Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Cabin Fever Quilt Retreat

There are still a few openings in a couple of classes I am teaching at the Cabin Fever Quilt Retreat at the Grout Museum in Waterloo, Iowa, Feb 2-4, 2012. We'll be making Clarissa's Garden Quilt -

 . . . and the Album Quilt from The Civil War Sewing Circle, another great scrappy quilt -

I will also be giving a demonstration to make that cute housewife needle case you saw a few posts ago.

This January, the Grout Museum begins hosting an exhibit titled "Covered by Glory: Civil War Commemorative Quilts" which promises to be very exciting. Here's some more info about the exhibit from the museum -

"During the Civil War many women turned to needlework as a refuge from the stress, loneliness and worry of war. They utilized their skills to support their families, raise money for the cause and create necessary items for the soldiers. When the war was over, they stitched commemorative quilts celebrating victory and honoring those who died. A century ands a half later the sacrifices are still remembered with commemorative fabrics, patterns and quilts that mark the Sesquicentennial of the Wat between the States. This exhibit showcases several quilts, some made during the era and commemorative quilts made from ten to 150 years later. Photographs, archives and more will enhance this exhibit."

I am proud that a few of my quilts will be hanging in this exhibit, which runs through September 2012. Make sure it's on your calendar if you're  planning to visit  Iowa next year! 

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!


Were you good and did you get everything you wished for from Santa?

My daughter gave me this cool vintage-looking necklace with a little sewing machine, scissors and button charms.  

I also got  that critically acclaimed Stephen King book about the JFK assassination I've been wanting to read - 11/22/63.  Look what else - some Perfect Circles and those neat Karen Kay Buckley applique scissors too, 'cuz remember, I do applique now, LOL. And an LED flex-light to wrap around my neck so I can see exactly what I'm doing when I'm doing my applique. Lots of other cool gifts too.

The best gifts?  My kids were extremely thoughtful in their gift giving to us and each other and - get this - last night my son even cleaned up the kitchen after Christmas Eve dinner because I was so tired after cooking all day. What more could a mom ask for??

I love Christmas and feel blessed, being together with family. I hope you all are having a wonderful, special day too.

Friday, December 23, 2011

'Twas the Day Before Christmas Eve . . .

 . . .  And someone is scrambling around trying desperately to get things finished and ready for the holiday. Am I the only one?? I love Christmas!

Running around today looking for some little things to put in the kids' stockings -

Yes, they still get stockings, bigger than this one, LOL, even though they're 18 and 23 . . . . I love "pin tins." Found these Hello Kitty tins filed with candy for my daughter that will be just perfect for my applique pins after she eats the mints and tosses them away. Good thinking, huh? I love Christmas!

I'm not making any quilts this year, been busy making some jewelry though -

I love Christmas!

Who's the lucky girl who's getting some homemade earrings? Shhhh. Don't worry, I went to Ulta and Forever XXI at the mall too.

Haven't done much baking but my plan is to make a few batches of cookies tonight. More peppermint bark too . . . I love staying up late and baking after everyone else has gone to bed. I'll put on some quiet Christmas music. It will just be me and Michael Buble . . .  in the kitchen, baking the cookies.

Always something to do . . . Hurry, hurry . . .  Can you tell I'm a bit stressed? Not enough hours left . . . Need to run and get more groceries for Christmas Eve dinner. Family is coming over tomorrow night and I'm baking a ham, cheesy potatoes and also spinach lasagna. My daughter is vegetarian so the lasagna has become one of our Christmas traditions (red and green). Hope it stays a family tradition if all that cheese doesn't kill us off, LOL. I sure love Christmas!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas Past

I always have the best intentions but never seem to find enough time to make enough Christmas gifts for friends and family. I usually get a few done but never as many as I planned. Maybe it's because I start too late, LOL? And then I get really busy. They often carry over unfinished and then at least I have a head start on gifts for next year . . . .

Only a few days left and I was thinking about what kind of last minute, quick gifts to make for Christmas. A couple of  years ago I made a few of these Civil War "huswife" needle cases for friends -

They stitch up pretty quickly, and are even great for non-quilters. My sister uses hers as a gift card or credit card case since the pockets are just the right size. The pattern is in my book Remembering Adelia, which I know many of you have. So, if you're looking for a quick handmade gift for a friend, there's still time to whip one up!

During the Civil War, Christmas celebrations were  very subdued and often somber. Many families were without a father (remember the fictional March family in Little Women). Church attendance followed by a large family dinner was the custom in most homes. By 1861 most homes also had a Christmas tree as well as stockings hung in anticipation of St. Nicholas' arrival.  Christmas trees were decorated with popcorn balls, ribbons, colored paper and sometimes edible treats.  Popular gifts of the time included needle books (!), pin cushions, paint boxes, jewelry, tops, pen wipers etc. But the best gift of all may have been the arrival of a loved one returning home from the war.

Sallie Brock Putnam of Richmond VA wrote that Christmas 1861 had been spent making and preparing warm items for the soldiers - caps, stockings and colorful scarves. The soldiers were foremost in people's minds and what food they could afford was sent to the camps to cheer and comfort those who would not be making the trip home for Christmas. The absence of loved ones was keenly felt around most dinner tables and vacant chairs were set as reminders.

As I was sorting through and organizing papers recently I came across pages of the diary entries that were in my Remembering Adelia book. Adelia was 19 and lived in northern Illinois in 1861, the year the Civil War began.  I thought some of you might enjoy reading a simple, firsthand account of what Christmas was like for many families that year:

December 4, 1861
Lydia and I went to Mrs Shaver's in the afternoon. Marg and Frank went with us to Vosburgh's in the evening. Marg has just been to Chicago and she showed us all the new things. Sam Shoemaker brought home the body of his brother Jerome who died in the hospital in Mo., a member of Co F, 15 Reg.,  Illinois Volunteers.

Dec 5, 1861
Mother and Clara went with Mr Goodwin's folks to Crystal Lake to Jerome Shoemaker's funeral. I wrote a letter to Lester. Received one from Em.

Dec 6, 1861
A man recruiting for Mulligan's Brigade in Chicago lectured at the schoolhouse and staid here all night. Wesley Shepard and George Gill signed the muster roll.

Dec 7
The recruiting officer took the boys to Chicago today. Were all here for dinner. Elias went to the station and brought me a letter from Lester and one from Jim at St Louis and a host of papers. Made Clara an apron today.

Dec 18
Mrs Goodwin came here early in the morning to have me do some sewing for her on the machine and she put the facing on the girls' dresses for me.

In the afternoon I went over to see how Jule was and to help Mrs Vosburgh if she needed me. I swept, made some cookies and did her ironing. [Jule was a neighbor friend who had enlisted in the war, became very ill and had now returned home].

Dec 19, 1861

Mother made the stuff all ready for mince pies, chopped apples and all that sort of thing getting ready for Christmas.

Dec 20, 1861

Mother made nineteen mince pies today which took about all of her time. I made a housewife for Lester and Elias is going to Woodstock to carry it to be sent to Washington [where Lester, her "young man" was stationed].

Dec 21, 1861
Worked the forenoon if I ever did. Dressed the chickens, washed the pantry floor, the kitchen floor, made up beds, swept the chambers and almost a little of everything. Mr Bennett and sister came between three and four o'clock. Anderson came in the evening and we went to William's to sing. Had a fire in the fireplace and we couldn’t keep warm. Jule Harback worse and they sent for Father to go and watch.

Dec 22
Got up this morning and the ground was white with snow. It continued to snow all day and it was about eight inches at night. Mr Bennett was here and he was in a stew to know how he was going to get home. Anderson had to go home in the storm and break his own path. I think I never saw so much snow fall at one time.

Dec 23
Father carried Miss B— to the cars [train cars] and Mr Bennett went home with the buggy. Picked and dressed the turkey for Christmas and did the washing. Julius Harback died today. He has been sick more than two months and is nothing but a skeleton.

Dec 24
How unfortunate! When we have got so much work to do. I have been real sick most all day. Got breakfast and washed the dishes and did nothing till three o'clock. Elias went to Crystal Lake after Jule's coffin.

Dec 25
Got up early and got the work done and the turkey in the oven and then went to Jule's funeral. Had a miserable sermon but a full house. He was buried in the Patterson place beside his mother. Found McComber's folks here when we got back. Got dinner as quick as we could. Edwin's folks,  Uncle Johnson, Lydia, Jo, Em and all hands were here.

Dec 26
All hands started home as soon as possible in the morning for the snow was melting so fast. They were afraid of losing the sleighing. It turned cold about noon and froze everything solid. I was left alone with lots of dishes to wash and the house to put in order. Mother was called out in the night to Mrs Stroop and did not get back until afternoon [Mrs Stroop's son was captured and imprisoned].

Last night received a photograph of four soldiers—Lester's and John Southworth and two strangers, no names attached.

(Photo of two soldiers, courtesy of The Library of Congress)

*   *   *
Life was not easy for those who lived 150 years ago and I feel blessed that we do not have to endure some of what they did. It really gives one pause to think of how so many families survived the hardships of this terrible time and yet still managed to celebrate Christmas together in whatever way they could, reaching out and helping each other through the difficulties. I hope all of you are lucky enough to have family around you this time of year and if you know someome who does not, think about inviting them to share your celebration. 
As if the above was not depressing enough, LOL, it looks like there will be no snow here in Chicago for Christmas this year - so, if you're like me and love the stuff,  try to have yourself

A very Merry Christmas anyway!


Thursday, December 15, 2011

My Sentimental Christmas Tree

I love Christmas trees and I admire all of the nicely decorated ones in magazines. Wouldn't it be fun to have a blue-themed tree one year and a silver and gold the next? Glass ornaments and silver ribbons would NEVER have worked in my house, with my kids and dogs. I love decorating our non-fancy sentimental Christmas tree and every year when we unwrap the ornaments and pull them out of the boxes it's a little like getting a pre-Christmas gift. We have a multitude of cute ornaments and throughout the rest of the year I forget some of them and then am always surprised and happy to see them again. You can almost read our little family history here -

Ornaments made by friends bring back special memories. The other one was from my son's first year at preschool. The teacher helped the kids write whatever they wanted on an ornament - "I love my Mom" - Awwww.

An English cottage to remember the time I went to England.

Of course a few Barbie ornaments to remind me of all of those special "Barbie" Christmases growing up.

Another one made by a friend. And of course a doggy dish.

My daughter's penchant for shoes . . .  (Shhhh - don't tell - there's actually a real pair of red ones under the tree as we speak . . . )

Remembering the years my son and daughter played sports . . .

The year my son was into dinosaurs . . .

The Christmas after Sept 11 . . . Also the year we got one of our pups after losing one.

A little log cabin for the year Prairie Children & Their Quilts was published . . . (Thanks, Ingrid!)

My husband made this snowflake ornament himself from paper using a technique known as "quilling."

Quilling was a popular art form a few years ago that involved rolling tiny strips of paper into filigree shapes. It was a hobby of his mother's (and his father too) and here's a not-very-well-known fact for you. In the 1970s my mother-in-law Doris Tracy and her business partner started a craft business selling Christmas tree ornaments and kits to make them and then in 1974 went on to publish a book about quilling - Quilling: Paper Art for Everyone. I still see it online and on some paper quilling sites. This was waaay before I met him and we both find it amusing that his mother authored a book on QUILLING and the woman he eventually married went on to author 4 books on QUILTING. Doris passed away 3 years ago but her legacy resides on our tree every year, along with a whole lot of other special Christimas memories. Every ornament tells a story.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Peppermints and Pinwheels

A favorite treat I only indulge in at the holidays is peppermint bark candy. I'm sure there are places you can buy it all year long but, trust me, it's a good thing  that I don't see it much at other times of the year. I recently bought some Ghiradelli Peppermint Bark and when it was finished decided maybe I'd look into a recipe to make my own. How hard could it be? There are all sorts of recipes if you do a search, and you can certainly take your pick, but basically it's layers of dark chocolate, white chocolate and crushed peppermint candy cut into squares. Very simple.

First, melt some dark chocolate chips (or use better quality chocolate if you care to) in the microwave in a glass bowl. Stir after about 30-40 seconds and again if needed. If you have a moderately powerful microwave, don't let it go for too long or the chocolate will burn and you'll have to trash that batch and start over. Ask me how I know. When it's all  melted, pour into a small square baking dish lined with wax paper up the sides. Smooth the chocolate with a spatula. Place in freezer for 20 minutes. Crush the peppermints or candy canes. Then, melt the white chocolate and smooth it over the hardened layer of dark chocolate. Top the soft chocolate with the crushed candy, pressing it into the layer a bit. Place in freezer for another 10 minutes. When it hardens, lift the wax paper out of the dish and break into pieces or let it soften a little and then cut with a knife into squares. Yum!

Don't ask why the plate is not full  : )  If you've ever had peppermint bark, you already know. Besides, someone had to eat the pieces that were all broken up. Clearly I'll have to make more before Santa gets here.

This got me started on a peppermint kick so yesterday, after I finished making the candy, I took out some red and light prints and made a few pinwheels. I know you all are still going crazy over red and white quilts after seeing and hearing about that exhibit in NYC. I don't have very many red and white quilts myself and it was time to do something about that. I didn't know where I was going with it but then sat down at the computer with EQ and designed a little quilt around the blocks I'd made. Turned out very "sweet"   if I say so myself.

And - it's for YOU!  Here's the free pattern you can download as a .pdf file. There's not a lot of time before the holidays get here I know but it's very simple so you can still probably get it done before Christmas if you have a little time and you're so inclined. Me? I'm also going to try to make it but I'm still trying to finish the  little runner I began last year . . .  .

Most of you probably have your own favorite method for making half-square triangles for the Pinwheel blocks, but if you're new to quilting and find that sewing triangles makes your blocks a little wonky, here's how I make mine.

I layer my two squares, right sides together. Draw a diagonal line across the back of the lighter square. I use this nifty Quick Quarter ruler I found years ago that makes the sewing lines visible because I'm just not that good at eyeballing it.

Chain piece your layered squares and you can whip them out pretty fast.

This is a tip I recently picked up for making your half-square triangle units even better.  After you sew 1/4 inch away from the diagonal line on each side of the layered squares, PRESS the units open before you cut.  The fabric does not stretch as much and your half-square triangles will not turn out wonky but perfect because the bias edges are stabilized.

Flip and press the other side, then cut on the drawn line. Works like magic.

It's still early and, since most of the pieces are cut and the triangles sewn, maybe I WILL finish it before Christmas . . .