red flannel pantry

creative pursuits in the kitchen, garden, library and sewing room

happiness is a warm blanket

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The wife of a colleague of my husband’s has been ill, and it’s been a trying and scary time for their family. A few days ago the staff put the word out that they’d be providing dinner for the family this week and would welcome dinner/side dish/dessert contributions. Instead of contributing food, I decided to make a blanket for the family.

I was given the directions to make this blanket by a local fabric shop several years ago. As you can see from the simple design, it is very easy to make. It can be assembled in an afternoon–just be prepared to deal with a lot of fluff while cutting and sewing! After I sewed the first one for my family, it quickly became the sought-after favorite blanket (meaning tussles over exclusive use!), so over time I’ve made one for every family member and then more to give to family friends.

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The blanket is made from fleeced-backed suede–I wait for a good sale/coupon to buy the material. Its soft texture and heft make it comforting to lie beneath. It’s large enough to fit a snuggly group.

Sewn in place are prayers for healing, love and comfort.

finished dimensions: 57″ x 75″
wash in cold water; dry on low

star table runner with bonus blocks

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I started making this table runner with the idea that it would be a host gift for Daughter #1’s home-stay family, but as it came together, she and I decided it was a bit too Christmas-y for a post-Christmas gift. So now I am ahead on Christmas gifts for 2014!

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For the star blocks, I used Allison Harris’ (Cluck Cluck Sew) star block tutorial to make the three star blocks. (I used this same tutorial to make a quilt top you can see here.) I added a 1-inch blue border and then a 1 1/2-inch red pine needle border.

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On the back I used a red stripe ticking fabric, which makes the runner reversible and versatile: Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Memorial Day, Fourth of July–you get the idea. (Finished dimensions: 16″ x 36 1/2″)

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When making the star points in the star blocks, I sewed another 1/4 inch away from the corner-to-corner seam and then cut the corners off between the two seams, leaving a narrow 1/8-inch seam allowance. I ended up with a bunch of little 2 1/2-inch blocks . . .

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. . . half of them half-square triangles (HSTs) and half of them the funky layout on the left.

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Playing around with the funky squares, I came up with this 4 1/2-inch block, with a perfect mini 1 3/8-inch square in the middle of the pinwheel. I couldn’t have pieced  this precise a block on purpose if I had tried!

I am sure this windmill-variation block exists out there with its own special name, but I can’t locate it. I looked through The Quilter’s Album of Patchwork Patterns by Jinny Beyer but couldn’t find it. Does anyone know its name?

love and wabi-sabi

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When Daughter #1 and I were discussing gift ideas for her family-stay hosts, she thought she’d like to also bring a gift for the program director. Mervyn has coordinated this program with her college for many years. He lives in Northern Ireland, and every year he journeys to her college to meet with the students a couple of times before the study-abroad semester begins. He’ll be working closely with the students while they’re on the program.

At first I thought, well, I’ll make him a table runner too. But then I remembered a mini-quilt tutorial and knew it’d be the ideal gift. You see, Mervyn’s last name is Love, as in Dr. Love–isn’t that the perfect name for a professor of peace studies and conflict resolution?! So I located this true love mini-quilt tutorial by kelbysews on Sew Mama Sew and got to work.

It’s a paper-pieced project, and I had never paper-pieced before. My visual-spatial abilities are sorely lacking (to my architect-husband’s bemusement), so working in reverse is hard for my mind to grasp. I learned quickly to generously overcut each piece to allow for error (and I made a couple). Once I got the hang of it, I managed. If you’ve never paper-pieced before, this tutorial is a great first project.

I made the mini-quilt full size (finished dimensions: 15″ x 20″).

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As well as embracing the challenge of a paper-pieced quilt, I also stretched myself on the quilting. My impulse, given the time crunch, was to do a quick overall pattern. But I saw another love mini-quilt, admired its pebble quilting and thought, I can do that! So I did. I straight-line quilted the letters at 1/4-inch intervals.

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In my stash, I found the best fabric for the back. I bought it at least 4 years ago–snips of it continue to find their way into my quilts. The words embrace the nature of the study-abroad program–and the term wabi-sabi defines my creative approach.

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I pinned a hanging sleeve in place on the back before I sewed the binding in place on the other side. Then when I sewed the binding, the top edge of the sleeve was sewn in place too–one less thing to hand-sew.  I am all about easy.

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If it weren’t for the binding and the hanging sleeve, I think the entire piece would be camouflaged in the snow!

dark-eyed junco

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As ground feeders, the dark-eyed juncos are appreciating the safflower and thistle seed I scattered in the snow this morning. They have to do a little two-step scratching dance to find it in the quickly falling snow. Against all of this white, the male juncos look striking in their two-toned formal-wear feathers.

hometown gifts for out-of-town hosts

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Daughter #1 will be staying with a family during her Northern Ireland semester, so she wanted to bring along some gifts for them. We thought a table runner would be a good idea: easy to pack, useful and decorative. Of course, I meant to make it before Christmas–oops. Her departure date is fast approaching, so I needed to get a move on. I have an apothecary jar filled with 2 1/2-inch squares, so my design began there. I sewed five rows, seven squares each, and then cut six 14 1/2-inch x 5-inch solid panels and pieced as pictured above–easy as could be (finished dimensions: 14″ x 37″). The runner could be made longer by adding additional rows/panels and deeper by adding additional squares to the rows and adjusting the size of the solid panels accordingly.

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Despite my attempts at gently shooing, Hobbes insisted on being in the pictures (note tail above).

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For the back I found this great bit of nuts fabric in the stash.

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I quilted it with organic lines using the walking foot–again, easy and looks lovely.

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Because I wasn’t sure if I’d get a gift made in time, I bought a back-up: this cool dishtowel from catstudio. It comes in its own decorative fabric envelope, perfect for gift giving.

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You can get them for every state–so here’s our home state, Missouri. Although the design is printed, the cross-stitching is sewn.

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And here’s an unexpected bonus: this wonderful card with a quotation from Nelson Mandela. Since D#1 will be studying international conflict resolution and mediation, it couldn’t be more perfect.

my little blue book

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For me, today begins Year 4 of keeping a journal. I have a little blue book called One Line a Day, which is a 5-year diary. There’s a page for each date, with five ruled blocks beneath, each containing only six lines. I’d always wanted to keep a journal, but I wasn’t confident that I had the discipline to make entries on a daily basis. When I came across this book though I thought, surely I can take the time to fill six lines every night? And I have. At this point I feel so invested that the thought of having a blank entry is repugnant.

I’m enchanted with journals, both nonfiction (The Diary of Anne Frank) and fiction (The Handmaid’s Tale). I’m currently following a blog called Ella & I, which shares daily entries from a series of diaries kept by Ella Warner Fisher of Vergennes VT from the late 1890s through 1932. As the author of this blog describes, Ella and her husband had eight children and “she washed and mended and churned and sold eggs and chickens and made lots of pies and bread and was active in her church and the D.A.R.” Through these records and the generosity of the blogger who’s taking the time to share them, I enjoy a view of another’s long-ago daily rhythms as well as (with the advantage of hindsight) cultural and historic forces at work.

When I was young, my grandfather’s journal from World War I intrigued me. Reading his young-man thoughts and perceptions documented in his own handwriting gave me a tangible connection to and a more complete picture of the elderly taciturn man I knew only through once-a-year visits. His diary let me see him as someone like me, with fears, yearnings, private thoughts, petty complaints and joyful moments. There are mysteries too: who’s that person he mentions? Why did he record this particular event? Why did he skip writing on these days?

Both of my parents died relatively young, and my adult self longs to ask them questions that my younger self never thought to ask. I don’t know if my children or potential grandchildren will be curious about me, who I am/was, my motivations or why I made the choices I’ve made, but my leaving clues like my little blue book, letters I’ve written and my blog might allow them a glimpse.

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My little blue book also serves me in a way I didn’t anticipate. Now that I’ve been diary-keeping for a few years, I’m able to revisit and reflect on what I’d written on that same date years before. What had seemed to weigh heavily has been dealt with, overcome, and passed. As a parent of teenager/young adults, this practice of nightly reflection allows me to see how much I’ve grown as a parent and a person and how my children have stumbled, made mistakes, hit obstacles and grown wiser. I go to bed each night reminded of the value of fortitude, patience, love and gratitude.

on the road again

In a couple of weeks Daughter #1 heads to Northern Ireland to study for a semester, so for Christmas I made her some travel-related gifts.

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First, a travel document organizer. I found a helpful tutorial at thimble. It has two zipper pouches and a number of pockets to stash important documents and paperwork. I did add some lightweight interfacing to the exterior fabric cover, and if I were to make another, I might try using slightly heavier interfacing.

I had this terrific fabric . . .

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that reminded me of D#1’s most recent artwork . . .

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. . . so I used it for the cover.

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I came across another great travel gift idea on bee in my bonnet: a suitcase handle wrap. It took only minutes to make. I used the dimensions in the tutorial (5-inch squares of fabric and batting), and it fits D#1’s suitcase perfectly. The design is meant for sewing machine handles, which are not as beefy as suitcase handles, so an additional 1/2 to 1 inch in length might be needed to achieve the best fit. This wrap makes the handle comfy to hold and identifiable on a baggage carousel (though the maroon suitcase itself is distinctive!).

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And in her stocking was St. Christopher, patron saint of travelers. He’ll be going along for the ride.

round robin

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Although robins don’t eat at the feeders, they do appreciate fresh water in the bird bath. This clan showed up shortly after I cleaned the bird bath and added a couple of pitchers of water.

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When they tilt their heads back to swallow, you can appreciate the white ribbing beneath their beaks.

nordic pine pillow

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My friend, Jill, is from up north, the daughter of a Lutheran minister of sturdy Swedish stock. When I came across this tutorial for a Scandinavian Christmas tree pillow by Kerry Green, I thought of Jill, of course. I followed the design for the front but used whole pieces for each red strip rather than piecing. Like the original, I fussy-cut a strip of tea cups, a nod to Jill’s beverage of choice. I left off the top and bottom white strips and trimmed to create a 19-inch square. I quilted it with organic (read, wandering) lines using a walking foot. It was free-motion quilting with training wheels–I like the finished look and it wasn’t nearly as anxiety producing as straight-line quilting or FMQing.

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For the back, I quilted the top and bottom panels the same way as the front and inserted a zipper in the middle beneath the brown strip. I sewed front and back wrong sides together and then added the red binding. I like that the design can carry from Christmas through Valentine’s Day and beyond if desired.

Curious about our chicken? It (minus the hat and bow) is the work of ceramic artist Jens Morrison (circa late 1960s–early 1970s) and is a favorite piece of Daughter #2’s.

finished dimensions: about 18 1/2″ square; I used an 18″ pillow form

photo memory ornaments

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Daughter #2 and her friends are celebrating the holidays and the end of finals (woohoo!) with a secret Santa gift exchange and dinner out tonight. We thought it would be fun to have a little gift for all of the girls, so Daughter #1 joined us in making these photo keepsakes. They can be Christmas tree ornaments or decorations on a bulletin board.

We manipulated the photos on the computer (cropped them and made black and white or sepia) and then printed them out wallet size on cardstock. We trimmed them up and glued them to colored cardstock to make a frame.

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I printed little stickers with the date and attached them to the back. We then laminated them in sheets, cut them out, punched holes and added ribbons.

There you go–a quick, inexpensive, personalized homemade gift that celebrates friendships and memories.

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