East Dakota Quilter


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Sampler Quilt Progress

The official verdict is that a quilt is not properly called a Dear Jane quilt if it uses my method. Some creative license is permitted, so I won’t attempt to define what does qualify as a Dear Jane, but my design does not. Thanks to a recent trip to the Madison Quilt Expo, however, I figured out the appropriate classification for my quilt: a Sampler Quilt. This seems especially appropriate given my decision to quilt-as-I-go.

Most of the colored pieces for the front of my Sampler Quilt are cut. The exceptions are some square-in-square pieces and other oddballs. I pinned some tips in Pinterest and will get around to them when I have more patience. For now, I’m too excited to get started to do any more math!

The white pieces still need to be cut, but there are SO MANY of them! I don’t really like cutting, and I definitely get bored with the sewing. I like quilting because I love the designing part and then seeing how the pieces and colors come together. (I have about three other quilts designed right now and am in various stages of purchase for those projects.) Since I don’t have time to commute home between work hours and a late-night video conference tonight, I decided to do some “quilting” from the office. It consisted of listing out all the white pieces I need to cut and breaking them into size categories. Compulsive organization? Maybe. I have several dozen spreadsheets or printouts for any given project.

Since I will have a visitor over the weekend, I doubt I’ll have much progress to show next week. My attentions are also being diverted into a handful of other projects. I can’t believe how long I’ve already been working on this one! …especially given how little I have accomplished. No matter. It’s the process that is the fun part, anyway.

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Quilt Expo – Madison, Wisconsin

A month or so ago, I received a spam message in my work inbox that was forwarded from a legal organization I belong to. The solicitation related to a quilt expo in Madison, Wisconsin. It’s probably the only spam message I’ve ever appreciated.

I thought about the message for a long time. Given how short a time I’ve been making quilts and the limit of my skill so far, it seemed like a bit of a stretch that I’d need to attend a quilt expo to get ideas. Not to mention the fact that I just started a project that could easily take me 10 years to complete. I discarded all these arguments because Madison sounded like a really nice city to visit for a quick overnight trip. Entrance wasn’t expensive, and since I work in the suburbs an hour and a half from my Chicago apartment, I reasoned I’d already be almost halfway if I left from the office Friday afternoon. I really just wanted to see what colors and patterns other people use–beyond an internet search, which has been my only experience so far–and this seemed like a fun opportunity to do so.

I felt a little out of sorts when I arrived. Everyone else came with at least one other person. I didn’t know where to begin, and I didn’t have an expert with me to consult (or even someone whose presence would force me to pretend I knew what I was doing). Luckily, the quilt contest exhibit was right by the front entrance. I decided to start there.

WOW! I saw hand quilting, machine quilting, appliqué–you name it! And these weren’t lazy quilters like I am. My favorite was a quilt that won third place in its category, Dreaming in Color by Dorinda Evans of Madison, Wisconsin:

I also loved this border on a quilt called Tangerine Rose by Lynn Droege of Overland Park, Kansas:

This quilt (Geisha Fans by Barbara Fuller of Baraboo, Wisconsin) mixed quarter Dresden blocks with normal, square blocks, which I thought was interesting:

This quilt, Chicken Soup by Sheila Hixon of Lakewood, Wisconsin, made me laugh more loudly than was appropriate at the expo:

Another of my favorites was an embroidered-block quilt called Barns of Wisconsin by Sue Brooks of North Freedom, Wisconsin:

Here are some close-ups of the detail in her quilt:

I bought some embroidery patterns from a vendor that are in a similar style. My plan is to review the templates and use them as a stylistic framework to create my own patterns of barns and farmhouses that were part of my childhood. This was based on the success of my first-ever embroidery project, which I began in my hotel room the night before the expo. When could someone ever be more excited about quilting than the night before a quilt expo?! But I didn’t want to lug my sewing machine with me, so I needed a more mobile project that would expend my extra creative energy. There’s a block of my newest quilt that had a letter “B” on the layout I drew. I figured if I gave the quilt as a gift, that would be a great place to embroider the couple’s name, and since my boyfriend’s last name starts with B and most of his siblings are unmarried, they seemed like likely candidates. Then I got more realistic and thought how hard it would be to part with a quilt after making dozens of personalized blocks. So I picked a pattern I liked for myself instead, Sarah Jane Studio‘s October–which matches the autumn theme of my quilt colors.

After I finished looking at the contest exhibit, I had just enough time for coffee before I went to Nancy Zieman’s class: Nancy’s 30 Favorite Sewing & Quilting Techniques. My mom learned how to sew by watching PBS’s Sewing with Nancy, so I had all the giddiness of someone about to meet a favorite celebrity.

And she was funny! Some of my favorite moments:

Nancy commented on the course title. She said, “Some of these tips are better than others. With 30, they won’t all be winners!”

Nancy said her favorite method of organizing projects is to roll the pieces of fabric into a large towel so they don’t get crease marks. An audience member jokingly asked, “How many towels do you have, Nancy?” Nancy responded, “Only *I* know that!”

At the end of the presentation, I even helped take down the quilt that was a backdrop for her presentation! That’s right: I touched a quilt Nancy sewed! Haha. She was gracious enough to take a photo with me before I left, too.

After class, I walked up and down the rows of stalls. I saw lots of cool things and eavesdropped on more than a handful of conversations. I overheard one lady say to her friend, “There’s a light-up quilt. I guess that’s the new thing this year.” I thought to myself, “Yikes! I don’t even know what the old thing is!”

I need to learn how to use wool and felted wool. There was lots of it, and it was so pretty!

My favorite booth was for a store called Primitive Gatherings. They had such a fantastically gorgeous selection of fabrics. When I walked past on the way to Nancy’s class, I stopped a few seconds to grab a business card (well, slip of paper) and drink in the colors. Afterward, I was surprised there was a line just to get into the booth! A lady walking by said, “That makes sense. It’s all in the name.” Apparently, this place is famous. I bought a bunch of fabrics for the back side of my Dear Jane quilt. Since I’m thinking of doing quilt-as-you-go, I could make each square a different fabric. They’re so pretty, maybe I’ll even use that side as the front!

I was disappointed when the $60 I spent didn’t get me one of their printed bags. This is actually very stupid. I mean, I have a ton of printed bags. I usually avoid getting more because I don’t want to store them. But the salesperson told another woman she had to carry the bag with the logo out, and then I unconsciously waited for him to tell me the same thing when I made my purchase. (I was browsing when the other woman checked out.) No luck! Like I said, I shouldn’t have been disappointed because I don’t really need another bag. And with as popular as they are, it would’ve been impractical for them to print bags for every customer, regardless how little each spent. I get it.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos of the booth itself. I asked if I could take a photo and was told I couldn’t. But it was the absolute nicest way to be turned down. The salesguy looked a little uncomfortable when I asked, frowned a little. “It’s okay if I can’t,” I said. “I understand you’d want to protect your brand image.” He looked relieved. “Sorry,” he said. “Boss’ orders.” He could’ve just said no. Instead, he looked like he wanted to say yes and was struggling because he couldn’t. I don’t care if he was the boss and it was his own decision, it was nice of him to humor me like that! And I really can’t fault anyone for wanting to control their own branding. What I do have a photo of is the fabric I purchased from them:

Shopped out, I went to the extension part of the quilt exhibit to look around. Again, the quilts were a lot more elaborate than anything I could (or would choose to) make with my old, very plain sewing machine. Here were some highlights:

Not A Farmer’s Wife by Carolyn Vogel

Goodnight Sweetheart by Jean Lohmar

I left fairly early. I was glad not to have to wait around for an expo partner and congratulated myself for having decided to go alone, after all.

The weather was fantastic. I thought about driving straight home, but I didn’t want to waste such beautiful daylight hours. Instead, I drove to the capitol building in Madison and sat outside on a bench, working at my embroidery piece:

I had a great day and am glad I went to the expo. In the end, I think the target audience is people who are much more into quilting and batik fabrics than I am, but it was still a nice way to see a wide variety of fabrics all at once. Would I consider going again? I really don’t know. But I couldn’t have asked for a better first quilt expo experience!


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Starting a Dear Jane Quilt

In April 2012, I got to go to Purl Soho in NYC, the store behind the Purl Bee blog. It was kind of bizarre seeing in-person the projects I had seen so meticulously photographed for the blog. Naturally, I treated myself to some fabrics. Since I was in the middle of a half dozen projects (most of them unrelated to crafts/sewing), I put the fabrics in the busted-up UPS box that serves as my sewing room. It’s pretty classy.

Now that I’ve finished most of my other projects, I’ve started thinking about what to do with the fabrics. I have two sets: my “citrus fabrics” and my “autumn fabrics.”

I love and am inspired by color, so of course I bought the fabrics before I had any idea how I would use them. I overbought for the bird quilt, so I decided to show more restraint in quantities when purchasing fabric from Purl Soho. The result is I have a half-yard each of the 7 autumn colors and two yards each of the citrus colors. Fabric. Fail.

What I needed was a way to stretch my fabric by supplementing with some kind of solid. So now I’ll do a variation on a Dear Jane quilt with my autumn fabrics, using a cream solid to tie the pieces together AND make the fancy fabric I bought go further.

Even reducing the number of pieces by roughly half wasn’t enough to complete the quilt, though. See, I planned for fat quarters of 18 x 22″. In hindsight, it’s obvious that the fat quarter dimensions don’t take into account selvage, crooked cutting or lazy ironing, etc. But it was a surprise when I first measured.

I used an old-school cut-and-paste method to ensure I’d have enough fabric for all my blocks. I had planned very carefully, but based on the optimistic measurements:

My first idea was to buy a coordinating fabric and make some of the blocks from it. I did this, got it home, and was disappointed how poorly it matched the other fabrics. Then – DUH – I checked the selvage to see who the designer was. I quickly identified the fabric as Robert Kaufman’s Quilter’s Linen line. Which appears not to be a fabric being sold anymore this season. Ugh! Fortunately, I did find a website with most of the colors I needed. I only had two fat quarters of each color to begin with. Now I have an additional half-yard of each, so I’m back to over-buying!

The best part of making quilts is the design planning. Below are sketches of the quilt blocks I plan to make. I used seven colored pencil colors that don’t really coincide with my fabrics but that are easy to distinguish on paper.

The original Dear Jane quilt was sewn by Jane A. Blakely Stickle, finished in 1863. There are whole groups of women called Janiacs who follow Jane Stickle’s original pattern. I knew nothing about Jane or her quilt when I conceived the idea for my quilt. I wanted to put together lots of different blocks for variety. I searched for Pinterest photos of quilts with different block designs. Other pinners had these posted on boards with names like “Dear Jane Quilt.”  Seemed pretty straightforward. I have heard of quilting bees where each person contributes a block toward a quilt, and I imagined a few of Jane’s cousins sewing quilt blocks (next to a warm hearth, of course) and mailing them to Jane for her project.

After reviewing the history of her quilt and searching for images of Dear Jane quilts online, I can no longer tell whether the only Dear Janes are those that follow her original design or whether each quilter has some creative license. I hate sewing circles and isosceles triangles, so I gave myself permission to omit those designs from my quilt. I won’t do Jane’s border or scalloped edges. And my squares will probably be 12”. With quilt blocks using grids of 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6, 12” blocks will be easier to calculate than 8” or 10” squares. So I just found quilt blocks I liked and decided to call my quilt a Dear Jane anyway. Probably half the squares are “farmer’s wife” blocks. Mis-named with great excitement, I can’t wait to get started sewing!

P.S. Please feel free to comment if you know whether Dear Jane quilts have to follow Jane’s original design.


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Farmhouse Baby Quilt

I loved having lots of cousins growing up, but, like most families, not all my cousins lived nearby.  My grandma moved to South Dakota from Michigan in 1956, so much of her family is still there (or at least not in South Dakota). My Great Aunt Andrea and Tolerable Uncle Henry, as he calls himself, did an amazing job of road tripping to visit us every few years. It’s for that reason alone that I am at least familiar with my cousins from that side of the family.

It was probably 4-5 years after I moved to Chicago that it dawned on me how easy it would be to visit family in Michigan. Until that point, I was amazed every time I learned some other city was within road trip distance. I decided to make an effort to visit more often. I attended a few weddings, went to the Greenfield Village Halloween event, and recently celebrated the pending births of the new generation of cousins. I stayed with a cousin I didn’t know well but whom I found is living the life I’ve planned for myself in a few years: farmhouse, a few animals, small acreage very near civilization. (In other words, not at all the hardworking farms from back home, but the fun kind.)

The baby shower gifts I gave were a product of work-related travel: gift cards–versus the baby blankets I wanted to make but didn’t have time to begin, much less complete, when I was away from home almost every weekend for several months. Of course, since planning the colors and design is the most fun part of making a project, I had already started gathering supplies. My favorites were for the cousin I stayed with. I’d selected various shades of blue and gray. I didn’t know the gender of the baby and hoped she’d be okay with blue even if she had a girl. Not that it’s a problem when you don’t complete a project. I was disappointed I’d put so much thought into a project that seemed like it would probably never be finished.

Then I stayed in her guest room, which was converted into a nursery shortly after I left. It’s blue. And the hourglass pattern I selected seemed to fit the beautifully renovated farmhouse perfectly. So I decided to finish the baby blanket as a hostess gift. You can find the sites that inspired me here (Purl Bee) and here (Diary of a Quilter). My project:

A word on pressing: I found the layers started getting thick, which resulted in my thread breaking repeatedly. A friend told me it’s a good idea to press the edges to one side instead of pressing seams open because it strengthens the quilt and makes it last longer. I continued to press edges to one side, but I pressed the edges for each piece to a different side:

And a word on binding: I followed the Purl Bee’s tutorial for the most part. However, I find that corners can be a little difficult. I have a tough time sewing to ¼ inch, even if I use a marker to show where I should stop sewing. I’ve been marking the spot instead with a pin, sewing right up to it and then reversing the machine, and that works well for me.

And here is the finished product:

By the way, it’s a girl!