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 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.

Monday, March 31, 2014

What's a Doll Quilt Workshop Without Genuine Doll Quilts?

This past Saturday I taught a workshop to a group of quilters. We made the Prairie Points Doll Quilt from my book Remembering Adelia.  If you are making one small quilt a month with me again this year, this is the one I chose for April. It's a lot of fun to make (Prairie Points! Fun, fun, fun!) and goes together pretty quickly. Page 66 in the book. The directions are simple and clear.

Taking a workshop is fun -  kind of like a mini-retreat. Here's what some of the quilters in the group did with their blocks -

I always love seeing the different fabrics each quilter chooses for her quilt. Traditional quilt blocks like the ones I use to make my quilts are timeless and they can easily move into different styles.  Just because I made my quilt with mostly 19th century reproduction prints doesn't mean you can't use batiks or brights in yours. Instead of making the quilt with 12 blocks, some chose to make 2 smaller quilts, using 6 blocks for each quilt. Someone adjusted the size and made 3-inch blocks. If you're short on time, even a quilt with 4 blocks would still look cute. Or, here's an idea - make the Prairie Points as your border and skip the other border. It's fun to play around and have fun with these small quilts.

If making a quilt this month (or any month) just seems like too much work for you, try breaking your project into chunks and do a little every week, on a schedule,  as I suggested here last year. By the end of the month (not to mention the end of the YEAR) you'll be surprised at how much you have accomplished. And perhaps you'll have a few little quilts to show for it.

I had a lot of fun playing around with some small scraps for the blocks - lights and darks and indigoes and a small splash of bright color here and there. Notice that I used 2 different (but similar) prints for the setting squares and triangles to give my quilt a scrappy feel. I used a stencil to mark the plain blocks and then hand quilted a small floral design in the center. 

While I was at the workshop, I met a woman who collected antique and vintage doll quilts. She was kind enough to bring a few along to share with us for Show & Tell.

Crazy doll quilts. (One may have been a pillow covering.)

Matching doll quilts made in 1929 for twin girls - Shirley Ann and Mary Jane. Lucky little girls indeed. Although they don't look like they were played with too much; both were in great condition. 

This one was probably cut down from a larger quilt.

A feedsack flour bag used as backing for one of the doll quilts.

Annie also collects old quilt blocks and sews them together into "antique" looking doll quilts which she then hand quilts. They turn out so cute and I think I'm going to try to make a few like this with some of my old quilt blocks.

If you have any old blocks lying around, maybe you'll be inspired to try this too. If you do attempt it, send me a photo. I'd love to see it.

Do yourself a favor this week and find time to make something small!

Friday, March 7, 2014

It's a Good Day

It's a good day when I wake up in the morning and decide to make something and then actually do it. Plus, the sun is out and Chicagoans are walking around with their jackets unzipped and coats unbuttoned, even though it's still only in the upper 30s. Something's in the air - you can feel it. Spring is coming!

I spent most of this past week indoors working on a small quilt for a new pattern and fabric giveaway here on the blog next week Wednesday (mark your calendars, girls!). That took longer than I expected to finish because of so many interruptions (raise your hand if you have a dog and kids and a phone). So I was determined to get back to my DJ blocks before the week was over and took a personal challenge from Sheri (in our Dear Jane Group) to finish another block.  Where does the time go? I often get so busy with other things and haven't made one since January. I always forget how much fun they are to put together.

Block L-1.   Not perfect, but perfectly good and - even better - it's finished.

Here's a little sneak peek of some of the pretty fabrics I've been working with for my new little quilt. It's Woodlands, designed by Jo Morton for Andover Fabrics.

Come back on Wed to see the fat quarters I'll be giving away.

It's amazing what a little sun streaming through the window, pretty fabrics and a small accomplishment can do to lift your spirits and make your day. Why, I may even finish another DJ block while I still have time today. The pieces are already cut so the rest is easy. Then I'm going out for a bit to enjoy the "nice" weather. I hear it's supposed to get up to 40 degrees before the forecasted "periods of freezing drizzle and the evening will change to a light wintry mix."

Is it true that in order to keep warm in winter you need to eat a high-fat diet? Then it's deep dish pizza for dinner tonight! Oh no, what do you mean that's just for the birds??

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Imperfect Quilts

Thank you for all of your e-mails and comments on my recent blog post about quilts that are not perfect. Some of you "got" exactly what I was talking about. In case anyone misunderstood, this is what I should have added -
I am not saying that we should be careless in making our quilts or aim to make quilts that are sloppy or slipshod. Not at all. I think we should always try to do good work, should AIM for some kind of standard or even perfection. But we should not beat ourselves up if we don't make it every time, particularly if we are just learning, either quilting itself or a new technique. We're not all quilting in an attempt to win a ribbon, but if you are, then that's great. You should be proud. What I meant was that we should never let others judge our quilts according to their standards. They may be in an entirely different place than we are. We should not be afraid or let anyone keep us from trying to do something just because we're worried they may think it isn't "good enough" (according to their standards).
I know that creativity flourishes in an atmosphere of safety and acceptance and play.

Some quilters are naturals and have an easier time of it than others. Their first time at the sewing machine they can whip out a perfect block or quilt and then continue along at this pace. I admire those who can do that. Others, like me,  had a longer learning curve. No matter how hard I tried at first I always made mistakes and got frustrated easily. Most of the time I was trying to quilt with all sorts of distractions and children underfoot. But, you know, I never let it stop me and I never talked down to myself or listened to others who did. (There were more than a few who did this when I was first starting out, let me tell you). I knew I wasn't an expert. But I told myself to keep going because I loved the process. I listened to my heart and it told me I loved to quilt. It took me awhile to learn to go easy on myself and give myself a break. I knew my quilts might never come out perfectly but thought - what if I could still offer something to all the quilters out there who were like me?
An early quilt full of triangle points that don't match. Neither do the borders, LOL.
In the end, I like to think I did okay and I hope at the very least I gave encouragement to a lot of  quilters who were just like me. Maybe the very first quilt they would make would not be a fancy appliqued quilt or one with a thousand pieces that would win a prize.  Some of you have made or will make quilts like this right off the bat. Others will not and Guess what? That's okay. Everyone has to start somewhere and be comfortable choosing a pace of their own. And no one has the right to criticize how they do it. Perhaps we're not all "natural born" quilters with tremendous artistic ability and skills. But we can still call ourselves quilters. Sometimes we have to work a little harder at it but the rewards are great when you accomplish something you weren't even sure you could do in the first place.
One of my imperfect quilts. Maybe not a big deal to some, but never in a million years did I think I could hand piece an entire quilt with Y seams, even a small one. "What are you thinking? You can't do this," I said to myself. But I pushed that thought aside and tried it anyway and then went on to make 3 more just like this one . . . . Not at all perfect, but so much fun. You should try this one.

A few years ago I taught a workshop and a woman came up to me, hugged me and showed me the first quilt she had ever made from a pattern in one of my books. She was not a quilter before that and I was proud of her for beginning to quilt and then taking classes to learn even more. I remember her friends in the class all rallied around her, cheering her on.
My purpose in beginning my pattern business (and eventually writing my books) was to encourage others who wanted to quilt but maybe did not have the confidence to try it or felt they shouldn't try if they couldn't do it perfectly. I knew that feeling and I jumped in anyway.
If you wait until you can do a thing perfectly, most likely you will never do it at all. Creativity is a process and we all have to follow that instinct inside that tells us we CAN do something, not listen to the little voice that says we're not good enough to even try in case it does not turn out perfectly. What I learned is that, if you never try, you will never succeed. And that this does not just apply to quilting, it applies to almost anything in life you dream of doing. 
I like to show off a few of my quilts with mistakes when I teach to inspire others to be confident and to keep going despite difficulties. Sometimes I have to shrug off the mistakes and try not to worry when they are scrutinized by others who are better quilters.  I think of how much work still went into the planning and the piecing and figure - so what? In the big scheme of things, this imperfect quilt means much more to me than someone's critical words or looks. I'm the one who has to live with it as a reminder that I'm human, that I will always need to continue to strive to be better. I know we can all be a little critical of our own work. But someone who criticizes others' work rather than champion their attempts has to live with that attitude that she has to prove she's somehow better than everyone else (and you know where that attitude comes from). I've met people like this and you probably have too. They're rarely happy with anything other than making others feel bad. I've never met a critical person who is a happy person or knows how to make others happy. I also know which type of person I'd rather be or spend my time with.

Trying to live up to other people's perfectionistic standards just "ain't" worth the headache.
That woman at the workshop inspires me today when I think about her. She was sooo proud of herself and I was too. No, her quilt wasn't perfect, but it was still beautiful. I could see the pride and sense of satisfaction in her eyes when she showed it to me. To me, that's what quilting is all about.

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A reminder -  the beautiful Quilted Koala boxes you saw on my blog are available for purchase on their website. Just because you didn't win one doesn't mean you don't deserve to buy one for yourself   : )


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Loving Those Doll Quilts from the Past

Doll quilts from the past stir our hearts and engage our emotions with their simple blocks and imperfect stitches. It's fun to imagine what kinds of quilts children may have made and played with long ago. For me,  making little scrappy quilts almost brings the past alive in a way.
Doll quilt from an online auction.
The doll quilt craze is not new, however. This was written in 1831:

"Little girls often find amusement in making patchwork quilts for the beds of their dolls, and some even go so far as to make cradle quilts for their infant brothers and sisters."

I am happy that doll quilts are not just for dolls or children anymore. They have a particular appeal to those of us who have fond memories of playing with dolls as young girls (maybe boys, too . . . ). Doll quilts from long ago were played with until they fell apart and that's why they're so rare today; not many survived the wear and tear. 
This little sampler quilt from my book Prairie Children & Their Quilts is a treasure and would be a lot of fun to make with your pink and blue print scraps.

 If you follow my blog and books at all, most of you know by now that doll quilts were often used as practice for young girls' sewing skills in the past.
Needlework and sewing were an important part of a girl's education in the 18th and 19th centuries. Quite often, these skills were taught before reading and writing.
Doll quilts were learning pieces. It was the practicing of the sewing skills that was important, not so much the design of the quilt. But I like to think that, like their mothers or other early quilters, even young girls making small quilts for their dolls still learned about color and the whole design process and it helped to give life to their creative expression in a small way. It's the same with many quilters today who are still learning.
I read something recently on a blog that really annoyed me - the blogger wrote something trashing beginning quilters for not making perfect quilts and criticized them for putting up photos of them on their blogs (or, heaven forbid, in books) for everyone to see. How dare they! The quilts were not perfect! What right did they have to bring down the quilting community with their imperfections . . . .
Wait, I thought - Quilts that are not perfect do not deserve to be seen? Had she ever looked at any antique quilts? Beginning quilters do not have the right to show their humble yet earnest quilts and still be considered quilters, even if they are learning? They should hide them until they're perfect?   Excuse me, but everyone has to start somewhere. When did perfection take over and exclude many of us from being a part of the larger quilting community if we cut off a corner now and then? Is it now a private club with membership determined by a few? Aren't we supposed to be having fun?
(Okay, I'm done. Sorry I ranted but I needed to get that off my chest. Everyone is entitled to her own opinion and this is mine.)

I learned to quilt myself by making doll quilts. A couple of my early learning pieces, above. Yep - sorry, not perfect, crooked borders, but still cute and near and dear to my heart. Never fear, I will not stop posting photos of my imperfect quilts . . . . 

Love this darling vintage quilt on eBay -  oops, watch out, some of those corners are cut off . . . . better hide it under a bushel.

I don't own a lot of antique doll quilts. They can get pretty pricey because they're so rare. If I see one that's affordable that I like I may buy it but I often prefer to make my own because sometimes it's fun to be a part of the whole reproducing process yourself. That seems to be what it's all about for me -  the process.
Even if they're not perfect, maybe the small quilts we love to make will be valuable to someone someday. And, if not, that's okay. Like little girls' sewing samples, mine were my own simple learning pieces from the past. It's fun to look back and see how far I've come.

(Eliza Jane's nine-patch doll quilt)
I love this quilt for its simplicity. 


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