East Dakota Quilter


DIY Wedding Projects… and Lessons Learned

Two weeks ago, I was married at a campground in Wisconsin.

During the planning stage, a close friend of mine, wedding-wise from having planned her own elegant wedding a few years ago, told me I should start by realistically determining how many projects I could complete before the big day, adding a buffer of a few weeks to address any last-minute issues. Then she said to cut that number of projects in half.

I felt like a total genius for deciding to focus on three big projects. Just three! That would be insanely easy, right?

Invitation by East Dakota Quilter

The wedding was perfect, but not because I was a wedding project rockstar. I finished one project the night before we left for the wedding. I finished another at the venue the day before the wedding. The third project got halved. And I had several tantrums moments of concern the week before the wedding, which my now-husband tolerated admirably.

working on projects during the drive

working on projects during the drive


What lessons did I learn from this?


1. I don’t like chain piecing or repetitive sewing.

I love finished projects with recurring patterns, but I hate sewing them. Unfortunately, Project Number One was a quilt with twenty identical blocks, and Project Number Two was bunting – 120 feet of identical little flags. It was hard to find the motivation to work on these projects each week.

I like how both projects turned out. They were responsible for almost all the color where our wedding reception and dinner were held. But BOY, did they take forever. And BOY, did I think I was going to vomit if I had to sew one more quilt block!

The quilt fabric was purchased years ago. It sat in a closet because I was afraid of making mistakes when I first started sewing. Lately, my push has been to use existing fabric instead of buying new. I thought a citrus-colored quilt would infuse color into the wedding while simultaneously using up my fabric stash. (This delighted my husband.) It also added a personal touch, representing that as a couple, we like to spend time quietly together at home, near each other but working on different projects.

Even cutting HSTs was an assembly line process

HST assembly line

HSTs by East Dakota Quilter

Wedding Quilt by East Dakota Quilter

I used the Midnight Garden quilt block. (You can get the free template here, although I did my own resizing).

Like my quilt, the bunting was intended to use up stash fabrics, although it didn’t work that way. The bunting size I chose was a fabric hog – I could only get three flags from each fat quarter (FQ) of fabric. I ended up buying lots of new FQs. One thing I think made the project look more professional was the cotton twill tape I used to connect the flags at the top. It was also easier than making a million yards of bias tape.

Bunting Assembly by East Dakota Quilter

Bunting in Progress by East Dakota Quilter


2. A project that might be fun on a small scale becomes a hassle when multiplied to wedding proportions.

One project I added along the way was paper pinwheels for the tables. Learning how to make my first pinwheel was fun! About 30 pinwheels in, I realized both that I wasn’t having fun anymore and that most people wouldn’t care whether I made a few hundred more. I recalled a fantastic post from the blog A Practical Wedding that said “backdrop over details.” The theory is that a backdrop will end up in hundreds of photos, whereas the detail items are viewed briefly by one or two people and then mostly forgotten. I kept the pinwheels I’d finished but scrapped the rest of the project.

Pinwheels by East Dakota Quilter


3. It’s okay to let some things go.

The pinwheels weren’t the only things I let go. Project Number Three was a set of pillow covers. I wanted to put pillows on the benches around the fire pit at the campground, which we used to host a welcome bonfire Friday night and where late-night revelers went the night of the wedding, post-dance.

There are a million sweet pillow cover patterns. I spent hours scouring the internet for patterns that would perfectly represent the vibe of the wedding we wanted.

In the end, I finished just three: one made with Heather Ross fabric because… well, Heather Ross (I made up the pattern); one with felt pigs to represent the hog roast dinner, for which we ordered our favorite Kansas City BBQ sauce (pig template here); and one with a bear, which sort of represents the groom’s surname.

Pillows by East Dakota Quilter

I scrapped a half dozen other patterns. But you know what? I got tons of compliments on the three I finished, and no one knew there were supposed to be more! My mom said one of the sweetest moments of the wedding for her was seeing a little boy asleep on one of the pillows next to the pavilion, worn out from too much dancing.


4. It’s okay to change course and prioritize new projects.

I was a bunting-sewing machine in the weeks leading up to the wedding. But I still decided to skip making bunting for the final side of the pavilion. It was just too much.

My friends and family did all the decorating. I wanted to be involved, but (surprise surprise) was too busy the day of the wedding. I envisioned the bunting facing outward, but friends decided it looked better facing the inside of the pavilion, where everyone would be except for about 2 minutes at the beginning of the event. Genius. They also decided that the side of the pavilion without bunting would be the side where we connected the food tent, which they protected with some of the extra vintage sheets I bought. The lack of bunting on one side of the pavilion looked intentional. A million thanks to the people who made such great executive decisions (and put in the elbow grease to make the venue look amazing).

Wedding Prep by East Dakota Quilter

Food Tent by East Dakota Quilter

Instead of those last 40’ of bunting, I decided to make a few extra flags to spell out “Just Married” for our sweetheart table. (That’s what you call a table that seats just the bride and groom instead of the whole wedding party.) The project was worth the effort. I’m so glad I made the push to finish that one.

Sweetheart Table by East Dakota Quilter

Once I had a “Just Married” bunting, I also wanted to dress up the sweetheart table in other ways. I thrifted a pair of wooden chairs and spray painted them yellow. (My husband, who worked construction before his present job, was appalled by the amount of overspray… but I covered every last nook and cranny!) I loved those chairs. We are storing them with the in-laws, but I can’t wait to be reunited and find a place for them in our next home.

Chairs by East Dakota Quilter


5. You can totally DJ your wedding with an iPod.

The project that probably garnered the most compliments wasn’t one where I made something decorative; it was the playlist for our wedding dance. I did a ton of research and have a few tips to share.

First, unless you have an intimate wedding in a smallish room, you’ll need an amplifier (amp) and speakers. Your computer won’t have enough output, and even most iPod or external computer speakers don’t have enough sound, particularly for outdoor spaces. I saw message boards advertising prices between $100 and $400. For our Wisconsin wedding, we got two sets of speakers for $240 plus a refunded security deposit. One set was placed at the ceremony site. The other was used for the dance. The guy who rented us the equipment helped us set it up and showed several people how to use it.

Next, music works great in sets. Each set should be 4- 6 songs (I did 5 to keep it simple) and last around 18 minutes (on average). Each set starts with a slow song. The next song is a little faster, and the one after that is even faster… and so on. The last song in the set is the fastest song and is a finale for the set. Then you start over with a slow song. A total of about 72 songs will last 4 hours, the typical amount of time for a wedding dance. (Most DJs charge more if you go over the 4-hour mark.)

Our very first dance was the Chicken Dance. I know not everyone likes it, but it was great to get kids on the dance floor right away. It also made it easier to get other people on the floor throughout the night because we’d already set the tone as a dancing wedding. I nixed the Hokey Pokey at the last minute but got several requests from four-year-olds later in the evening. If I had it to do over, I probably would have played that one, too, even though it’s not my personal favorite. The photo below is our father-daughter dance… a polka!

Polka by East Dakota Quilter

I made my playlist based largely on lists of the 100 most-requested songs at wedding dances found online (examples here and  here and here and here), with a polka to end most sets since both his and my side of the family like them. Many of the sets centered around a particular decade – the 1950s, the 1980s, etc. I found that while only the younger crowd would dance to newer music, almost everyone would dance to the older stuff. I’m glad I chose lots of “classic” music. I originally intended to make the last hour of the dance more modern dance/club music since older folks have usually departed by that point, but the oldest members of the family were still dancing! I made a few last-minute revisions to avoid driving them off. Tante Irene even did the two-step to Moves Like Jagger, one of the few modern songs we included!

Wedding Dance by East Dakota Quilter

My best advice for playlists is to include songs people can dance to. You’re not trying to impress people with your musical taste–you’re trying to get them to dance! To fit in some of our favorite songs as a couple, I played them while people were still eating. It made for some lively dinner music, but mostly it made people laugh.

Although people talk about DJing a wedding with an iPod, it’s usually done with a computer. I made playlists using iTunes—one each for the ceremony, the dinner/reception, and the dance. Include more songs than you need; it’s easier to delete a group of songs than to add new ones on the fly. Put one person in charge of the music and charge them with protecting the computer against impromptu changes from “helpful” guests. I didn’t have a huge issue until I made a change to the playlist myself, and then a few people thought they could do the same.

I wish I had also numbered my final playlist. Someone (probably me on accident) hit “shuffle,” then reorganized the songs by title toward the end of the dance. There was no way to revert to the original song order. I had to make a new, backup list of songs to avoid repeating songs that had already been played. It wasn’t a big deal but could easily have been avoided.

Obviously, be sure to have a backup (e.g. both a computer and an iPod, preferably linked to different iTunes accounts or different media players). Bring your power cord!!! If the event is outdoors, consider what you’re going to do in case of rain, e.g. we moved the computer to a table that was well under the pavilion.

At the end of the evening, my brand new husband told me, “This was the best day of my life.” It wasn’t because of the quilt or the pillows or the pinwheels or the playlist. Our focus the entire time was to spend time with family/friends and to create a place for people to have fun. These were the right goals. None of the details mattered… although I just LOVE having a wedding quilt on my bed to remind us of that special day!

Wedding Quilt by East Dakota Quilter

P.S. Thanks to family and friends for all these photos. I didn’t pick up my camera all day!


Steampunk & Scrapbooking: Today is brought to you by the letter “S”

Two of my great-aunts have supported my blog and are accomplished sewers/crafters themselves. Over the years, their projects have included cross-stitch, dolls, scrapbooking, costumes, and crochet. I have received a number of gifts from them, from handmade items (like the hand warmers below, teddy bears, and dolls) to family heirlooms.

hand warmers by dorothy

(The hand warmers came with adorable paper cutouts of hands inside to indicate they were NOT beer cozies, haha.)

I wanted to show my appreciation, but what do you give someone who can make things with more skill? –especially when I didn’t want to send something that would just collect dust.

For one of the two aunts, I decided on a pillowcase, but not just any pillowcase… an embroidered steampunk pillowcase!

My aunts have attended steampunk events the past few years. Since I have no experience with steampunk and a pretty fluid concept of history, I didn’t want to make a mistake and include items from different decades/centuries that didn’t make sense together. Then it dawned on me: I could embroider an image of my aunt in the costume she made!

I present Lady Leontine:

lady leontine pillowcase by eastdakotaquilter

lady leontine by eastdakotaquilter

steampunk detail by eastdakotaquilter

The pillowcase even has French seams! I used this super simple tutorial.

The second of these two great-aunts makes incredible scrapbooks. For her, I made a scissors-themed mug rug. The block was inspired by the one in the book Patchwork 318 (see a similar block here), although I had to make my own pattern since the book is unfortunately no longer in print.

scissors block by eastdakotaquilter

Also included in the package was a cute necklace I bought at a craft fair in D.C. called Crafty Bastards. The chain is tiny, but I couldn’t resist.


Exploring Quilt Shops Near Madison, Wisconsin

I had a fantastic weekend. My boyfriend and I decided to get out of the city. Since we didn’t want to spend the whole weekend driving, we settled on nearby Madison, Wisconsin. Most of our weekend activities don’t really relate to this blog: we ate at cute restaurants, went to a museum, walked through the capitol building and the university arboretum, etc. But I did squeeze in a few minutes at two of Madison’s fabric stores: the Sewcial Lounge and Mill House Quilts.

Madison_Medley by EastDakotaQuilter

I regularly check the blog In Color Order. The blog’s author teaches classes at the Sewcial Lounge, which is how I heard of the store. I was excited to visit a store specializing in modern fabrics. In fact, the shop doesn’t bother with any non-modern prints! It was nice not to sort through “filler fabrics.” I expected the store to contain a lot of fabrics with a small sewing space, but quite a large portion of the space was a dedicated sewing area/lounge. The small shop was bustling when I went in, so it seems I was not the only one who appreciated the fun colors! I especially liked a print with small houses and cats (which I thought they were foxes at first). I’m kicking myself for not getting at least a small piece since it’s not on their website and I haven’t been able to identify the fabric with Google since returning home. This might warrant a phone call at some point…

Comparatively, Mill House Quilts is enormous. I don’t know why I don’t remember seeing them at the Quilt Expo last September. Maybe their booth was so full of people that I decided not to stop, or maybe the fabric selection was so wide that I felt overwhelmed. Maybe I got distracted by coffee… In any case, I see the sign every time I drive from Chicago to visit my parents in South Dakota, only I don’t want to make the ten-and-a-half hour drive take longer than necessary. I was glad for a chance to stop without cutting into family time.

mill house snowman

The store was frankly even better than I’d expected. Again, I was expecting some kind of megastore the size of a warehouse. It wasn’t that. But it was still the biggest fabric store I’ve seen that wasn’t a Joann’s, and I would have been happy to receive as a gift almost any fabric in that store. There were dedicated areas for civil war prints, modern fabrics, batiks, etc. There was a whole room full of sale fabrics. I think the best part, though, was the variety of quilts hanging from the rafters of the store. There were many styles, many colors, and it SO made me want to go home and start a new project! I took a brochure with me and was a little awed by the large number of classes. I only wish I lived closer (and didn’t spend 3 hours a day in commuter traffic already) so I could attend some of them!

DMC floss at MillHouseQuilts by EastDakotaQuilter

modern brights at MillHouseQuilts by EastDakotaQuilter

MillHouseQuilts sample by EastDakotaQuilter

MillHouseQuilts civil war section by EastDakotaQuilter

EastDakotaQuilter purchases at MillHouseQuilts

Okay, so I broke down and bought a few red and white fabrics for an idea that’s been percolating–even though I’m not finished with the myriad other projects I’ve started. That’s me standing outside the store with my purchases!

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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!