Friday, May 29, 2020

Sewing by Hand

Do you do much hand sewing? In between trying to finish up some Dear Jane triangles (by machine), I'm working on hand quilting a few small quilts. There's quite a backlog. It's very enjoyable for me and even though the quilts are small, the going is slow. As I was sewing yesterday,  I was reminded of the exhibit on Civil War dresses I saw a few summers ago. When I pick up my needle, I cannot help but think about the amount of hand sewing that went on during that era. How in the world did they do so much of it? 

Many of the dresses that were on display were sewn with exquisite stitches. By HAND. Including the fancy trim, piping, pleating.

By the mid-nineteenth century, some households had treadle sewing machines, but not all families could afford one. In my book Remembering Adelia, Adelia Thomas noted in her 1861 diary that her family was lucky enough to have a treadle machine. At times. some of the local women would come over for the day to sew on it. 

*   *   *

Here are a few more entries from Adelia's diary -

July 29, 1861

The anniversary of my nineteenth birthday! Worked all the day till three o'clock then sewed on my basque—seems as though I should never get it done. 

[Note: A basque was a form-fitting jacket or bodice perhaps worn over a hoop skirt. Some references I found say it was a corset. Imagine having to make your own corset!]

Aug 5, 1861

Emma's seventeenth birthday. Anna and I did quite a large washing. Mother helped to wash the colored clothes. Cut the little girls some purple calico dresses.

 Aug 8, 1861

Washed three calico dresses for myself and one for Em. Got dinner and after the work was done sewed on some embroidery. Finished the girls' dresses and cut out two night dresses for Mother and myself.

Aug 20

Sewed on Mother's dress. 

Aug 24

Slept until eight o'clock then sewed on Mother's dress and almost finished it.

You can see that sewing was pretty much a daily chore among all the other household chores that needed to be finished. My goodness. How lucky we are today. The little bit of hand sewing I do is so pleasurable. I would be very stressed if I had to make clothes for myself and the family too - wouldn't you?

Remembering Adelia has always been a special book to me and it is now out of print.  You can still find copies in some places but the prices are usually ridiculous. You can purchase an e-book version here from my publisher.

During earlier centuries, some women earned their keep by sewing and did piecework for a living. There were few work options for women in general and poor or widowed women took on needlework, millinery, dressmaking or shirtmaking in order to earn ridiculously low wages. 

Here's a poem I ran across written in honor of Mrs Biddell, a poor widow and seamstress living in England under wretched conditions - 

With fingers weary and worn,
With eyelids heavy and red,
A woman sat in unwomanly rags,
Plying her needle and thread -

Stitch! stitch! stitch!
In poverty, hunger and dirt,
And still with a voice of dolorous pitch
She sang the "Song of the Shirt."

The Song of the Shirt  by Thomas Hood, 1843

Thank goodness for the advent of the sewing machine is all I can say . . . . And the fact that my husband sewed a button on his own shirt last week. Gives me more time to enjoy my hand sewing.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Friday, May 22, 2020

Keeping Busy

I'm a little late in posting this, but  - we're done! The final clue was given for the 2020 Mystery Quilt earlier this month.

The borders were added, applique finished and I hope to hand quilt it when I have time. It's definitely a different look for me and I had fun trying something new and putting it all together. The applique was easy and very relaxing.  

This is the fourth Mystery Quilt I've designed for my groups.  The monthly patterns will remain in the group files and up on my website (under Mystery Quilt) until the end of the year so if you didn't choose to participate in January - May, you can still download the patterns until then. I hope you had a little fun making the blocks every month.


The challenge quilt for this month in my groups is to make the pink and brown Shoo Fly doll quilt from my book The Civil War Sewing Circle. You can make it in any colors you like.


I've been keeping busy with a few larger projects and have also recently gotten back to making triangles for my Dear Jane quilt. They're not especially difficult if you use the DJ software and print out the paper piecing patterns. They just take me a long time. 

Antique-looking samplers are fun quilts and even though I don't always have time to work on this one as much as I'd like, it's still something I find I can pick up in between other projects. I'm trying to focus on it a little more now while staying home so hopefully there will be some progress made. 

I still really love this quilt and the stories surrounding it  -  Jane Stickle made or finished her unique sampler quilt comprised of 225 blocks and triangles in 1863 during one of the the most turbulent times in American history, the Civil War. The assumption is that this was a project that gave her a creative outlet and something to focus on during the time the war was raging. Here's an article about Jane's quilt that I think some of you will find interesting. 

I have to say I've learned a lot from working on this quilt over the past 10 years (!). Most importantly, patience and persistence. I think you have to have seen some of these finished "Jane" quilts in person or the original quilt in order to be truly inspired to make one yourself. Pictures don't do it justice.  I'm awfully glad I took the challenge back in 2010 and then stuck with it. And also glad that I was lucky enough to see the quilt up close on display at the Bennington Museum a few years ago. An unforgettable experience for a quilter in love with antique quilts.

I think what I have the most fun with is picking through all of my fabrics - some old, some new - to make the blocks. This quilt will be like a catalog of some of my favorite reproduction prints. I'm still working on putting all of my blocks together with the sashing. My goal for the rest of this year.

I have promises to keep. And miles to go before I sleep . . . .

Have a good weekend, all! I received a photo of the cover for my new book, which should be coming out in October. I'm waiting to show you until it's posted on Amazon or the Martingale website with a little more info. Soon! I know you're going to love it. I will keep you posted. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Staying Home

You too, I hope? Nothing much going on here. I make face masks. We walk the dog sometimes. I've been doing a lot of healthy cooking. This means I need fresh food. As often as I can, I try to get my groceries delivered so I can avoid shopping.  For awhile now, many of the stores around here have not had any available delivery times. You load up an online cart and you can't get a delivery date. Or you get one 10 days away and by the time it comes around they've run out of everything on the list. Frustrating. This morning I logged into Amazon just to check and what do you know - Whole Foods came through - Yay! We have a store near us and they had a delivery opening for today. Who ever thought I'd be so excited about getting my groceries delivered?? Put a smile on my face too. 

Weekend before last I was organizing my fabric and sewing room and finally said "Enough of this - I really feel like like just playing around with my scraps and making a little something."  And so I asked my Facebook group if they wanted to join me in a sew along to make a small project.

First, we made some four patches using 1 1/2" scrap squares -

Then we added a little quarter-square triangle block to the pile -



Sew the blocks in strips. Next, add sashing between the strips - 

Sew on some borders and Voila! A cute little mini made in a weekend. I've always loved this reproduction brown fabric left over from one of my larger quilts and it was fun to use it again. Makes it look like a little antique doll quilt.

You can find the pattern in the Facebook group files. I called it the 2020 Stay at Home and Sew Mystery Doll Quilt.

I made a few tops this year but can't seem to actually finish any of them. I'm feel like I'm more in the making mode than the finishing mode.

These are all free patterns in the Facebook group files.

 Right now I'm finishing up the pattern for the final installment of the 2020 Mystery quilt. This is as far as we've gotten. It snowed a bit here a few weeks ago.

Over the weekend I was working on the applique for the border, which is the next step, and realized I forgot to make a second heart. The hearts, plus all of those little 3" blocks you made earlier, will be combined with some additional applique to make the border.

If you're participating in this Mystery, stop by the FB group files or visit my website on Friday, May 1, to get the last pattern and see how everything comes together. The applique part for the border is really cute. I hadn't done any applique for awhile so it was nice to take some quiet time and do some hand sewing. I always show up for deadlines, hah! Maybe I need to put "Quilt those little quilts" on my calendar (with a reminder) in the coming weeks. Mostly, I am anxious to finish the Mystery quilt so I can get back to making some quilts I started last year before I got sidetracked working on the new book. Which is still supposed to come out in the fall. I just finished editing the page proofs and it is looking fantastic. I'll be excited to show you more in a few months. 

Aside from getting some sewing done, the other good thing about staying home is I've gotten quite a bit of reading done. This book was one of my favorites. I had read Setterfield's book Once Upon a River last year and liked that. I also read three more Ann Patchett books, Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout and a couple of pretty mediocre mysteries when my attention span was sorely lacking. 

I hope all of you out there are doing well. Stay safe and healthy! 

Friday, February 21, 2020

Creative Decisions

Here's what I know: Quilters are creative people. Creative people are open to inspiration. Inspiration is all around us. We're always making creative decisions whether we know it or not.

Playing with fabric is inspiring. What should I make?? Decisions, decisions.

At times, most of us get overwhelmed by all these ideas that are swimming through our heads. We start something but pretty soon another idea pops up. We become distracted and move on to work on something else. I think this is pretty typical for many of us. With all of the inspiration available, who wouldn't want to create some of the beautiful things we see in patterns and books, quilt shops or on Instagram, Pinterest or other people's blogs?

But, when you lose interest or stop working on a project, ask yourself:  is it because you hate doing a particular task in order to complete it - like applique, quilting or binding? Or, did you lose interest because you don't really care for the project anymore?  This will blow your mind, but - I think it's actually okay if you do NOT finish something. I do this with books all the time (not finish reading them). I used to feel compelled to finish reading a book I started even if I wasn't sure I liked it. Persevere. Now, I don't waste my time on something I consider mediocre. Too many other good books to read.

(This book was one of my recent favorites. Got me started reading all of Ann Patchett's books.)

But, anyway, there will always be projects on hold that we come back to. For me, it's my Dear Jane. Yes, I always have many other things to work on and so it often gets pushed aside for a time. But I know I will always go back to it because I love it too much. Perhaps some of your projects are like this?

Here's that radical thought again: Not every project you start needs to be finished. Sometimes, I think projects come into our lives to inspire us to get sewing again if we've been feeling stuck or blah. A new project can be refreshing. Dwelling on all of the unfinished ones lying around only serves to make you feel guilty over something you started but didn't finish. That can be a heavy burden to carry around and a real drag on your creativity. Can you pass along an unfinished project to someone else who might be happy to finish something new (to her)? Maybe it's already served it's purpose for you.

This quilt is just a little off . . . . I have a feeling I probably won't ever finish it. I'm not crazy about the fabrics I used and I don't really care enough to spend the time. So, it will probably go in the "Eh" drawer of UFOs. Poof! It's already there. 

Occasionally, I sort through my projects and pull out the ones I really, really want to finish. Then I put the ones I'm not sure about or can't make a decision about yet in a drawer. If I can, I try to make a decision about the ones I haven't worked on for a long time and know I will probably never finish. Getting rid of the guilt over not finishing is kind of freeing. Try it.

Next time I'll show you some of the quilts I'm really really anxious to finish. I thought it would be this year but who knows. Working on a big project like a book takes up so much time and space in my brain that I just don't seem to get a lot of other stuff done. Especially around-the-home stuff. Right now we have bathroom issues from a roof leak last year. The roof was replaced but the damage to the bathroom wasn't fixed because I had no time to deal with it while I was working with deadlines. So fixing (and updating!) that room is what's on my plate right now.

Decisions, decisions.  My husband said: "I think I like the bluish ones best." Me, Blue Girl: "Oh, okay. If you say so." LOL 

And the winner is . . . Blue! But you already knew that.

Then there's that other bathroom that also needs work . . . . And now the rest of the house is looking a little sad and needs to be painted/updated . . . . It goes on and on. This stuff has taken a back seat to my work for way too long and now it's time to focus on doing some creative home stuff. Making some creative decisions about paint, de-cluttering and throwing out stuff.  This is creative too. Wish me luck!


Monday, February 3, 2020

Fun Little Things to Make in February

February always ends up being a busy but often creative month for me. The holiday crunch is over and I usually have more time so I get down to business. I often "think pink" around this time of year. Ever since the kids were little I loved decorating for Valentine's Day. It was always a very exciting time for school-age kids. "Secret" valentines, parties, candy, etc. Mine are all grown up now and so no more vinyl heart stickers on the windows but I still have fun displaying my pink or red quilts around the house and changing the wreath on the front door. Maybe getting a little chocolate . . . .

If you've been following my 2020 Mystery Quilt Sew Along you may have finished the blocks for January -

Well, we're moving right along. The blocks for February were posted a couple of day ago.

No photo description available.

These should keep you busy for awhile. You can find the patterns in my Facebook group files or on my website under the Mystery page. It's never too late to begin. If you haven't thought about starting the Mystery quilt yet, read more about it here.

If you're in the mood for more projects, join me in making some other things this month. My Facebook small quilt group also does monthly small quilt challenges. This month we're making a Valentine's Day themed quilt for the February Small Quilt Challenge.  Make a little quilt with a heart motif or make something using red or pink fabrics. The pattern is your choice but the file describing the challenge in our group files gives some suggestions. I hope some of you will join us. Here's the quilt I started and I really hope to get it quilted before too long. I designed it for the groups as a challenge idea a few years ago but never got around to making one of my own so this is the year. Just a simple four patch turned on point to make scrappy "hearts."

Perhaps there's a pattern you've always meant to make but never found the time? Maybe this is the year. Pick out some pretty fabric. Sew some squares or triangles together. Make something just for yourself. Put your heart into it.

Here are a few other suggestions. The Be My Little Valentine quilt from my book Small & Scrappy is a really easy project. 

My popular Vintage Valentine quilt that I designed last year is still available as a pattern on my website or in my Etsy shop. Many of you bought the kit from me and so perhaps that's another good idea.

This Little Sweethearts runner from a few years ago is also available as a pattern. I don't typically use novelty fabrics much but this one with all the little heart prints was fun and easy to make. Many of you bought this kit too so now may be the time to finally make it. 

Last year's February challenge pattern is also available in the online group files. 

As a little extra this month, I thought it might be fun to have a Valentine's Day pincushion challenge - make a sweet little pincushion with a Valentine's Day theme and post a picture in the group. These are usually really simple and fun and take hardly any time at all to complete. The fun part is always playing around with pretty red or pink fabrics. I know we could all use some little decorative things around the house for February so grab some of your scraps and make a little something. A few simple pinnies displayed in a bowl would be fun. We often get busy and always think we have so much to do but sometimes taking a little time for yourself to make something small and cute can be just what you need to perk you up in the winter. 

Making even a little something can motivate and energize you and just plain make you feel good. Or, here's a better idea - make a small gift for someone else.

"The best and most beautiful things in this world cannot be seen or even heard, but must be felt with the heart."   ~Helen Keller

Happy St. Valentine's Month!


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