Saturday, August 29, 2009

Little Quilts

One fun part of being an author of quilt pattern books is that I am often in touch with quilt shops around the country. They do a great job of helping me promote my books--taking my trunk shows and clubs and offering classes based on the quilts in the books. I've talked to so many wonderful people and I really appreciate all the nice things they say about my books. They definitely get the word out about little quilts and how much fun they are to make. One shop owner told me she keeps my book at the counter and says "Listen to this" and then reads the diary entries aloud to customers as they're making their purchases. Great way to reel 'em in, LOL.

I recently spent some time sending out e-mails to various shops reminding them about upcoming trunk shows of the quilts from Remembering Adelia that are scheduled for their shops. Right there on the list of shops was Little Quilts of Marietta, GA. Now, this is probably not a big deal to most of you, but it is to me. I made my first "real" quilt 9 years ago from a Martingale & Co. book called Little Quilts All Through the House, written by Alice Berg, Mary Ellen Von Holt and Sylvia Johnson, the famous Little Quilts ladies.

At the time, I loved quilts and frequently bought small ones at craft shows. Although I was not a quilter (YET!), I had a habit of wandering into quilt shops just to browse and drool over the quilts. I bought the book because I loved all the patterns and I thought if I could not make something like the large, elaborate quilts that hung in the shops, somehow I just knew I could make one of these small quilts. The little quilt that called to me the most was "Hopscotch."  I fell in love with the colors and scrappy look and it just seemed to recall my childhood days playing with my dolls. I could make THIS quilt, I thought. So I went out and bought myself an inexpensive sewing machine just to start, so I wouldn't waste too much money in case this quilting thing wasn't for me or I couldn't actually do it.
I had no idea how to use a rotary cutter or ruler, had no scraps and little sense of design, but I was determined to make this quilt! In fact, I was BOUND and determined to make a quilt and call myself a quilter! The day that I bought the book may have been a defining moment because it was really the beginning of my passion for small quilts. I was definitely reeled in myself.

One quilt shop near me sold little bags of fabric scraps for $5.00 and I bought a few of those plus a rotary cutter, ruler and mat. I was armed and ready! I went home, read the directions over and over while my kids were in school (my only quiet time, you know), made a practice block and then finally started making the quilt. Pretty much the same way little girls began to quilt over 100 years ago. Since I was not a little girl anymore and had missed that "window," I had some catching up to do. I was sure I wasn't even going to try to set the blocks on point though, so I adjusted the pattern to my own skills as a beginner and set them in three straight rows. Besides, I rationalized, this looked more like the way played hopscotch anyway, not on the diagonal.
Figured if I wanted the look of the original, I'd just turn it, LOL, and nobody would be the wiser. I loved the awkward look of the quilt--like it had been played with to death. My daughter played with it with her dolls so much the buttons fell off. Looks like it could have been played with by me as a child as well. (Not quite the 19th century, but sometimes it feels like . . . close enough.)

In Spring of 2002 we packed up the kids and drove from Illinois to Orlando, Florida, on a vacation to Disneyworld. A long, 2-day drive each way, but guess what was on the way that I had to look forward to? (Aside from meeting Sleeping Beauty, my favorite princess--I like to sleep a lot, too.) Marietta, Georgia. That's right--where the Little Quilts shop is located, just outside Atlanta. My husband took the kids somewhere for an hour while I shopped. Did I shop! I had also brought my dog-eared copy of the book with me just in case I saw one of the authors and they would be gracious enough to sign it for me. As luck would have it, not one of them was in the shop that day (darn!) so my book went home unsigned. 

I sat on the porch and made my husband take a picture of me in front of the shop sign. Why was that rocking chair there anyway? On the ride home I reread the book, especially the page where the authors wrote about how their company grew from making their own antique-looking little doll quilts and selling them at antiques shows, to a kit business, to the book, then the shop. This part stuck with me and clearly made an impression: "Since 1986, Little Quilts has enjoyed continued growth and success. To women with a creative idea and a desire to go into business, we offer this advice--'Watch out, you're going to do great!'"

Thank you, Little Quilts!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Playing with Blocks

I'm playing with fabric scraps and making blocks these days. The more I play, the more inspired I get. I wish I could show you what I'm working on for the new book but it's a big secret. I'm pretty good at keeping secrets, though, and you'll all have to wait awhile to see a finished product. That means no inspiring photos for awhile either.

Wonder what shape these will eventually take? Can I fit them into a quilt somewhere? Do pink and purple and green really go together?

Here's a block I decided NOT to use in a quilt. Too matchy for me I think so I "scrapped" it. Like those prints though and will use them somewhere else.

I finished making a couple of small quilts already and, along with making and finishing the other quilts, I have to write the patterns and draw the step-by-step sketches of the projects so the designers at Martingale & Co. can eventually translate them into illustrations so you can figure out how to make them too. Here's a design sketch from my last book, Remembering Adelia, not the one I'm working on now, to give you an idea of how a book comes together. There will be 16 projects in the new book, so I have to make a series of these little drawings for each project, check and recheck and then draw new ones when I find a mistake, which I almost always do. This part and writing the actual instructions is hard for me and I have to stay focused and make sure I don't leave anything out.

The older I get, the harder it is to filter out distractions, of which there are many in the summertime. Aside from kids and playful, barking dogs, simply having to work at home is a distraction. I keep telling my husband I need a studio like the "real" quilt designers have. Maybe in a secluded woods somewhere (difficult, since we live in typical Midwest suburbia). He tells me we'll work on that when we're finished with college tuition (six more years!) and if and when I get over the starving artist phase of my career (craft book authors make very little money, sorry to say, but it's the truth--it's all fame and glory, unless I'm missing something and nobody told ME about the BIG advances other authors get).

Some days the writing part goes like this:

Clearly, that part is hard, too. The only easy part is playing with the fabric and putting colors together and choosing which prints I'll use in a quilt.

Our typical '60s suburban colonial, probably older and smaller than most, needs some work. The gutter guys were here last week making all sorts of noise putting up much-needed $$ gutters $$. My brother-in-law Steve the painter guy is still scraping and painting the outside windows and trim, which means I will NOT have a quiet house for a few more days. I'd be lost without my ipod while I work.

Steve the painter guy helping us make it look a little better (it was looking like those shabby, distressed antique furniture pieces, which I love, just not so chic, especially the shutters):

Andy, Steve's painting partner, looking much happier than I'd look if I had to work so hard on the outside of my house:

I'm counting on my ipod to save me.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Getting a Little Culture

I visited the Art Institute of Chicago last week with my 20-year-old son. The new Modern Wing of the museum opened in May, at a cost of $300 million, and it's something to see. He took an art history class last year and became excited about modern art. Although he had already seen the new wing earlier in the summer, he was convinced that I needed a break from work and that I would enjoy a trip to the city and benefit from a day off.

Okay, I have been a little crabby lately. Like a lot of working moms, I'm trying to juggle working at home with 2 kids underfoot all of the time (and what seems like 40 of their friends at any given moment) or driving the one that doesn't drive somewhere every 15 seconds. Granted, they're not toddlers and there aren't eight of them, but even though they're older, they make their presence and needs known and they still need me around. It is not quiet at my house. And let's not forget the playful puppy, who's recovering from an ovariohysterectomy and needs to be kept "quiet" for 10 days (how do you keep a puppy quiet??), requires a huge amount of attention daily and, on top of it, keeps stealing my fabric bundles from a basket on the floor near my sewing table (trust me, no room ON the table) then races around the house until I can catch her.

What's making things even worse is that my husband's job at present requires him to travel Monday through Friday until the middle of October. So yeah, I'm a little crabby. Not exactly Civil War widow crabby for being left alone penniless on the farm, but still--things are definitely tougher without a little help with the normal, everyday household chores he's very good at executing. (Hugs, hon, if you're reading this!) It WAS time for a break and I jumped at the chance to take a pleasant day trip with my first born before he goes back to school. Oh, he said, if we did go, it would be a good opportunity for me to buy him lunch at a nice restaurant on Michigan Ave. I didn't tell him I planned a stop at the textile room to see quilts.

We live about 25 miles north of Chicago and now that the kids are older it seems we don't take advantage of the wonderful local museums like we once did. The Art Institute has always been one of my favorites. I love that it has so many classic works and houses a diverse collection of paintings, prints & drawings and ranks right up there with the other great art museums in the US.

Strolling down Michigan Ave looking for a restaurant, I remembered an entry in Adelia's diary and for a few seconds was struck by how different Adelia may have experienced the city in 1861, when she traveled by train from a small town in northern Illinois to see the State Fair, which was held in Chicago that year. The Art Institute opened as the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts on May 24, 1879, eighteen years later, and some eight years after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which destroyed much of the city--17,450 buildings in 27 hours, 250 people perished. One-third of the city's population lost their homes. Adelia's diary entry for Sept 11, 1861, reads:

"Sept 11, 1861

"Laura, Alice, Em and I all went to Chicago to the State Fair. Father, Mother, Edwin's folks, Jo and Alf were on the train. Us girls splurged round town that day and did not go to the fairgrounds on account of the mud. Went in the courthouse observatory and on Michigan Avenue. Felt pretty much tired out. Staid with Alice at their cousins Mr Andrus on State St. Went to prayer meeting in the evening."

We couldn't have picked a better day though--sunny and warm but not too hot. We even found a moderate-priced restaurant.

The bridge/walkway that connects the Modern Wing to the Cloud Gate sculpture in Chicago's Millenium Park offers great views of the city.

I was impressed by everything my son learned in his art class. I'm not afraid to admit that I'm old-fashioned and favor the classics (the museum has a great collection of Impressionist paintings) over contemporary art (his favorite). So, for a change, it was nice to share our likes and dislikes with each other without a single argument. The bad news was that the textile room was closed and undergoing renovation, so no quilts on exhibit. Nobody seemed to know when it would reopen.

It's always exhilarating to see famous works by the great masters up close. Room after room of awe-inspiring talent. Like Adelia, however, by the end of the day, I was pretty much tired out myself.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Remembering Adelia Club

Summertime and I'm busier than ever when I'd love to be lounging at some beach or combing the thrift shops. I spent time today organizing materials for the Remembering Adelia Club that some quilt shops are offering to customers this fall. It's a 6-month club that gives quilters a chance to get together on a monthly basis and make some of the little quilts from my new book. I did the same thing with my other two books, Prairie Children & Their Quilts and American Doll Quilts, as well and quilters really enjoyed it. Quilters tell me that sometimes it's a little easier to actually make the quilts if you have a plan and work alongside other quilters with the same interests. You don't really want that wonderful book to just sit on the shelf of your sewing room, do you?

Members need to purchase the book when they join and then stitch along with other quilters once a month while the teacher gives a little lesson on life and quilting during the Civil War.

Did you know that while a huge percentage of men from both sides were away during the war, the women were left behind to manage not only the homes, but the farms and businesses too, making life extremely difficult for most of them? Women may not have been active on the battlefield, but they certainly experienced the repercussions of the war. How were their lives affected in other ways? Adelia tells HER story.

If you're a shop owner, e-mail me if you'd like to begin a club at your shop. If you're "just" a quilter and need inspiration to make a few of the quilts or sewing accessories from Remembering Adelia, tell your local shop about it or offer to help them organize one. Or e-mail me to see if there's a shop in your area that's starting a club. What's more fun than getting together with other quilters to make a little quilt from the book? Ok, I can think of a few things, but none where you learn a little bit about history and get a free pincushion pattern too.

What a great way to get started making some of your favorite little quilts from the book and also see how other quilters' projects turn out. It's always fun to see how everyone interprets the quilts differently to make them uniquely their own.

These "housewife" needle cases make great gifts for friends.