) It would have to wait till they returned from their honeymoon, as luckily, they were flying into Grand Rapids before making their big trek home to Texas.

After finishing the crosshatch, I only had the binding left. The final part! Greta had really liked the navy fabric that I used in the quilt and of course, I didn’t have enough left over. And of course it was not carried by any of the indie quilt shops that ship immediately. I had found it at fabric.com originally, and while this is a great source for fabric, their shipping times are immensely slow.

Since I had little time, I turned to Etsy. Found the fabric. Ordered it. Was told a few hours later it shipped. We were cooking with grease!!

Until the post office lost my package. Or lost tracking. Something crazy. There was no tracking info and I swear I heard crickets chirping every time I opened the tracking page. The package was never received by carrier. My brother was returning in less than a week and I had no binding!!! The seller was apologetic but had no answers.

Then a miracle happened and the package appeared on my doorstep a week after it shipped. This still caused me to scramble but I made it.

Binding Roll

That is a lot of binding! About 5 inches all rolled up.

The night before my brother and his new wife landed in Grand Rapids, I tied the last knot on the binding thread.

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Dog with Quilt

My pretty little friend here kept offering to help, but the needle and thread was just too awkward between her paws…

I had wanted to do an urban photoshoot with this quilt but I only had a few hours to get it done and with ArtPrize 7 invading downtown Grand Rapids and three young children underfoot, I was unable to give this quilt the photoshoot of my dreams.

Instead, I let the kids and the four dogs I was minding run wild and free at my in-laws’ while I hung the quilt on the side of one of their barns. Here it is….the REVEAL!!! (Warning: many pics to follow.)

Fan Quilt Main Shot

Amber is a FMQ animal!!

(Do you know what Free Motion Quilting means? It means this was all done freehand. She basically drew all that stitching onto the quilt by guiding the fabric through the machine. She stitched around each fan blade without the thread showing on the fans. No marking, no special tools. Freehand. Badass.)

Quilting Detail Fans

Seriously, Amber quilted the heck out of this and it turned out amazing. She did this all on a regular machine!

She brought this piece to a whole notha level. I’m not even joking. Here’s a closeup of the 3 different sections. Amber did a ribbon style on the plaid, which was nice and simple. She used a King Tut brand pink thread here, instead of the usual King Tut gold we had used on the rest of the quilt.

Border Quilting Fans

The whole back was quilted in gold.

Fan Quilt Back

Navy binding for the win! I always love my binding pics. They’re just cool.

Binding closeup Fans

Fan Quilt on Grass

It felt sooo good to have this “lifetime achievement” quilt finished. And it felt so good to have collaborated with someone on this. It was a joy to work with Amber and fun to see someone else’s vision for the art I had started.

My brother and his new bride came back to town and after over nine months of toil, I could finally give this gift away.

Quilt Recipients

They liked it. I had told them that I’d have to visit them to add the label and Greta got a sad look on her face. “But I want to take the quilt home with me!” she said. I assured her that she could, and that I’d bring the label separately and sew it on sometime. Her reaction confirmed that she liked the quilt. 🙂

I dream of the day when I have more time to quilt. I really enjoy doing it and have many quilts that I’d like to make! But I also have kids at home and a job and a husband and a house that needs updating and upkeep. So the quilts have to wait.

Often when I dream of heaven I dream of unlimited quilting time. I think that God would find the making of beautiful things to be an appropriate form of worship, don’t you? Until then, I’ll toil away here, just very, very slowly!

Grandmother’s Fan Wedding Quilt Part 2: Piecing the Quilt Top

This is part 2 of my Grandmother’s Fan quilt series. You can read about the quilt’s inception in post 1.

Paper Piecing + Bad Math

I love paper piecing. Many people are afraid of it, as was I when I first started. But once you figure it out, you’re hooked! I was also afraid of curved piecing and had only made two curved piecing blocks before tackling this king-sized quilt for my brother. If I wasn’t proficient at paper- or curved piecing before this project, I am now!

I’m sure you can make these fans by cutting out the individual blades and piecing them that way. But that would leave too much room for error and I like things to be exact.

Fan curved piecing

Thanks to my high school math teacher, Mr. Henderson, I am not afraid of algebra or geometry (trigonometry is another story) and enjoy the challenge of figuring out measurements for quilts. I am not necessarily good at it, but I like the challenge.

So I mathed and mathed and mathed, and determined that this quilt would be six 12″ fans across and six fans down and include two borders to finish it out. And that it would fit a king sized bed.

For weeks I pieced fan blocks, throwing in a block or two for a group baby quilt for some of my Long Distance Quilting friends. It was fun to break up the monotony.

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Though to be honest, I enjoyed piecing all the fans. I love the colors and I simply like sewing. Some people say they get antsy at the thought of making a quilt with all matching blocks, because they like to always try new things. I understand that desire, but don’t mind powering through for the sake of art!

8 Grandmothers Fan blocks pieced

Grandmothers fan piecing progress

After I pieced the 36th fan block, I laid them out on my queen-size bed.  I knew my brother’s bed was wider, but this would give me a general idea of scheme.

The quilt top was too short!

Fan quilt too short

I was so aggravated! I went back to my math and it all checked out and I still am not sure where I went wrong. But this quilt needed a lot more fans. Which caused a whole other delay, because I couldn’t decide between seven or eight rows long. It really only needed one more row, but then the pieced top wouldn’t be symmetrical. Did that matter? Would I regret doing only one more row?

After much deliberation and suggestions from my quilty friends, I went with two additional rows. Which meant 12 more fans to piece. Agh!

I did assembly line piecing for all the fans, making them in batches of 6-8 to save time. Even with the assembly line, it still took about an hour and a half to make one fan block. Which equals 72 hours just piecing the fans. Just to have a pile of fan blocks stacked up.

That’s over $1,000 just in time alone to make the blocks that would make the quilt. Remember that when ordering a quilt from Etsy–don’t be shocked at the sticker price, because they are likely not charging you all their hours. Art ain’t cheap, friends! But it sure is cool, isn’t it?

After more deliberation, and voting from quilty friends on the layout of the fans, I went with this:

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Picking a proper border fabric was tricky, as I had really wanted this cool fuscia/tangerine plaid but was afraid it would be too girly/pink. My brother had wanted his Scottish and her Polish heritage incorporated in the quilt if possible, and this would be a perfect tie in, as that orange and pink were the wedding flower colors and it was plaid.

So I went for it and pieced the whole thing with the borders.

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It was so huge that my husband, who is well over 6′ tall, couldn’t hold up its entire length for the photograph. Eight rows down for the win!

We were finally ready for quilting! It was early July, and the wedding was in 2 1/2 months! Would I make my deadline??? Come back tomorrow to find out!


Fun fact: My 1 year old son, who was the ring bearer, wore a vest and bow tie that I made with the same plaid fabric, to kind of tie it all together with the wedding.

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Isn’t he a cutie?

Grandmother’s Fan Wedding Quilt Part 1: Designing the Quilt

Welcome to part 1 of a 3 part series about the quilt I made for my brother. These are long posts, so feel free to scroll to the pictures if you’re simply a curious non-quilter. 🙂

Creating a Pattern and Design Scheme from Scratch

Less than a year ago my brother announced his engagement to a wonderful girl that we were excited to have in our family. And like with my other siblings who’ve gotten married, I planned to make them a quilt.

This time around I solicited input from my brother and his fiancee, as they are artistic people who know what they do and do not like. I pitched a few quilt patterns to them but was pleasantly surprised when Greta said she wanted a fan quilt like this one:

AmishCountryLanes fan quilt

I had imagined something urban/modern/simplistic for them, as they were both Chicagoans but I should have realized that a girl who loves antiquing and vintage glam would pick a classy pattern like Grandmother’s Fan (click the pic to read more about that particular piece).

 

I then took color requests. I know Greta loves aqua/turquoise and gold. Their wedding flowers were pink and orange. She pointed out some fabric in my stash that she liked, and I sent her pics of other fabrics I was considering.

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She would tell me which she didn’t like and which she loved and I went from there. There was one fabric that I used that I know she doesn’t like: the green plus signs fabric. But since she was marrying my one and only brother I thought that I should throw in something that he would like. So he got the green, as he likes that color and we are fellow Michigan State Spartans so, “Go Green!” It also helped balance out the aqua fun.

Greta also said that she thought gold quilting would look cool, and I happened to have the perfect thread for it, that I had used on my sister Melissa’s wedding quilt! (Only I quilted that one in the ditch, as I didn’t know any different, so no one sees the expensive gold thread. Fail!)

It was so nice to get feedback on design, colors and scheme. I was able to move forward without agonizing over my choices. I’ve been trying to do that more lately–getting people’s favorite and least favorite colors so I know what to work with.

I then pitched background ideas to my Long Distance Quilter friends. I was originally thinking white until one of them suggested off white and I thought, “duh! That is perfect!” I was on the cusp of investing in several yards of white fabric. Thank you, LDQ girls!!! See how great it is to get feedback on creative endeavors?

Designing a Pattern

So, I can never do things the easy way. Ever. There were a few fan patterns to choose from on the web, but none of them had enough fan blades. Or if they did, I found other problems with them. This one is nice, isn’t it? And the tinkering was already done for me and it was 11 blades. Only I didn’t like that the blades weren’t all exactly the same width.

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I tried drawing a proper pattern block by hand, but it wasn’t exact. Because I’m not an engineer.

fan quilt block draft fail

After agonizing for several days over how to create a pattern, I finally turned to the internets for help. I asked my Facebook friends if any of them had software that could draw a bisected circle … several of them did! I was amazed. Why did I waste all that time trying to hand draw a stupid pattern???

My friend Stephanie quickly created the image I needed and I cut a quarter piece out of if to make my perfect 11-blade fan! Maybe I should call this a Stephanie’s Fan block instead of Grandmother’s…

22 bisected circle

Fan quilt pattern 11 blades

Still with me? Isn’t this all exciting? It’s not, unless you’re into this sort of thing. But now you get an idea of the time it takes to just get to the part where you are ready to assemble the quilt. I enjoy this process but my life has precious few hours available to tinker with creating patterns and doing fabric pulls. Doh!

There was a lot of finagling beyond that to get it to print perfectly on an 11×14 page, as I needed over 30 copies and printing on the big paper would be very costly.

And then there was the printing part. Kinkos is hit or miss when you go. My first trip went smoothly and the rep printed exactly what I wanted. The second trip (after I realized I needed more prints – see part 2 of this series) was not so fruitful. The worker told me that their printer could not physically complete the job I was asking for. To which I countered that the previous employee DID print the job on that EXACT machine. This baffled him and a silent battle of the minds ensued. I won. Though not without mental casualty.

I’m not even remembering (or wishing to bore you with) every single detail that goes into creating and printing a pattern. It is not easy work so when you buy a quilter’s pattern, be grateful for all the work they did for you on the front end so that you can happily cut out your fabric and piece to your heart’s content. It took me several hours to create this pattern, and I didn’t even have to worry about writing out instructions, which is the bulk of a pattern maker’s task. Thank you, pattern designers of the world!!

Deciding on Block Layout

Even though I had my fabric choices narrowed down, I still wasn’t confident in my placement of the fabrics. I made a few test blocks before I committed to making dozens of fans and boy was I glad I did! I showed my ideas to my husband and he helped me rule out my original idea, which included navy at the center of the fan.

Fan tryouts

 

He then suggested having pink be the base of the fan. I had worried that this would make the quilt too girly (since Greta told me initially to avoid pink, as Tom wasn’t in love with it) but I really wanted a contrast with the aquas/mints and pink went best, according to my husband.

Finally, after weeks of working on “getting started” I finally had the pattern ready and my first block made. Time to make another 35!

Grandmother's Fan pink base

Since I’ve become quite windy on this subject, I’m continuing the saga in another post… 🙂

JB Made a Barn Quilt

The Hunt’s Crafty Christmas 2013

So… remember that one Christmas where I gave birth to a baby in the middle of a severe power outage with frigid temps and a broken sewing machine? When I managed to make Christmas gifts for my two daughters amidst all this?

Well, I wasn’t the only crafty maven that year. My husband whipped up a few items in his workshop, too.

 

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His big project was a barn quilt for his mother, who is responsible for my Fabric Addiction. (She taught me the term, “fabric stash” and I have been a dedicated student ever since.)

He chose a pattern from a website that featured a lot of barn quilt designs. Sadly, this artist’s shop is now closed, but you can still find some cool designs on his site.

He was torn between making a 4′ or 8′ square. His Dad, who is clever like JB, sent us photos of the side of their barn with mockups of the different sizes on it. Thankfully, the 8′ square would have been too large for the space, as it ended up being a big enough task at just 4′ size!

 

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My part of the project was to draft the pattern on a grid for him. He then drew a 4×4 grid in pencil on his board and used painter’s tape to mark off sections for painting.

Here are his before and after shots of each color going on.

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This is a tedious project, as you don’t want any paint to bleed onto any of the other colors. JB did a lot of research and got some tips from friends, too. JB is very detail oriented, which was crucial to this piece maintaining its crisp lines.

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I had suggested a sunny yellow border. He ended up going with navy. Good choice.

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After it was shellacked several times it was ready to gift.

But how do you fit a 4′ square piece of wood under the Christmas tree? I had suggested that the boys secretly hang the block Christmas Eve so we could show it to her Christmas morning. JB pointed out the thigh deep snow, the frigid temps, and the fact that his mother would see it outside her bedroom or kitchen window before any presents were opened.

So we decided to sneak it into her basement and bring it up to her on Christmas morning.

JB crammed it into the back of his Chevy Equinox the Saturday before Christmas and I drove the 20+ miles to their house under the guise of dropping off plates for a Christmas party they were having that evening. JB’s brother and dad helped carry it to the basement, which I was thankful for, as I was 39 weeks pregnant. And their basement stairs are really steep.

A few hours later my mother-in-law hosted her Christmas party without a hitch. A few hours after that, an ice storm knocked out their power. For five days. (We lost power, too, but only for three days.)

Because of the power outage, we celebrated Christmas at our house.

While Marian’s present sat in the basement at her house.

Doh!

Gift Presentation Score: ZERO!

(JB ended up showing her photos of it on his phone while I sat through labor contractions on the living room couch.)

A week ago my husband helped his dad to hang it on the barn and I think it looks splendid.

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Well done, JB!

(Now make one for me!)

Tabitha the Tabbycat: A Katy Kitty

Back when I ordered fabric for O’s Katy Kitty, I also picked out some beautiful gold corduroy with the plan to make a kitty for my preschooler.

While my oldest daughter loves cats (and unicorns. and dogs), my middle child loves being a cat. So I just had to make her a playmate.

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Tabitha Tabby cat is a beautiful gold tabby featuring all Anna Maria Horner fabrics. AMH (love those initials! ha.) is a Nashville fabric artist whose work I love. I started with her Raindrops Poppies print for Tabby’s body and just went from there finding fabric to coordinate. I didn’t have any sock fabric even after searching all my local stores. Then I found this great turquoise and orange print online. It was called “Stocking.” It was meant to be, right? Then I saw that of course, it was an Anna Maria print. Sold.

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I even made her skirt out of my coveted Loulouthi print. (The pink polkadot is the only non-AMH fabric.) And I also used my even more coveted AMH ribbon for the hem. I love this ribbon! I wish I had oodles of dollars to buy all of these ribbons!!

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Izzy found it humorous that she received both for her birthday Tabitha Tabby cat and a Beatrix Potter book featuring the cat Tabitha Twitchit. That wasn’t planned, but now we’ll always remember which year she got The Tale of Samuel Whiskers (a tale in which two rats attempt to eat a naughty kitten!).

I was quite annoyed at my sewing job on this one. I don’t think I backstitched enough around the arms because the day after she was gifted, Tabitha’s arm started coming off. So I had to hand stitch it back on. Oops!

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The cat was a success. I like making these kitties. It takes me about 4 weeks to decide on all of my materials, as there are probably over a dozen different pieces to pick out for the ensemble. But once I determine the cat’s look I can usually power one out in a few hours.

And watching my daughter take her kitty around on her adventures is priceless.

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Now that I’ve got the girls’ cats made, I want to make Mikey Monkey for my little boy.

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It’s too much! Too much cuteness!

Camera Star Block for Sampler Quilt

I have a love-hate relationship with paper piecing.

I love how it turns out. I love much of the process of piecing these blocks.

I hate the fabric waste. The inevitable seam ripping, as I realize that I didn’t cut a large enough piece of fabric for a specific section.

This star pattern first came on my radar a few years ago when a group of bloggers were putting on a Summer Sampler Series. I wanted to make every block that they showcased! This one especially caught my eye.

SSSLogo-Star

Faith from Fresh Lemons wrote the tutorial for this one. I did not follow her tutorial but it seems pretty  legit, and I may not have had such issues with this block had I followed her advice.

I assembled it at my friend Katherine’s house. She is a new quilter and was curious about what the heck I thought I was doing. She noted how I’m usually very methodical with my sewing and have everything measured just so. This paper piecing thing looked like a crazy cat-lady’s mess, if you ask me (minus the countless bowls of cat food laying about).

And on top of it, I ripped seams half the time, and then after finally successfully piecing my first block (which took an hour), realized that I had sewn the wrong fabric to one section. Even though I had written on the pattern which fabric to use. Two hours later I had it mostly pieced and could show her what the point was. While she admired what I had created, I’m still not sure she will ever want to paper piece for herself!

I finished piecing the next morning. (This block took about 3 hours to make…)

CameraStar

I call it my Camera Star block, which is a symbol of my love of photography.

The camera fabric was from my old roommate Rebecca. Back in college she, I and two other friends became a sort of paparazzi on Michigan State’s campus. We photographed everything. All the time, it seemed. This was back when we captured our images on film, so it wasn’t a cheap hobby.

We had names for our cameras. There was Chotchee Canon and Monica Konica. I think we all had inherited our SLR’s from our fathers, except for me. My Dad had been into photography when he was young but his camera did not live long into my childhood. Here’s one of the few surviving photos of his from that era, a self-portrait he took when he was 19 or so, serving in Vietnam.

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I ended up buying my camera at a pawn shop. I’m sure the dealer saw me coming from a mile away. I’m guessing I could have gotten it my Canon AE-1 cheaper had I bartered with him and not looked 20 years old, but I didn’t know any better.

Here are my partners in crime when we were first starting out. This was taken outside of Campbell Hall. The girls had climbed onto some stone walls and were messing around. So I took a picture. Because we took pictures of EVERYTHING.

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I found this gem from back then, too. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the young man (at the tender age of 19) who I later wed.

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I take photos because I like to make my memories permanent. My mind doesn’t have the recall that other people’s minds do. Or maybe it does, but I wish it was more exact. I have always worried that I would develop Alzheimer’s or dementia one day, like my grandmother. So I furiously take photos of people and things so that if that happens, I won’t have lost it all.

Like photos, I appreciate the longevity that quilts have. This sampler quilt should last until my really-old-lady days. And if I do get that dreaded memory disease, maybe the quilt, too, will help me to remember.

 

Typewriter Star for Sampler Quilt

It’s been over a year since I worked on my Sampler Quilt. The last block update was in April 2013! Woah! It feels good to be working on it again.

Last year I bought some great typewriter fabric from Crimson Tate in Indianapolis, on our way to my husband’s cousin’s wedding in Tennessee. My husband got a board game as a souvenir of our trip. I got fabric. We were both thrilled.

I was just about to cut into said fabric and make a boring old star block like this:

SawtoothStar8inchblock

 

I say boring because this block doesn’t require a lot of skill to make and I feel like a 14″ quilt block has room for lots of details. However, I was sick of my sampler quilt sitting stagnant in the corner so I was just going to pull the trigger and do it.

And then Rebecca saved me. My old college roommate is also an avid quilter and she randomly posted a cool paper pieced star block on a group sewing page that we’re in.

There was no turning back. I found the pattern that had inspired the one that Rebecca had shared and printed it off. It’s by Quilting Climber. It was designed for a 12″ quilt block and I needed a 14″ block so I reached back in my brain to 1994 worked some algebra to resize it appropriately.

So not only had I found the right pattern for my typewriter fabric, but I got to feel smart doing it. Ha!

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Looking back I wish I had thought to alternate the typewriter points with another fabric so that the typewriter fabric would be in every other point. However, I am at a point in life where I just have to keep moving if I’m ever to make anything. With three kids I’m home with by day and a part-time job in the evenings, it’s a miracle that I can sew at all. So I must accept my Typewriter Star as-is. Also, I used up nearly all of the black and white text fabric to piece this sucker so I can’t make another like it. Paper piecing wastes a LOT of fabric.

My Sampler Quilt started out as a challenge for me to learn new skills. Curved piecing, paper piecing, pattern design, math, math, math.

Now it’s evolving into a quilt that simply incorporates all of my favorite things. This block has typewriters, which not only symbolize vintage writing to me, but also evoke memories of high school when my friend Jess and I would type each other letters every day. Long letters. Letters about nothing. And how I would sit upstairs in the winters in our cold, drafty farmhouse, my fingers literally numbing from cold, the clickety-clack hum of the typewriter to keep me company. Typing so fast the keys would jam. (Thanks for the typing classes, Mrs. Bishop!) Typing on red ink ribbon for fun. Computers were just starting to hit our small town, and while my little brother, the computer guru, had managed to acquire one, I still did my work on a typewriter. Probably because I liked it like that. Also probably because typing on a computer was slow going in the early 90’s. The computer would always seize up on me mid-typestroke. And then waiting for it to communicate to the printer to print…I liked the instant gratification that came with typing.

My typewriter wasn’t a cool antique one. Not some swanky Underwood or Royal. It was this (image circa 1994, with my littlest sister at the helm):

94KrystalTyping

 

I don’t know what happened to that typewriter. But I do know what happened to my friend’s letters. They’re in a box in my attic. And one day, maybe in another 10 years, Jess and I can get together, each with our own saved box of letters from the other, and read them together. And laugh and their probable absurdity.

And perhaps we’ll do this while sitting on the couch, under my quilt with the typewriters on it.

Madly Sewing a Katy Kitty Doll Right Until I Went Into Labor

Having a Baby Must Not Interfere With Sewing

Last year I found this brilliant Katy Kitty pattern by Larissa Holland of mmmcrafts.

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I had originally planned to make her Little Red doll for Olivia’s birthday,

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but when JB said how cool the cat looked, I changed gears. I named her Henrietta Pussycat (a nod to Mr. Rogers) because if I had left the naming to my daughter, we would be calling the poor cat Sparkles or Rainbow or… Kitty.

I was a little apprehensive about the project, as I haven’t had much luck in the past with making plush items. But Katy Kitty was too cool not to try. And you know what? It wasn’t that bad! The hardest part for me was to gather all the materials needed, as there were a lot of color scheme decisions to make. What color body? What color face? How about her ears? Should I coordinate her eyes with her shoes? Where on earth do I find tiny stripe fabric for the socks? (Answer: not anywhere in West Michigan.) Buttons! So many choices of buttons!

At first I was going to give it to my 5-year-old for her birthday in October. But I was extremely pregnant (due on Christmas Day) and feeling extremely terrible, so…it didn’t happen. I decided to make it for Christmas instead. Yes, this makes no sense, as I was due to have my baby on Christmas, yet I somehow thought that I could do Christmas crafting that included a Katy Kitty doll for one girl and a Babar throw quilt for the other.

It might have all gone a little more smoothly if a.) I wasn’t pregnant and miserable, b.) my sewing machine did not break in the middle of making these items and c.) we did not lose power for 2 days before Christmas after an ice storm.

I did have a sewing machine backup, which was my mother-in-law’s. I spent one night at her place madly piecing the cat after my machine stopped working. And then both she and I lost power…her for 4 days…in bitter temps…with power being restored on Christmas afternoon.

I somehow assembled the cat before Christmas and only had her accessories left to make: her skirt and shoes. I decided to leave the skirt alone, and would ask my daughter to help pick fabrics for it later, as she loves to do that. This left me with the shoes.

I felt that the shoes really made the entire ensemble, so those HAD to be made, no matter how difficult my circumstances. I had started to sew them on my MIL’s machine. But the small pieces of wool felt looked terrible with the machine stitches so I ripped them out and did some hand stitching. Then, when my power returned (early evening on December 23) I cajoled my machine into sewing the rest of the shoes together. On Christmas Eve, after we unexpectedly held Christmas Eve dinner at our house (as the in-laws were still without power) I put the buttons on the shoes and I snapped this photo of the cat.

(Note JB’s fire smoldering in the background. It was soooo delightful to have heat after the power outage and the house got down to 42 degrees inside. I don’t know how my inlays kept it together for those four days, with my brother-in-law, his wife and their 6-month-old daughter staying there also. At least our house had water the entire time. I think I would have had a meltdown if I didn’t have running water.)

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I remember feeling really cruddy as I sewed the buttons on the shoe straps. It was near midnight on Christmas Eve and I still had to wrap the quilt, cat and my husband’s gifts. I knew I had to get them done, though. I sensed that I was going into labor soon. Nothing changed with my body, but I remember thinking, Now I know how our farm animals felt when I was a kid. We had to keep an eye on them when they were pregnant, as animals want to be alone during birth and will try to run away to do so if the opportunity arises.

And that’s how I felt. Like I needed to go away to a lonesome place.

Two hours later I went into labor.

But I didn’t want to go into labor yet! I stood in my bathroom, openly weeping into a towel (hoping to muffle the noise so no one would wake), because I had worked so hard on my daughters’ gifts and was devastated that I would not be there to watch them open them in a few hours. I made a plan. If I had to go to the hospital, I would take their homemade gifts with me and they would open them after the baby was born. I spent the next several hours walking circles in the house like a zombie, the Christmas tree cheerfully twinkling its lights in the background, and me hoping to wait it out.

Every time I laid down or sat down the contractions would get stronger, so I had to keep moving. Eventually I tired of the aimless walking so I baked the Christmas Brunch Souffe at about 5 am. (Christmas was going to be celebrated at our messy dirty house, as the in-laws were still without power/heat/water.) I waited and waited. Slowly the day came. The contractions were still coming, but very sporadically. Three minutes apart. Then 13. Four minutes. 40. I wasn’t sure if I was in labor. It was more like severe back pains that I was getting. But I remembered the farm animal feeling. Something was definitely happening.

Finally, my children awoke. Merry Christmas! They opened their gifts and were delighted. My husband’s family came and we opened more gifts. I sat on my red velvet couch in a daze, clenching my teeth through the contractions. JB and I hurriedly ate our Christmas brunch, me throwing back a mimosa, and wondering later why I didn’t throw back another one for good measure.

I had done it. I hadn’t missed Christmas. I was in a lot of pain and was extremely tired from having been awake for over 24 hours, but I had witnessed my daughters opening their gifts. It was time to go.

It was a long, hard labor and Gus (10 1/2 lbs) wasn’t born until 11:30 pm, but when Olivia came to meet him the next day at the hospital, she brought her cat.

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It was a Christmas Miracle.

Gus: A Pig’s Tale

Most everyone who reads this blog already knows me, but for those of you who weren’t aware,

I had a baby last Christmas.

(The details of which are a separate story for another day.)

His name is August but usually we just call him Gus. Or Gussy. Gustmas. Goose.

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I told my friend Heather that the poor boy has no chance of knowing his real name, seeing as we call him so many other things. (In fact, I am curious to see what he pens when he writes his name for the first time.)

My husband had suggested the name August along with a handful of others on a list. My name is April (May) and I was sold on the name when JB said, “He could have something in common with you (both having month names) and we could call him Gus.”

Yes. Gus. Great nickname for a boy. I looked at my round-faced jovial husband with twinkling eyes, whom my son has a great chance of looking like as an adult, and thought, “Yes, he could pull off the name.”

The Original Gus

Little August isn’t the first Gus to come into my life. When I was a kid a big yorkshire boar arrived at our farm, having been betrothed to our lady pigs. His name was Gus.

Most farmers treat their animals in a very business-like way. The animals are there to perform a service (lay eggs, provide dairy or meat, or procreate) and are therefore not fraternized with.

But my parents were fledgling farmers, neither having had grown up on a farm. They didn’t have any rules about how us kids should interact with the animals, and so we made every pig, cow and sheep –not to mention the obvious dog and cat–our pet. (We had chickens, too, but such careless, brainless creatures were not worthy of names or special attention.)

Boars are typically fierce animals. They are big, strong and smart. They have a very low center of gravity and can push just about anything around, including people. They grow tusks.

Despite these facts, my parents still let their young children befriend the 780 lb boar, Gus.

(Pardon the photo quality–my brother meticulously scanned a scan of the original for me, as I was too impatient to wait to dig up the original at my mom’s house, which is far away.)

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And Gus did not let us down. Gus was a very friendly pig. He loved getting pet. And scratched. He was especially fond of my Dad scratching his back with the big rake and would grunt his approval when this happened. He would stand really still while my Dad ran the big metal yard rake up and down his back. Sometimes the scratching would be so pleasant that Gus would fall asleep while standing there, crashing to the ground onto his side in scratch-coma, legs sticking straight out. An unknowing observer might have thought him scratched to death.

While we had every other animal that farms could boast, we never owned a horse. Which wasn’t a big deal when we had Gus. He was more than happy to give rides. My brother, his primary child caretaker, didn’t even need a saddle or reigns. Just climb on Gus and away he’d go.

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We did not find pig riding to be very unusual, but we did think it was a cool trick. And we were proud of our friend Gus. One day our neighbor who lived on a large hog farm came over to play. He was initially disinterested when my brother brought him down to the barn to see our prized pig. He had hundreds of pigs at his place, none of them pets. But when my brother opened the gate to go in with the pigs, the neighbor came to life and shouted, “Whoa! That’s a boar! What are you doing?!?”

My brother was going to ride him, of course! This astonished the neighbor. And I’m not sure if he ever came over to play after that.

When you live on a farm you get a lot of firsthand education about life. You learn about babies being born, sickness, caring for others, death. You also learn about sex, whether you wanted to or not. I remember seeing Gus do his thing with the lady pigs and marveling at his corkscrew penis. It perplexed me. And years later I distrusted my memory of this. Surely I was making that up. A corkscrew penis makes zero sense, right?

But it’s true.

Unsolicited by me, my brother told me this in an email a few days ago:

“Watching Gus do the ‘birds and the bees’ thing for the first time was better than anything on the Discovery Channel. His penis was shaped like a corkscrew and spun like it, too! As a small boy I was initially horrified but ultimately amazed.”

(There’s your fun fact for the day, readers. You’re welcome.)

One of the sad things about farm life, after you’ve named and loved each animal, is saying goodbye to them. My parents eventually ended their pig farming, finding cattle more lucrative. The girl pigs were sold, leaving us with just Gus. And even though my parents weren’t professional farmers, they still couldn’t keep an animal that didn’t have a purpose. Gus had to go.

My mom said that they tried to find a home for Gus, but at 780 pounds, farmers felt he was too big to mount the lady swine. My Dad sadly loaded him into the trailer and brought him up to the auction, where he would be bought and turned into…bacon. When they got there my Dad was to deliver the boar to his pen among the myriad of other pens containing animals at the auction. So he opened the door to the trailer and said, “Come on, Gus!”

When that big grunting boy with tusks walked out of the trailer, everyone around freaked out and started climbing fences to safety yelling, “Hey! That’s a boar! Watch out! Boar!” And they watched in amazement as Gus plodded along down the aisles behind my dad, obeying him to the last word and walking into his pen, where Dad shut the door and said goodbye.

We had dozens of named animals on the farm. Porky, Petunia, Portia, Orville and Wilber. Hershey, Valley, Nestle, Dolly, Rosie and Prompter. Bud, Abby, Rascal, Cuddles and Charles Barkley. Reba, Sam, Holly, Polly, Kaleipso, Twinky, Charlie and Max. I could go on but it makes me miss all these pets.

But besides our beloved Jack Russells, no other animal lives on in our memories like Gus.

He was some pig.

Stalled on the Sashing for My Quilt

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I have sincere hopes to get my blog back in shape. I’ve been praying for certain things to fall into place and they have started to happen. Yay!

Here’s hoping that these life changes mean time for me to think my own thoughts, sew and write.

One reason that I haven’t been sewing is that I try to only allow myself to work on one quilt at a time. Currently that is my Sampler Quilt. Which I have been stuck on for the past six months. I am to the point where I need to have my sashing chosen before I make any more blocks.

And I have no idea what to use for sashing!

Ugh. I feel like I’m in some episode of the Twilight Zone where I get hopeful about finding sashing fabric and then waste an hour online not finding anything. Then I get sad. Then I get hopeful again and go online again or go to the fabric store again or daydream about possibilities again, get sad when I find nothing, and land right back at the beginning.

Please, someone, break me free from the insanity!!

Above you’ll see the blocks that I have finished so far. It’s my general color scheme: yellow, black, pink, blue, green, red.

Here is a mockup of what the quilt will be like. Minus the dozens of blocks I have yet to complete.

Sampler Bare Sashing

WHAT SHOULD I DO???

I think I want to use a solid. Perhaps one of Kaffe Fassett’s shot cottons–it has a little texture but isn’t too busy to be sashing.

I don’t want to do white. And I’ve tried off white and it just doesn’t pop. ???

You all gave great advice on my Union Jack block. You’ve showed that you have a sense of color and style. I trust you. Help me.