Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Still Playing with Dolls

I had a few dolls that I loved growing up in the 1950s--Chatty Cathy and Barbie were two of my favorites. I still have both of them, even though my mom gave away my Barbie dolls (plus suitcase AND wardrobe, can you imagine?) to my nieces when I was in college. I didn't really care at the time, but one day when I was a little older and visiting my sister's home I saw one of MY precious Barbies and her clothes strewn all over the playroom floor. The girls obviously didn't care about them because they were considered "old"-- from 1960 or so--and not like the cool "Malibu" Barbies. I quickly got a bag and threw whatever I could find that used to be mine into it and right then and there "reclaimed" my childhood. I was able to salvage one good blonde bubblecut Barbie and a few outfits. So glad I did. After my daughter turned 3 or so I would occasionally bring out my dolls and show her what mommy played with when she was little. Ponytail Barbie, my first, was lost forever.

Barbie turned 50 (!) last year and I was feeling nostalgic so I treated myself--I bought an old Barbie catalog and the suitcase I used to have from eBay (Oh, the memories!). 

Every now and then I try to see if I can find something else to add to my growing collection while I'm browsing the flea markets or antique malls. Buying them on eBay can get expensive. My daughter gets a really big kick out of this--I guess it's fun to see her "old" mom excited about toys and it gives her a glimpse into my own childhood.

Do you know that the original dolls are so collectible now that they can go for hundreds on eBay?? Don't laugh but I've been on a mission to find all of the outfits and accessories I had as a child and replace the ones that are missing. I'm also tempted to buy some I really really wanted but couldn't afford back then. My allowance in 1960: maybe 50 cents a week? Some of that went toward necessities--penny candy, gum, or comic books, so I had to wait for birthdays or Christmas to acquire more outfits.  Between me and Audrey McGee, my best friend when I was nine, we had just about every Barbie outfit Mattel ever sold.

Apparently I'm not alone in this nostalgic Barbie collecting business, because the prices for these things have become ridiculous, through the roof. All the antiques dealers know what Baby Boomers will pay for the dolls and their clothing, so they get to the flea markets first and buy up all the good stuff and then mark it up 500%. But sometimes you can get lucky and the flea market is fun for stuff like that--I found 2 Barbie outfits in not-bad condition for $5.00 each last summer. That keeps me going.

I'm really not into antique dolls much, just Barbies, and I'll bet that surprises some of you, considering my penchant for antique quilts. Quilts yes, dolls not so much. There are always quite a few old dolls at the flea market. They're fun to look at but I don't want to buy any.

I guess I never cared much for the real antique ones  because they weren't from my own childhood; I didn't play with them and so there aren't any memories attached. The dolls on the covers of my books are not mine--they were all just props my publisher used and I have no real attachment to them either, although I do love the cloth dolls designed by Gail Wilson in my first two books and have one myself that was given to me. I couldn't offer up my own dolls for props in my books--you can't use Barbie with antique-looking quilts, can you? She's much too cool for that. And, besides, look at that eyeliner--imagine what that would to do a quilt, LOL.

I think we should collect what we love and what makes us feel good and captures our hearts. As far as dolls go, for me that was always Barbie, the original Barbie. But she came under a lot of criticism after the '60s--that she was way too sexy for little girls to play with and a poor role model. I never really bought into the idea that playing with her somehow damaged my self-esteem, forced me to grow up too fast or caused me to have unrealistic "body" issues when I grew up. Honestly, my self esteem never came from dolls and anyway, who really wanted to look like her? Yikes! Playing with Barbie was just plain fun and it was MAKE BELIEVE. Like Harry Potter, she's not REAL, people. And it was fun because I coveted her clothes--they were so meticulously designed. Classy and sophisticated, with real working zippers and tiny accessories.

I read that Ruth Handler, the creator of Barbie, said she thought that girls projected themselves into their imaginary play with dolls. When they play, little girls often want to be older girls or grown up. They could project who they wanted to be someday onto the adult dolls they played with. So, in some ways, Barbie may have actually helped girls begin practicing other roles, besides being a mother, early on. Barbie could do anything and she may have empowered girls to travel or work at a time when the only role available to them may have been the role of mother, for instance, when they played with baby dolls in the '50s. Not that there was anything wrong with wanting to be a mother. I wanted to be a mother too. With great clothes! It's just nice to see girls have choices.

Barbie the career girl

Barbie the astronaut

Mostly, I just craved her contemporary wardrobe and had a lot of fun collecting the clothes and accessories. My older sisters wore "cool" clothes and makeup and I wanted to be like my sisters when I grew up. They did NOT look like Barbie, by the way.

So yeah, I was a Barbie girl in 1960 and I'm not embarrassed to admit it. And now that I think about it, Barbie probably did affect my self esteem, but in a good way--I learned to have a fashion sense at an early age and even now I know a good outfit when I see one.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Dinner in the Garden

Look what I found. I can't believe my luck. I saw these "English Rose" plates at Macy's last year and fell in love with them but I didn't really need new dinnerware and besides they were too expensive so I just drooled and forgot about them. I went back once to see if they were on sale, but no such luck. 

Yesterday, I stopped in at a Home Goods store near me looking for something else and lo and behold, there they were--about 1/3 the price! Of course I snatched them up because I knew it was meant to be and I'd probably never see them again. They match my kitchen and dining room--a pale bluish-green with red accents. They really look like antique English china, don't they?

My husband just shook his head when he saw them. We really don't need any plates, there are 3 boxes of dishes I rarely use in the basement. But these are different . . . they're sooo pretty and dinner will be so much more enjoyable on these plates I told him. I'll probably cook more too, I said. And the food will taste great! Maybe I'll even eat less since I'll be busy looking at the flower border the whole time . . . . or gazing into his eyes, lol.

I think we'll have to have a romantic dinner in the garden tonight, pretending we're dining in the English countryside (even if it is only Chinese takeout . . . ). And then maybe I'll get my daughter to watch Sense and Sensibility with me tonight -- for the 17th time.


Friday, May 21, 2010

Quilt Out Loud Goes Historical/Hysterical

I am wondering if any of you subscribe to's Quilt Out Loud online TV show hosted by Jodie Davis and Mark Lipinski? This month's episode features a Civil War theme and a visit to the Atlanta History Center, which I've been very patiently waiting to see. I think some of you may be interested if you like Civil War quilts and learning about the history surrounding them.

The best part?  (Okay, maybe just for me. . .) Guess whose book featuring a diary from the Civil War was reviewed this month??

A couple of months ago Jodie requested two of my quilts from Remembering Adelia so that they could show them in a small segment on books about the Civil War. So exciting for me--and here's your chance to see my Orange Peel quilt and Scrappy Baskets quilt on online TV!

I was very excited when I told my sister about it and then SHE got very excited before I finished and misunderstood and thought I  was the one who was going be filmed. No, sorry, just my quilts. Works out much better, actually. This way the camera adds 10 lbs to the quilts instead of to me . . .

I just watched the episode today and here's your chance to get a little better look at two of my favorite quilts if you haven't been able to see them in person at one of my lectures or trunk shows. (The camera zooms in really good on the Orange Peel so you can see all of the imperfections and my not-quite-perfect points. Oh no, I'm human!) 

Jodie also read aloud a couple of diary entries from the book. So cool! Jodie is very sweet and Mark is, well, if you haven't ever seen him, you're in for a treat. He's a riot. He talks about seeing the Dear Jane quilt at the Bennington Museum and shows some of his Dear Jane blocks.

I love love  love my little baskets quilt and never get tired of showing it to you. Since Blogger has changed and no one ever sees the older posts anyway, bear with me as I occasionally throw in photo repeats for newer readers . . .

If you're not a member of QNN, it's great fun to subscribe and watch all the varied episodes on different topics any time you want on your computer. If you miss something you can watch each episode again and again. Here's the show description for this month:

"Jodie and Mark introduce the show from the Turning Point exhibit at the Atlanta History Center. One of the nation’s largest and most complete Civil War exhibitions, Turning Point depicts the war through the eyes of soldiers and civilians. One of the civilians was Carrie Berry, a little girl whose story of remaining in Atlanta through the war and tending to daily chores such as sewing, is preserved here in her diary. The theme of 'preserve the pieces, preserve the stories' continues throughout the episode."

If you haven't signed up yet, try it--it's a lot of fun. International readers will love this part--you don't have to pay shipping!!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Devoted to Doll Quilts

Many of you have already discovered the "pull" of small quilts. What is it about doll quilts that touches our hearts? I started quilting 10 years ago by making small quilts or doll quilts for my daughter's dolls. I wasn't very good at it at first, but I kept at it because it made me (and my daughter) feel so good to actually make something so small and still be able to call it a quilt.

Not my first quilt . . . but an early one. I wasn't into "scrappy" yet. Too matchy for me now.

At the time, I was a  devoted mom of 2, doing a little freelance work as a textbook editor to help pay the bills in my spare time. Ha! Who has any spare time with kids? My husband would come home, we'd eat dinner and tired as I was after my full-time mommy job I'd go upstairs to my "office" (a small desk in my bedroom, LOL) for a few hours to try to get some copy editing work done. I really had no time for hobbies. I used to cross stitch quite a bit before the children came along and remembered the relaxing feeling it gave me but all the constant interruptions made it hard to keep my place and I kept losing needles all over the house so I gave it up.

It was the summer my kids wanted to just stay home and play with friends instead of going to camp or keeping busy with activities that I "found" quilting. They were finally old enough that they didn't need my constant attention anymore. Work was slow and I had no projects lined up so I actually needed something to do myself while they played. I couldn't go anywhere--I needed to be there at home but also didn't need to hover over them. So I picked up a Little Quilts book and taught myself to quilt.

My first attempt was awful. 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 something and kept at it. The day I bought that book may have been a defining moment because it was really the beginning of my passion for small quilts. I felt the "pull."

The quilts I loved were the simple ones that reminded me of little antique doll quilts and when I started making them for Caitlin's American Girl dolls, I became interested in the history surrounding quilts. I poured over books on antique quilts but rarely saw any on doll quilts and eventually only found one or two on their history, with a few pictures, mostly black and white, and no patterns. You can sometimes still find this one on eBay. I lucked out--my library was getting rid of it for 50 cents.

Small was so easy for me and I discovered that this was exactly the way children learned to sew centuries ago. Mothers encouraged girls to sew doll quilts to add a fun element to a necessary skill. Sewing was an important chore for families in the 18th and 19th centuries (particularly before sewing machines were available, can you imagine?). Even young children were expected to help out with family sewing and mending. Making quilts for their dolls was an easy way for little girls to practice skills and it still works for us today.
Again, please, this is NOT a picture of me as a little girl . . . . I was born in the fifties. The 1950s.

I started out designing quilts intended for beginners or children (American Doll Quilts in 2004 was my first book), hoping to spark something in others that I felt when I first began. I've made some larger quilts over the years but I don't get the same feeling of satisfaction as I do when I finish a little quilt. Haven't figured that one out, maybe it's got something to do with the rapid completion of a project that leads to the addiction. I just shrug and keep on making the type of quilt that makes me feel good. And, hopefully, you too.

I'm getting impatient waiting for the new book to come out. I've done about all I can on my end and now I just have to wait and let my publisher work its magic. In the meantime, I've resorted to making more little quilts to share with you. I've had this project in the back of my mind for a long time and decided to take the leap and make it come to life.

( Little Prairie Points Quilt from Remembering Adelia)

I really felt like joining a club to make simple little quilts on a monthly basis like the Remembering Adelia Club or the Prairie Children Club I offer to shops based upon the quilts from my books--the members seem to have so much fun! But I've already MADE those quilts you see. I decided to design some different quilts that I've always wanted to make and also make my own rules. 

So here it is, my newest project for you beginning this summer: The American Schoolgirl Club, Doll Quilt Pattens from the Past, a club just for quilters like myself. Something to definitely keep us busy while we're waiting for the book . . . .

If you sign up to become a member, every month, for six months, you'll get a pattern "booklet" for a simple little doll quilt I designed (new ones). The quilts will have a 19th century feel and, in addition to vintage photos of children, the booklets will include tips to help you make your little quilts. It's kind of like a Block of the Month program that quilt shops offer. Instead of a block, you get a pattern for a simple little doll quilt. Six patterns in all. (Not available as individual patterns, club option only.)

From American Doll Quilts

The patterns will include a Baskets quilt, a Signature quilt, a little Crazy quilt and maybe even a few sewing accessories too. In the tradition of American Doll Quilts. That's all I'm saying. A nice little surprise every month from June through November. What could be more fun?

Crazy quilt from American Doll Quilts

This is really so cool and I'm very excited--I've wanted to do this for a long time and never had the time. Now I'm even more devoted to doll quilts than I ever was before. I hope some of you will be too!

      Check it out here.

Oops, I almost forgot. I'll be signing books and showing my quilts from Remembering Adelia at Kindred Spirits Quilt Shop in Denmark,Wisconsin, tomorrow, Saturday, May 15, at 11:30 - 12:30. Be there! The shop has a Remembering Adelia Club so I hope all the members bring their finished quilts too.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Chicago This Week

Sounds like the title of a new morning TV show, doesn't it?  "Chicago This Week," starring Kathy Tracy-- join her as she rediscovers the city of her birth . . . on foot. But today it rained. No walking or exploring outside for me. My hair frizzes up when it rains.

I figure as long as I have to drive into the city a couple of times a week, which will considerably cut into my time to quilt and also won't give me much else to talk about for awhile, I might as well take you all along for company . . . .


I was going to but forgot to bring along my hand quilting as we were rushing out the door this morning, so I went to a nearby bookstore to spend some time.


Found a warm, quiet place to sit and read and think and watch the rain for an hour.

To be sure, there are many, many very crummy, gritty parts of the city, but I love this particular Chicago with its clean streets and old buildings mixed with fancy new ones. Reminds me of  when I was 18 and had a summer job downtown working at the Chicago Tribune, always hopping on or off a bus or rushing up and down the street with everyone else, almost all grown up but not quite.

Did a little inside exploring instead. Look what I found. (Did you really think I wouldn't check??)

What a surprise. That's the first time I've EVER seen one of my books in a major bookstore. Who knew any place other than quilts shops or hobby stores carried it?

Walked to the Water Tower Place mall after. Took the glass elevator up to the 7th floor and walked a few laps down and around.

I get slightly claustrophobic in elevators and last week almost panicked when we were "stuck" in a very small one between floors for more than a few minutes. Very creepy. I wish all elevators were glass elevators. Those aren't so bad. But, all in all, considering the rain and the traffic, the commute back home (to the puddle that's in my backyard) wasn't bad at all. Maybe because I remembered to buy Strawberry Twizzlers . . . .


Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mother's Day

A very Happy Mother's Day to one and all!

"All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother"  ~Abraham Lincoln

(If only we didn't have to wait until they became president for them to realize this . . . )

 I finally got one of those mini applique irons that everyone else has . . .

"It kills you to see them grow up. But I guess it would kill you quicker if they didn't." ~Barbara Kingsolver

When she was about 12 and we were going through a particularly difficult period (and, if I recall, she didn't like me very much), my daughter wrote me a Mother's Day poem, LOL. Can't remember what we were fighting about, probably homework. . . . I keep a copy of this on my sewing room wall. Here's an excerpt:

"You are there when I laugh
There when I cry
Nothing can stop you
From making me try.
Pushing me through
Sometimes over the edge
We'll always be friends
To that I can pledge.
At times it seems hard
Especially when we fight
You think l'm wrong
I think I'm right.
It doesn't make sense
But neither does love
Like that of an angel
Sent from above."

There's more, but you get the point. Ah, mothers and daughters . . .  At least she got some of her angst out in a creative way. We're better now, some days, at least.

I have a son, too, and he recently turned 21. Where oh where does the time go?? One of my favorite pictures of us, taken just several days after being inducted into "Momhood."  Is that really my hair?? I'm so old now I can't remember if it was a perm or that wonderful thing that happens to your hair in pregnancy . . .

He looks very content, doesn't he? They say babies don't actually smile when they're only a couple of days old, probably just gas everyone said. But I know better . . . 

I started sewing some half-square triangles from scraps a few weeks ago when I was bored. No special pattern. I love simple triangle quilts, so I'll probably just put them together into a little one. Maybe I'll have a little time to get some more of them finished today.

"The mother's heart is the child's schoolroom."  ~Henry Ward Beecher

"The mother loves her child most divinely, not when she surrounds him with comfort and anticipates his wants, but when she resolutely holds him to the highest standards and is content with nothing less than his best."  ~Hamilton Wright

Have a good one.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Busy Week

This week I am finishing up the first edit of the pages and illustrations for the new book--can't divulge the title yet. The pages have been edited by my editors and now it's my turn to go through them and add anything or make any changes. The next version I see will be the page proofs, probably this summer. That part is very exciting--to see the layout and design of pages with photos. My publisher has the quilts to be able to photograph them and I've almost forgotten what they look like!

Everybody's making pink and brown quilts these days and there'll be one in the book too.

I tried to make every quilt in the book inspiring in some way and that's not always easy. I wanted them to be simple enough for beginners to make and yet also give experienced quilters patterns that are, if not exactly challenging, at least interesting. There also will be a few sewing accessories, which are always fun.

Here's my basket of scraps, leftovers from the book quilts--I still haven't cleaned it out yet.

In addition to making sure I finish up the book stuff I have lots of other things that are keeping me busy these days. My 16-year-old daughter has been having problems with herniated discs in her back for over a year that have gotten much worse in the last few months. It's been very stressful to see her in so much pain and not be able to participate in activities that she used to enjoy--she was a terrific soccer player for years and years. She's seen several doctors and has gone through two rounds of physical therapy which sometimes seems to aggravate it more. The latest doctor recommended a Physical Therapy/pain management program for adolescents which sounds promising and is supposed to have a good recovery success  rate. It happens to be located in downtown Chicago, which is not really a big problem for me--but we live at least 45 minutes away when traffic is good.


The program is four hours twice a week plus the commute, which means it will take up a decent part of my week as I will be driving her on those days. Since it doesn't make sense to fight traffic and go back home after I drop her off, I am stuck waiting downtown for hours at a time while she is going through the program for the next few weeks or months.


Don't get me wrong, I love the city. I was born and raised in Chicago and have always lived near it. My husband came with us yesterday and after meeting with the doctors and being introduced to the specifics of the program, we handed her over and took off for a few hours.


I spent my twenties living in an apartment in the city before I met my husband, married, had kids and then moved out to the suburbs. Although we occasionally travel into the downtown area, it's usually for an event---a concert, play or a work-related dinner for my husband--and so it's not that often that I get a chance to just roam around without a plan.


The physical therapy place is down the block from the American Girl Place--I had to stop and look for old times' sake. We were lucky to be able to have that store nearby to visit when my daughter was younger--she'd bring her favorite doll and we'd shop and have lunch in the American Girl cafe, running into girls from all over the country on trips to do the same thing. Oh the memories of my sweet baby girl playing with dolls!



The doll with the sunglasses sitting next to the dog looks like my Caitie!

From there we stopped for coffee and a snack and then walked all the way to the Chicago History Museum.


Chicago has some great neighborhoods and it's been years since I've walked through them instead of hastily driving past on my way to somewhere else. Luckily, it was a beautiful day.


Beautiful vintage architecture mixed with skyscrapers in the background.

Only the very rich can afford to live on Astor Street.

The History Museum

No visit to the Chicago History Museum is compete without seeing the exhibit on the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which destroyed much of the city, killing hundreds and leaving thousands homeless.

This doll really intrigued me and I wondered about her role in the Fire.

"During the Great Chicago Fire, 6-yr-old Charlotte McNally and her family fled for their lives. She carried her doll to safety and decades later donated it to the Chicago History Museum."

Then it was time to walk back and pick up my daughter. The walking did us some good and helped our stress levels a bit. If I hadn't been so worried about her I'd say it turned out to be a pretty good day. Wonder where I'll go in the coming weeks?