Sunday, February 27, 2011

Tiny Treasures

On a good weather day last week my daughter and I visited the Art Institute in Chicago for a bit.

I hadn't been there since I visited with my son over a year ago. When I went with him we saw a lot of the new Modern Wing because that's what he was interested in seeing. Thank goodness for girls! This time I got to see the miniature Thorne rooms again, which I hadn't seen since the kids were little.

The Thorne rooms were the "creative endeavor" of Mrs. James Ward Thorne, a Chicago socialite who began collecting antique miniatures at a young age. Inspired by actual rooms in historic houses and museums, the permanent collection features 68 rooms that were made (commissioned by her) between 1934 and 1940, constructed on a scale of one inch to one foot. As a child growing up in Chicago, I remember visiting and drooling over these tiny rooms and furnishings, my nose pressed up to the  glass.

Here is a little peek at the rooms that never fail to amaze me.  Every time I see them it's like the first time and I catch my breath at the intricate work that went into the making of them.

If you look closely you can sometimes see rooms beyond the rooms . . .

It was hard to get good photos through the glass without getting my reflection. A photographer I'm not . . .

The "natural" lighting replicates sunlight coming in through the windows and doors.

If you ever visit Chicago, be sure to see these little treasures. Here's a link to some better photos.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Unfinisher

In doing some weeding out and folding up of fabrics last week, I came across too many unfinished projects. Probably not as many as some of you - some of you  are Queens of the Unfinished, I hear.  Many of you have been quilting longer and also probably making larger quilts. But still. Each unfinished project tugs at me because I remember how much fun it was planning, playing, cutting (okay, NOT so much fun cutting), piecing and dreaming of how to finish it. It would be really nice to have some of them done, I thought.  But I never seem to get there.

Small Quilt Challenge to the rescue again! I started a challenge in my Yahoo group this month to finish a few of them. Or at least just one. Better not get ahead of myself too much or nothing will get done.

Eeny, meeny, miney moe . . . grab a top and let it go.

Deadlines are good. Here's how it goes - We're posting photos of the projects we want to finish for all to see (to keep us accountable, you know.  "Hi, I'm Kathy. I'm an  . . . Unfinisher." ) and then, in a month, pictures of the finished small quilts. Some are darn near finished already - they may only need the binding - so it won't even take that long.

What's the problem? Is it like a book we love reading and can't bear for it to be over? Am I hanging onto some of these tops because I'm afraid they'll be forgotten in the pile of Oh So Many Little Quilts Lying Around the House? Or is it because the finishing is simply not as much fun as the making? Or maybe I'm just neurotic and need to stop analyzing EVERYTHING.

Whatever it is, it feels good already knowing that I'm on a deadline to finish this one. Silly, of course I can finish it. I started it last December for a Christmas Challenge. I remember putting it together rather quickly because I had already made the little hourglass blocks several years ago - Ha! - and tucked them into a bag, unfinished. So I can sort of call this a Double UFO, unfinished twice. Not successful the first time, so I'll try, try again.

I need to finish my 50 signature blocks for a signature friendship exchange first. I also have several out of town lectures and workshops planned for the rest of this month and next so I'm kinda busy to promise I'll finish two. I know my limitations. But if I finish at least one UFO now, then I know I'll be able to do another in the next month or so. Piece of cake, right? Wish me luck - I think I'm on a mission . . .

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Woodstock Revisited

I came upon a child of God
He was walking along the road
And I asked him "Where are you going?"
And this he told me-
"I'm going on down to Yasgur's farm
I'm going to join in a rock 'n' roll band
I'm going to camp out on the land
I'm going to try and get my soul free."
                     -Joni Mitchell

I was a child of the sixties but never made it to Woodstock - my mother wouldn't let me go, LOL. And even though she wrote the song, Joni wasn't actually there either so I didn't feel so bad . . . We were both there in spirit. Joni wrote the song for her then-boyfriend Graham Nash, who was there and told her about it. (I was introduced to Joni Mitchell's music in 1969 when she opened (!) for Crosby, Stills & Nash at a concert in Chicago that year. The next day they performed at Woodstock, minus Joni.)

My favorite album of 1969. Remember albums?? Yes, I'm that old. . . .

Anyway, what the heck does this have to do with quilting?? I've been singing this song lately because my friend Carrie at Pieceful Gathering Quilt Shop has asked me to be a Special Guest and Teacher at her shop's Quilt Retreat in WOODSTOCK, Illinois. Get it? Finally, I'm old enough to attend a WOODSTOCK event. Of course, this retreat center in Woodstock, IL is owned and run by Loyola University, the nation’s largest Jesuit, Catholic University, so I'm pretty sure there won't be quite as much Rock 'n Roll as there was at the original Woodstock music festival in NY in 1969. But who knows what will happen when quilters get rockin'?? A lot could happen.

Hippie Chicks fabric by Marcus Bros. See - quilters can be cool too . . .

According to the brochure, the Woodstock Retreat Campus provides a peaceful setting where individuals and groups are empowered to do the work necessary for reconnection and renewal of the mind, body, and spirit. Located in rural Woodstock, Illinois, about 50 miles from Chicago, this campus features prairie, woodlands, an oak savannah, ponds, and wetlands, as well as a Retreat Center with a dining room, chapel, and multiple community spaces. A beautiful setting for any group, including us rowdy quilters . . . 

Carrie has a lot of fun planned for the weekend and I'll be teaching the Union Stars quilt from my new book. If you're interested in attending this new Woodstock event - the Woodstock Quilt Retreat - and taking a class with me, mark March 11-13 on your calendars. You can't miss it. Hitch a ride if you have to - we are going to have some counter-culture fun. Something to tell the grandkids - "I was at Woodstock". I wouldn't want you to regret not being there in 40 years . . . I might even sing some Joni Mitchell if you ask nice.

Find out more about the retreat center here. Contact Carrie at  for your reservation. Phone: 847-516-7911.

"We are stardust, we are golden. And we've got to get ourselves back to the garden . . ."

Peace. Let's hope it doesn't rain.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Just Do It

I didn't want to cut into my new fabric collection but a little voice inside me said "Oh, just do it!" So here's a block I made today:

Made from some of my new Marcus Fabrics - the lovely pink and brown floral is from the Bancroft line, coming to stores in March.

Look familiar? The block is a prettier pink and brown version of the center part of this quilt from my book The Civil War Sewing Circle. All it needs are the half-square triangles and borders and I'm done.

It's such a romantic-looking block now.

Making a quilt like this with some lovely romantic fabrics might be just what our heroine needs to pull herself out of her winter doldrums . . .

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Not Guilty

The Fed Ex truck stopped in front of  my house the other day. Valentine's Day to be exact. I had heard it was coming, but didn't know quite what to expect or when. I started to hyperventilate when I opened the box.

Look - it's full of fabric! Pretty fabric!

I know we all have way more fabric than we need and we feel guilty about buying more (even though we still do), but this fabric came with absolutely NO guilt!  Can you believe it? As a very nice gesture for using some of their fabric in my quilts in the new book, Marcus Brothers sent me the new Judie Rothermel line - Bancroft - along with fabric from her recent Civil War Chronicles line and a whole bunch of Bonnie Blue Basics designed by Paula Barnes of Bonnie Blue Quilts. How lucky am I?

It's a wonderful thing to acquire fabric without having any guilt associated with it. I didn't have to hide it in the trunk until my husband went to bed or "misplace" the credit card bill after I shopped . . . (None of this ever works anyway, since he's my personal accountant and the CFO of my business, LOL. I can't hide anything from him.)

No Sirree - I have absolutely no guilt over this and am just enjoying my good fortune. I have always loved Judie Rothermel's reproduction fabrics and save small pieces from some of her older lines to put in my new quilts. Do you notice? Some people do and I often get asked about a certain fabric and have to tell them no, you can't find it in stores anymore, it's about 7 years old. I've  just been hoarding it for the right quilt. I wonder what I'll make with all of this? Stay tuned for that in the coming months. I'm a little overwhelmed right now to actually cut into any of it. I'm very busy just stroking the yardage.  

Here are some closer shots of the fabrics. Not an ugly one in the bunch. Notice all the lovely browns  . . .

Brown and  blue

Brown and blue and red . . .

This one is one of my favorites.  Brown and pink . . .

Red and blue and  . .  . brown. Is someone trying to tell me something??

Isn't this red and brown stripe beautiful? I love it.

Now I'm just playing. I'll mix this with this, and that with that . . .

Can you see the wheels turning??

The Civil War Chronicles line is in shops now and Judie's Bancroft  line will be in shops the beginning of March. I'm grateful I got to have a peek first. See the entire line of fabric here.

Wish me well. I have a feeling I'm spoiled now and every time I see a Fed Ex truck on my street I'll be tempted to jump in front of it and ask if they have any fabric on board. Is it for me? Is it for ME??

Monday, February 14, 2011

Be My Valentine Quilt

 I had a very productive pre-Valentine's Day weekend.

A couple of weeks ago I designed a small Valentine quilt project for those in my Yahoo group, using little nine-patch blocks combined with hourglass blocks. I didn't think I'd have any time to make something myself so it was fun to see what people came up with. I became really inspired looking at some of the quilts in the album and said What the Heck with chores this weekend and spent time working on my own. (I did finally  mop the kitchen and front hallway yesterday, so that counts for something . . . Quilting seems to energize me some days).

 First, I cut my pieces. I decided to make it completely from my scraps, using assorted reds, pinks and shirtings.

The nine-patch blocks are made from 1 1/2" squares, finishing at 3" x 3". 
The hourglass blocks in the center are made from four 4 1/4" squares, cut twice on the diagonal to get 4 triangles from 4 different fabrics. Each hourglass block also finishes at 3" x 3". Arrange the triangles to get the Pinwheel in the center. (I ended up using different prints.)

Lookie here, I got the top finished!

I started out thinking it would be a red and pink and white quilt, then started adding more muted colors. I decided to scrap the initial center piece I made - too bright for me - and remade the rest of it with more vintage fabrics, including BROWN! Don't quilts just take on a life of their own sometimes?? Funny, this is NOT the quilt I had planned, just the way it turned out as I worked with the fabrics. I will probably trim the pink border a little and then add a darker pink binding. The brown floral border is a Judie Rothermel (Marcus Bros) print left over from the Peony Star quilt I made for Remembering Adelia.

 I love my little vintage Valentine's Day quilt!

*      *      * 
According to the Huffington Post, a widely accepted belief about the holiday is that Valentine's Day grew out of a Middle Ages tradition of celebrating Feb. 14 as the day "the birds began to pair." The first true Valentine card was sent in 1415 by Charles, duke of Orleans, to his wife. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London at the time.

In the U.S., the first mass-produced valentines of embossed paper lace were produced and sold shortly after 1847. 

On Feb 14, 1861 - Adelia Thomas wrote in her diary:

"Feb 14
"This morning it snowed and the wind blew very hard. Towards noon the weather moderated and then it rained. In the evening went to Mr Sharp's Spelling school and when we came home it snowed very hard. Mary Lincoln was there and made herself very conspicuous I thought. Maria Shaver spelled the school down. Valentine's day—never got one! Good."

I know Adelia had a special beau in mind (she referred to him as "L" in her diary) and so I think she protested too much! 
My "sweetest of the sweet" husband took his 2 girls out for a special Valentine's Day lunch yesterday. (That would not include the little black dog, although she runs a close third . . . some days she even comes in first or second.) 
Tonight, I will return the favor and cook something nice : ). 

Happy Valentine's Day!

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Summer of 1893

No, I was not alive then, so skip this if you're looking for a diary of my summer camp memories or a journal of sewing activities.

I've been catching up on some reading I meant to get around to in the last year or so and recently finished reading this fascinating book - The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson and had to tell someone.

Larson tells  the incredible, factual story of the building of the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago intertwined with the drama of a serial killer at large. A tiny bit gruesome in parts but still a fascinating history of American culture at the end of the 19th century. Chicago history is a particular favorite of mine since I'm a Chicago girl.

For about six months and into the summer of 1893, Chicago was home to one of the largest and most spectacular events of the 19th Century - the World's Columbian Exposition, called by its creators as, simply, "by far the greatest Exposition ever held."

Nicknamed the "White City" for its glorious white buildings, the World's Columbian Exposition was an extremely popular and influential social and cultural event. Filled with  an amazing display of 65,000 exhibits, the Fair depicted some of the best achievements of modern civilization and a wonderful array of the arts and sciences.

I love this quote from novelist Hamlin Garland, written to his parents in 1893 - "Sell the cook stove if necessary and come. You must see the fair." I also got a little sense of the excitement people must have felt when I transcribed Adelia's diary entries (from my book Remembering Adelia) telling us about her trip to Chicago to explore the State Fair in 1861. I can only imagine what she thought of the World's Fair, years later, if she atttended. (Adelia died in 1899, at the age of 57.)

The Fair housed the largest exhibition of American art ever held in the United States, displaying 10,000 pieces of artwork.  There was also a Women's Building highlighting women's work and accomplishments and  featuring  several famous suffragist leaders - Jane Addams, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone, and Susan B. Anthony - as speakers.

Some famous cultural icons and brands of our popular culture were introduced at the Fair - a huge wheel designed by George Ferris placed on the Midway, revolving high above the fairgrounds; Cream of Wheat; Shredded Wheat; Pabst Beer; Aunt Jemima syrup; Juicy Fruit gum; Cracker Jack (noted by some as the first junk food); carbonated soda; hamburgers; and . . . ELECTRICITY! Not to mention belly dancers and the "Hootchy-Kootchy."

Here's something I found  really interesting. Walt Disney's father was a construction worker for the Exposition, and often relayed stories of the Fair to his children as they were growing up. The author of the book cites it as a legitimate source of inspiration for his son Walt and the Disney kingdom he would eventually create.

If you haven't already read it, The Devil in the White City is a great book and a fascinating read. But not necessarily for the squeamish, although you can skip some parts - I did just a little at times. I heard that Leonardo DiCaprio has bought the movie rights.