Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Skill Building

There's always so much to learn. As a quilt designer and author of a few quilting books, I often feel that I'm expected to have excellent skills in EVERY area of quilting and to know how to navigate every technique really well. Here's the truth -  I'm just like you. I'm not a perfect quilter, I'm a work in progress. I've made some very pretty quilts but I still struggle with the same things many of you struggle with - I'm good at some things and awful at others. I don't always have the time to perfect every technique I attempt without a lot of practice.  Honestly though, I  really want to become better at some of those things. Finding time to do everything is what I struggle with the most.
So, every now and then I decide to take it upon myself to pick something I'm really bad at and work on becoming a little more competent at it. Build those skills. Lately, it's paper piecing, or foundation paper piecing as it's called. I resisted it for years thinking - yuck! - it's just too much trouble, fussing with that paper and flipping it all around, etc. Way too much work. Years ago, I had to learn because I wanted to make a small Crazy Quilt for my first book. That one was pretty easy to make. Mostly, though, I hated doing it. Every time I tried I made mistakes and so stopped trying for years.
 I bought books. Not even the good ones helped me.
I decided it was me -  I just wasn't that good at it and didn't like doing it enough to care. And, since I didn't need it for the quilts I liked to make, who cared if I knew how to do it well? I didn't.
Until Dear Jane came along, that is. Making some of the Dear Jane blocks was the real motivating factor to learn paper piecing. There are too many blocks with too many tiny pieces not to use paper piecing on them. For the past couple of weeks I've been trying to knock off a few more blocks. I decided I really have to try to finish the quilt before I die . . . . A bunch of blocks sitting in a box isn't going to thrill anyone after I'm gone, despite all the hard work that went into each and every one of them.  What if they get tossed away or something?
Look at how tiny some of these pieces are!
But they all came together nicely. With a little time and a lot of patience I'm learning I can conquer almost anything.
So I bit the bullet and decided it was now or never. I broke down and gave up avoiding it. I knew I needed to learn this skill if I was going to commit to finishing the quilt. This time, though, instead of trying to learn from a book (or a bad video; I tried lots of those) I sat down and watched a great video. I tried it again and what do you know - this time it clicked and it all suddenly became easier. Maybe it was just the right time. Or, maybe I just needed a little self-encouragement and patience on my part and the right tools. Here's the video that I hope will help you too if you struggle with this technique.  Don't be too hard on yourself if you've tried it before. Have patience and you'll succeed.
This pad of tracing paper I bought at the drugstore works well for me.
The other indispensible tools. Flat head pins, an index card. The ruler is standing in for the recommended add a quarter inch ruler. I'll have to look for that soon. This one works for now.

I started by making a few simple blocks so I could get the technique down. They didn't turn out half bad, if I say so myself. I haven't figured out what's different this time or why it seems to be going a lot easier.  I still can't say I love paper piecing but I can definitely tolerate it now. The best thing is - I gained a new skill and conquered my fear. And that's always worth the time and trouble.
Sometime in the near future I'll share with you how I conquered my fear of  applique (that nasty "A" word for so many of us).

I'm definitely getting better. Almost perfect Pretty good circles!


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Prairie Points Tutorial

Making  prairie points can be a fun way to add a little pizazz to your small quilt. This month, some in my Yahoo group are making this quilt from my book Remembering Adelia that features prairie points and although the instructions in the book are pretty good, I promised a tutorial to give you a closer look

Prairie points are folded fabric triangles that are often used to embellish the edge of a quilt. The ones I used in my quilt are called "nested" prairie points since each triangle nestles into the one next to it. And I added them in between the top and the border.

1.  First, cut an assortment of squares to fit the quilt you are making. (This quilt uses 3" x 3" squares. The number of squares you should cut depends upon the size of your quilt. See rest of directions in book for making them for this particular quilt.)

2.  To make a prairie point, fold a square in half diagonally and press to make a triangle. Fold the triangle in half again and press again. (Fold TWICE.)

Fold square in half

Fold again

Make a nice assortment of prairie points from your scraps.

3.  Since I already made this quilt, instead of making a whole quilt again for this tutorial, I sewed a few blocks together to show you how to do it. Pretend this is your quilt top  : )

4.  Place the raw edges of your prairie points along the raw edge of your quilt top and tuck each one into the fold of the one next to it. Pin the points in place and machine baste them to the top using a scant 1/4 inch seam. 

Notice how I lined up the edges of the points at the corners - they should not overlap.

5.  Choose fabric for your outer border and place it on top of the quilt top just as you would if you were adding a border to any quilt.

6.  Sew the border strips in place with the basted prairie points in the middle. 

7.  You can see how the prairie points are positioned between the 2 layers.

8.  Now, press the prairie points outward  - toward the border. You may need a little shot of steam or starch to make them lie flat.

Voila! There you have it. Layer your quilt with batting and backing. Finish with some quilting, add the binding and you have a sweet addition that really makes your quilt stand out.

Have fun making these! I'll have another quilt suggestion for next month's small quilt.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Easter's in the Air

Despite this season of joy, I'm feeling sad because:
1.  It was 28 degrees outside this morning. There's still snow on the ground and everything outside is still mostly brown. What if winter lasts ALL year???
2.  My kids are all but grown up now and I used to love making Easter crafts and sharing traditions with them. I taught Sunday School for years and working with children (and jelly beans) around this time of the year (and, yes, making it all relevant to the season, not an easy task) gave me a lot of joy. My youngest is 20 now and several years ago she lost all desire to color Easter eggs with me. : (  But I still color the eggs all by myself anyway and will probably continue that tradition, just as my mom did.
Shhh - the real reason I color eggs? Tradition, schmadition. I just love eating egg salad sandwiches for days . . . .
We do have another favorite Easter tradition in our family, however,  and that's the Annual Tracy Family Easter Basket Treasure Hunt. Every year my husband hides the Easter baskets that I make for the kids and then sends them on a hunt for them  with wonderfully creative and amusing clues. One year the clues were all in Spanish - the year my son began learning Spanish in the sixth grade. (That one took forever, let me tell you. He didn't think it was funny but we found it hilarious.)  The next  year's clues for him involved NBA stats, I think; much easier.  And now he's mostly fluent in Spanish and teaches in a bilingual classroom. So the joke was on us I guess.
My daughter, the incredible speller and "vocabularist" (darn, that's not a real word but it should be), always got clues with BIG words even she had to look up, LOL. Or clues containing French words. Sounds like torture, I know, but, hey, they get candy in the end so what's the harm? Très fun! I often think this is actually much more fun for my husband and a real creative outlet for him so I  like to encourage it. Even though the "children" are 20 and 25, they really don't want to stop this tradition any more than I do. It's still fun to watch them race through the house like little kids, looking for their baskets full of jelly beans and chocolate bunnies and toys gift cards. Hmmm, I wonder what would happen if I made this Easter basket hunt contingent upon coloring eggs with me the night before?
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Creating something always perks me up and brings me joy. I found this great tutorial for making pretty fabric Easter eggs and I mean to try making some today. I'll let you know how they turn out. It looks pretty easy.

Fabric Easter egg tutorial by Retro Mama
Easter,  the season of rebirth and renewal. 
The message is all about Hope, Love and Joyful living. 
 Have a good week and a blessed Easter holiday.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Lovely Quilted Baskets

A tisket, a tasket, some lovely quilted baskets. That's what I found in my mailbox this past weekend. What a wonderful surprise!

A few months ago, I posted this picture of an antique basket quilt on my Facebook page. It was from an Etsy listing.
Marian, my blogging friend from Australia, also saw the quilt and fell in love with it too. However, I didn't love it enough to spend whatever the seller was asking. Marian did and she decided to splurge and buy it for herself. She e-mailed to tell me this and to make sure she wasn't sweeping it up before I had a chance to buy it myself. I thought about it and then quickly decided no, my daughter needed textbooks this semester much more than I needed that quilt. (Oh, the many sacrifices of motherhood!) I made sure Marian agreed to take good care of it and asked her to send me photos now and then. It felt good knowing that this beautiful quilt had a good home.

Antique basket quilt ca1880s

The quilt seems to be doing okay living with Marian. . . .
But the story continues and I think my story may inspire some of you who need a kick in the butt to begin fulfilling some of your own dreams. Not too long ago I was in a reflective mood, thinking about my quilting journey and the career path it led me to pursue and wondering where it would take me next. Ten years ago this past February I had just finished the manuscript for my first book, American Doll Quilts.  Martingale & Co. liked it and published it in 2004. You can imagine what a thrill this was for me, a novice quilter, and so, yes, I decided to mention the occasion on my Facebook page and also mention how grateful I was for the support of all of my fans. When Marian saw my FB post about celebrating my 10th anniversary, she decided to do something nice. She made me my very own basket quilt (that looks VERY similar to her lovely quilt) to help me commemorate this event. Can you believe it? How lucky am I to be surrounded by such generous and loving quilters? Turns out that American Doll Quilts was the book that got her started making little quilts and so I guess she was feeling nostalgic too.

Emma Jane now has a quilt for her cute little bed.
 (Emma Jane was made by Victor Brandt and gifted to me several years ago after some of his Gail Wilson dolls were included in my second book, Prairie Children & Their Quilts.)

Thank you, Marian. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
(E-mail me if you want to buy a bed just like this one to display your little quilts.)

This was the first quilt I made for that book and I still love it today. 

I will always be very grateful that I took a chance on myself and decided to jump in and attempt to do this "book thing" despite all the odds. It meant changing my part-time career from a freelance college textbook editor (after quitting my full-time job and deciding to work at home while my kids were young) to a full-time quilter. And a beginning quilter at that. What were the chances? So many people I knew "tsked tsked" at this - it was a huge risk to start a new career (and a small business) and there was a good chance of failure. What then? My husband supported me and my efforts 100 percent though and that's all I needed.

Inspired by my young daughter to make small quilts for her dolls, I was soon motivated to learn about children's quilts from the past and women's quilting history. And I felt compelled to share it with all of you. Because of my children and their fascination with American history as they were learning it, I became inspired to incorporate some of that into my quilt patterns and books. Many of you fell in love with my creations and ideas. So I've stuck with it.  The fact that I've continued to do this for 10 years, well . . . that's definitely something I need to celebrate. Thank you for all of your support over the years. And here's to ten more (if I'm lucky).

American Doll Quilts is sort of out of print now but there are still lots of copies floating around. I have a few used, signed copies (in good condition) available here, on my website or you can probably get a used (but not signed, if it matters) copy on Amazon.com. If you don't make small quilts yet, it may be just what you need to get started on your journey.

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If you didn't see this item on my Facebook page the other day, read about the famous Rose Percy doll and her fascinating life and career here

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

No Time for Quilting

You know that feeling of despair that comes over you when you think you'll never find a really good book to read, ever again? That you've probably read all the good ones? You try a few that have been suggested but nothing seems to cut it, no good fits. For months, there's been a stack of books sitting on my bedside table I've been meaning to read. Now and then I tried a few and always just put them down, unfinished. Read a few that were just okay. Went to the library for a few more, but ended up not reading more than a few pages of each one. Nothing grabbed me or moved me. So I stopped reading fiction for awhile and then went into literary withdrawal.
I can't go without reading for very long. If quilting is my life, then reading is my Other Life. I'm picky about my books and choosing which ones I want to spend time reading is very personal. Knowing this, I hardly ever suggest books to others and rarely enjoy books that others recommend.  I usually feel terrible when someone suggests a book and I try it but don't really like it and can't finish it.  Even if it's a best seller that everyone else loves, I'm probably not going to like it.  In order to truly love a book, I have to fall in love with the characters and be open to the story, you know? Recently,  I fell in love with what some have called a totally unlikable character. And I needed to tell someone. Hey, I know. I have a blog!
I don't know what I was doing in 2008 when Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout was published, or in 2009 when the author was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for literature, but I somehow missed it. Late to the party again. The other day I was feeling too lazy to drive over to the bookstore so I borrowed Olive Kitteridge as a digital e-book from the library simply because it was available. What a wonderful surprise. I loved it so much that now I have to go out and buy it for my bookshelf. This book just blew me away with it's beautiful, subtle prose and wonderfully human characters. You know that feeling of excitement you get when you've finally found a book that you love and now you get to go back and read everything else the author has written? Elizabeth Strout, my new favorite author. After I finished it, I stayed awake for hours, savoring the fictional town of Crosby, Maine, and its inhabitants. The characters wouldn't leave me. HBO is filming a mini-series on Olive, which will be released later this year, starring Frances McDormand.
Late last night, after I finished the book, on a whim, I checked the library again and was happy to see that her newest book - The Burgess Boys -  was available. Oh, my goodness. I know what I'll be doing for the next few days . . . . No time to quilt. I'll be in Crosby, Maine. And then I'll probably have to go out and buy that one too.