Monday, January 26, 2015


Prototype for mini quilt "Return to Provence"

I have been quilting a little every day.  I am practicing, warming up, getting back in routine. Sometimes it seems impossible to get it all right, the way it used to be, but it is coming along nicely. 

The sample, above, was an unfinished prototype to try out design, fabric, threads for a mini quilt I made for the AAQI online auction almost two years ago, the last quilt I made, made with silk fabric and quilted with silk and metallic/silk threads.  I found this unfinished prototype after many hours of practicing, and decided to try and complete it, see if my "new" quilting looked good enough to merge with my previous quilting.

Happy to say Yes!  My quilting blended in perfectly, I had no trouble at all replicating the designs, scale, and quality from two years ago.  I am ready for a new project, and have been digging through books, fabrics, sketches made, samples quilted, notes here and there.  I will begin with something small on fabric I love.  I am still deciding.

While I was practicing and it all came back to me I realized that many of you have to do this often.  You are interrupted in projects, you have illness or injury or moves or crises that keep you from quilting.  Maybe you have long fabulous vacations or travels where you never even think of a sewing machine, but want to pick up with quilting when you can.  

First, be assured it does come back, and it comes back fast.  I had stiff sore fingers and hands briefly at the beginning, and sore shoulders from sitting with tense muscles as I was so not relaxed.  But, each day I relaxed more, muscles were better and more limber, and everything fell into place.  I have to use my left hand for a few things due to a bad right thumb, but now I am used to that too.  

Some things that I discovered while practicing:

  • Muscle memory is a wonderful thing.  Even if years go by, your body will remember how to quilt, your brain knows what to do, it simply needs you doing it to get it back.  Repetition, correcting errors, then repeating it the right way until it flows easily and is natural.
  • Use the right needle!  I started quilting and didn't realize I had done some alterations on jeans or something, or sewn on a knit fabric, and had a #80 Universal needle in the machine, not my usual #60 Microtex Sharp.  I was having no end of ugly quilting until I realized that oops, needed a better needle.  I was practicing at first with #50 Aurifil cotton thread on a muslin sandwich with wool batt, and cotton batt in the other half from some sample done for a class.  I used a #70 Sharp needle and it looked a ZILLION times BETTER, and as a result of my work looking better all due to the right needle, my quilting improved and I relaxed.
  • Cleaning and oiling the machine was necessary even though I hadn't used it for awhile.  It made a happy purr after all this, and I sewed on some folded cotton and used feed dogs to warm it up before I tried quilting.  
  • Work up to the hard stuff.  Start practicing with some simple wavy lines, echo them, or do a motif you can do in your sleep.  Then add some challenges, like trying to fit the background motif around an actual design.  
  • Play with thread colors, use some pretty fabrics for practice, and the correct tension and needle.  This all makes a huge difference; if your work looks nice as you practice, it makes you a better quilter.
  • I had to slow down the motor speed on my zippy Bernina.  I usually don't, and love its power and responsiveness, but because I was so out of practice I needed to shut it down to 3/4 power so I didn't tromp on the foot pedal and quilt 50 stitches, in one spot, in one second.  Sometimes even now when beginning to quilt each day I will slow the motor and later when I am warmed up put it back to full power and rely on my foot to get the speed right and be IN CONTROL.
  • I almost forgot to add The Slider so my quilt moved easily under the needle.  I didn't use it the first few days and kept thinking that this was harder than I remembered, my stitches weren't even, and it jerked and stuck when I tried to move the quilt.  Whoa, put the Slider on, and everything was easy again, like moving the quilt on ice.
  • When I was quilting the muslin sandwich for awhile I thought there was something wrong with my machine, the noise was so loud when the needle went through the quilt.  Then I noticed I was quilting in the area with the cotton batt, not the wool batt.  It was noisy, the puff of the design was very low and flat, and it was stiff and more difficult to move.  Oh yes, now I remembered why I like wool batt.
  • I am glad I have lots and lots of samples to look at, things I've quilted for classes, articles, myself just to see how something would look.  It really helps to have something to see to get ideas going again.  Inspiration is all around you.
  • Don't be afraid to make something again, something you made once and loved, but try the same pattern or motif in a different color or fabric.  I might make the mini quilt design part of a larger quilt with a chintz border.  It's something I've always wanted to make, something to see and enjoy hanging on a wall in my home.  And then too I'd love to replicate some of the quilts I no longer have, like "Blossom's Journey," below.  I love Trip Around the World and I love the border quilting, so much fun to do, very extemporaneous.

Border Detail, "Blossom's Journey"

Meanwhile.....Oliver needed brushing!  He was shedding like crazy, and I found a round hairbrush I had tried for blow drying my hair but it pulled way too much of my hair out, ouch.  I had to cut that brush out of my hair, ugh.  

Oliver loves being brushed, so after a few days with this brush it was filled with Oliver fur, and I carefully used a comb to remove it from the brush.  Gosh it looks just like a great little quilt batt, so I saved it and may add more and give it a try.  I shall make Pioneer style Quilt Batt from Oliver!  It's softer than wool and we'll see about loft, but very lightweight, like down.  And of course I know it is washable...........!

It is snowing hard here in Wisconsin today, and we are snug and warm at home, time to turn on the machine and see how my quilting is today.  I shall have to plan a trip to a quilt shop for the sort of Chintz I need and then begin my new project.  I hope the NE storm isn't as bad as they say it will be, and you all stay safe from its danger.  

Keep quilting, your work gets better every day!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Is It Really 2015?

Washing Dishes with Oliver

Can I really have missed most of 2014 due to one stressful event after another?  Seems to be the case, but I hope to get back to my favorite pursuits in 2015; I have missed quilting and everyone I spent time with in my classes and travels.  My very best wishes to all of you and hope this will be a fresh and great start for you as well.

My days have become filled with routine, and mornings are devoted to washing dishes in the morning light, cleaning the kitchen, paying bills, checking email, all with Oliver's help.  He loves to get right down in the sink, have a long drink from the faucet, then oversee everything that goes on.  He seems to think two retirees are pretty exciting most of the time, but every now and then gives me that look, wondering why we don't have some action around here!

On New Year's I put away Christmas, the sun came out briefly, and Oliver and I cleaned and bagged and swept and dusted.  Oliver loved it, everything was different and new, even old familiar things were in different places.   We added spots of color and soft white everywhere, so much fun.

He checks out the kitchen island, below, to make sure he still has his fresh grass next to the brightly colored pottery.  He is looking at all this as if it still should be the familiar Christmas tree and is very wary.  Of course, he tried to put his head in the blue pitcher.........

He did not nap all day, so that evening fell into an exhausted sleep on the couch, content and happy with all we accomplished.

And then there is quilting and what has become of it; Oliver misses the excitement of the forbidden territory of my sewing room, and I miss it too.  Alas, due to health problems and injuries I haven't quilted in a long long time.  

I didn't know if I still could quilt, but a week ago it was time to find out.  I spent several days cleaning my sewing room, clearing it out of "stuff" piled everywhere, put all new things on the walls, re-set the clock to the correct time, hung a 2015 quilt calendar, put a new cover on the ironing board, swept the floors that still need washing, and looked around.  I felt like a quilter again.  It was time to oil my machines and see if they still worked.  

Everything I did, all the things I organized and went through, brought back memories of my quilting and teaching days.  I found so many lovely gifts from my students and friends, and yes I keep and treasure all of them.  Below are just a few that were on the top of the piles of things to be sorted, all lovely and special to me.

There will be a major recycling day for me with all the old papers, handouts, magazines, etc., that I have no need of now, but in my mind I was remembering all the wonderful classes, the events, the quilters I have met and worked with over the years.  Ah, nostalgia, sweet but sad at the same time.

My machines worked fine, but definitely needed some TLC.  I swabbed, oiled, cleaned, and then ran them with straight stitching and cotton thread for a long time, mindless row after row of beautiful stitching.  

It felt good to settle into my familiar chair, hear the hum of the motor, notice the light scent of sewing machine oil.  I had the lights on and the warm pools of light made the room so comforting, a haven on an icy winter day.  I knew the next day I would drop feed dogs and give some FMQ a whirl, see if I could still do it, just go for it.  

"Tres rusty" is how I would describe my quilting skills, but oh my, it all came back so quickly it was amazing.  I had to stop so that I wouldn't have sore muscles or eyes, but I wanted to keep on quilting some samples I had layered.  I did easy things, difficult things, fun designs, demanding work, just to get my brain awake again and the coordination back.  I will write more about what I discovered doing this free motion quilting in a future post soon.

I have quilted each day since then, and yes my hands ached from injuries and problems I've had over the past year or so, but each day they are better.  I know if I want to make a quilt it will be a long process, as I must pace myself.  But that is fine; I have no deadlines, it is just for me.  My work looks as good as ever, even better because now I am not rushed, am more careful and enjoy the slower pace.

Oliver is so happy, he has checked out all the nooks and boxes, stacks of fabric and old quilts, and now he has developed a nice routine that involves circling the room, sitting on a stool by the window to check the outdoors, then curling up on some quilts in an extra chair and napping away as I do this and that.  He is no longer the naughty kitten attacking the thread as it went through the machine, but he still must be watched out of the corner of my eye.  He is a dignified but unpredictable 5-year-old.

When we are done for the day, it is time to make some homemade pizza, try a new dough recipe, and fill the house with spicy aromas until it is time to pop it out of the oven and enjoy the deliciousness of all the flavors and textures.  I had fresh spinach and artichokes, and the next one had fresh tomatoes and fresh mozzarella too.  So yummy, even Oliver tried some melted cheese.....

More on quilting to come, meanwhile know I am still here, just not teaching or traveling right now, and send you my very best wishes for the New Year and for your own quilting!
Diane.....and Oliver

Friday, July 4, 2014

Happy Independence Day America!

It's the Fourth of July in America, and we celebrate Independence Day with flags, fireworks, barbecues and picnics, family gatherings, and quilts.....!  Since the beginning of this country flag quilts or patriotic themed quilts have been created.  The history of our country is intertwined with the history of quilting, and today these quilts are as popular as ever.  

And instead of fireworks, this postcard arrived!  It is from Carolyn in South Africa, and it is an explosion of gorgeous feathers and colors, stunning.  Carolyn, I hope you make a quilt using these colors; the feather in real life looks almost illuminated; you made some beautiful color choices with fabric and threads.  

When I get these in the mail I see them outdoors first by the mailbox and I can't even begin to tell all of you how spectacular they look, and how they take my breath away.  Thank you all for working so hard and sending me these beautiful "mini quilts"!

Happy 4th to all my quilting friends, enjoy the day.

Monday, June 30, 2014

More Treasures Arrived....

The mail has brought me three new postcards from the Free Motion Challenge participants, and I am showing them here to share the wonderful creativity, colors, variety and style they all have.  The card above is from Martha Briese in Lebanon OH or OR, can't quite read the postmark and both of these states have towns named Lebanon!  It is so lovely with the thread work, shading of the feathers so they really stand out, and the added delicacy of the very tiny pearls in the spine.  A wow, for sure.

This rich green feather came from Brigitte Rosetti in Switzerland, wonderfully traditional, nicely done branching.  I think it looks so similar to feathers I've seen on some very old hand quilted quilts, and nice the way the feathers touch and eliminate the need for background quilting between branches. Pretty!

Another soft purple card with an artistic frayed edging that really sets off the feather and the colors.  This one is from Wendy Welts in the UK.  Here the thread colors really add to the exuberance of the feather design, making it much more contemporary looking.  Nice!

Thanks to all of you, especially for the messages you included on the backs of the cards.  I enjoyed sharing my techniques with you and am so happy you are all feathering away and quilting a design that is as unique and individual as you are.  

Keep quilting, your work gets better everyday.....

Monday, June 23, 2014

Little Treasures

Lately the most delightful surprises have been appearing in my mailbox!  Quilted postcards from far-off places, feathers that are beautiful, messages and drawings on the back that touched my heart have arrived, all showing me the spectacular results of my tutorial for SewCalGal's Free Motion Quilting Challenge!  They are truly an unexpected delight.  

The first one, above, appeared in a stack of bills and sale fliers, hidden away, and when I sifted through the stack I almost yelped when the colors, texture, beautiful feather in the postcard were revealed, WOW!  This one is from Tina Gilly in Pensacola, FL, USA,  and I thought it was a "group thank you" card......until......gasp.....another one arrived!

Postcard #2, above, is done on a champagne colored silk, and is the only one that picked up some smudges from the mail sorting machines.  It is lovely, and is from Liz Gates in New Zealand.  I shall try and clean it.  Great pearls in the spine!

Then there was a bit of a pause, until the THIRD one arrived!  Below, a beautiful feather from Marelize Ries in South Africa, quilted with a shimmery silk thread in a soft teal on a deep teal fabric, love the color choices, which look deeper and more mysterious in real life.

On the same day, a fourth card also arrived, this one in a tiny striped fabric and accented with coloring to make it visible.  It's tough quilting feathers on print fabrics, but yet we tend to use many prints in our work, so using art supplies to highlight them is a good option.  Below, card #4 from Dorothy Matheson in Texas, USA.

Then some time passed and I thought that might be the end of feathers-in-the-mail, but no!  Postcard #5 appeared, below, a beautiful feather variation with curls in each feather and a string of "pearls" on the spine, very nice.  It is from Alice Ridge in Virginia, USA.

And.....the next day.........Postcard #6 was delivered by my now admiring mail woman, who probably wonders why, how, what are these beautiful things!!!  It is on the loveliest citron shade of fabric, quilted with chartreuse thread, so pretty.  Thanks to Barbara Crumpton in Malaga, Spain for this one!

When you look at all of these feathers and quilting styles, it is the way it was for me as a teacher to go from student to student in class and see all the differences in work, how each feather is unique to the quilter, much like our handwriting.  Even if feathers were traced using a stencil, same one for each person, the results would vary, reflecting the style of quilting and of course color choices with threads and fabrics.   You are the artist here and you make these a reflection of yourself in quilting.

I am so pleased that so many used my tutorial and learned on their own, without verbal help or even videos, without a teacher there to help with any problems.  You all forged on yourselves and came up with amazing results, and I am very proud of each of you.  Thank you so much for the postcards, they will become a treasured collection for me.  

Summer is here, but it has been gloomy, damp, dank, cloudy, rainy, icky here.  My hands stick to the laptop, the dishes do not dry in the rack.  We entertain ourselves with bird seed on the front step, which I did for the birds all winter, but now for the rabbits, chipmunks, and squirrels, as well as the occasional sparrow.  They feed every morning, oblivious to Oliver peering with killer intent through the glass, tail thrashing.  Ah, the life of retirees.....

Geeky tip:  I am now used to Windows 8, no problems at all, fast and easy now that I have figured out its rather convoluted ways.  I use Google Chrome for my browser and like that better than IE.  I set the zoom on my new HP laptop at 150% to view my blog, and at 125% for all other pages with no problems and bigger everything for these older eyes.  

Hope you enjoy seeing these quilting samples, and are inspired to get back to working on your own quilting, making it better every day.............!

Sunday, April 13, 2014


We have survived the dreadful winter and finally are seeing some signs of spring:  robins, a touch of green in the dead lawns, a tiny crocus sprout poking through dead leaves.  And Mr. Chipmunk, up from hibernation, eating bird seed by the front door.  Mr. Oliver is riveted, tail thrashing, body tense, for hours.  He sleeps in the evening, exhausted.
I haven't posted about quilting for awhile as I was coping with a very sick husband, and then while caring for him had an injury to my right hand which kept me out of commission for awhile.  All is well now, and this all happened during the polar vortex in February, the snows, and the daily treks to the ER or the hospital or the outpatient center kept me more than busy. 
My hand emergency was a very bad burn that happened while placing a beef roast in a big pan with hot oil in the bottom.  It stuck on the pan's side as I was lowering it in, the oil was too hot as I had set the heat too high when distracted, and the meat bounced into the oil with my hand down in the pan.  The hot oil splashed up and covered my thumb and the first two fingers. 
I rinsed my hand in cold water, and we immediately went to the ER for treatment.  The burns were second degree, fortunately not worse.  I was so thankful for the excellent care and the pain meds! 
Two days later with my huge bandaged hand I went to the regional burn center for specialized treatment.  It looked very bad when the bandage came off, but they used a new method of covering the burn with a foam material saturated with silver.  No ointment or antibiotics,  just this wrapped onto my hand for one week. 
I became very creative in doing things with my left hand, along with the last two fingers on my right hand, all without getting the hand wet.  After a week they removed this material and the bandages and it was miraculously back to looking like my hand, only very red where the oil had burned it.  No pain, just a little itchy feeling as the skin peeled and replaced itself.  We celebrated with a meal out on the way home, yay.  Even the burn center people were amazed at how well it all worked.
My hand is fine now, it gets quite red and glowing sometimes, but it is ok.  I was very fortunate to live near very good medical care. 
Spring is arriving, birds are singing in the morning, and I've been doing some sorting and winnowing and cleaning, Oliver loves to help me.  He was so worried when my hand was bad, slept next to me with his paw on my shoulder, and purred.  Soon we will go into the forbidden sewing room and crank up the machines and see if they still work. 
I've enjoyed your emails and news on Facebook, and one email in particular I'll share with you soon, all about a technique I never heard of called "ghost quilting." 
A friend told me about a new product that erases blue lines from the washout blue liners without water.  I'll dig up that link and post it too, although you all probably are aware of this already, ha. 
The quilt show at Paducah is just around the corner, best of luck to all who have quilts there, and hope everyone has a great week there.  I won't be going this year, but will be checking online to see what's happening.  I'll miss it!
Wishing you all successful quilting and a happy Spring!

Saturday, January 25, 2014


We are still in the Polar Vortex, like much of the country.  Last Sunday we had balmy temps of 30 degrees, sun, no snow, no wind.  We fled the house on a wonderful visit to nearby Wauwatosa, WI, suburb of Milwaukee for a dinner out.  We walked down a charming street filled with small businesses and shops, and I stopped in amazement to see two big old-fashioned store front windows in a dry cleaner's store filled completely with pots of geraniums, blooming, growing, blossoming in the afternoon sun.
What a complete treat, a luxury to behold in the middle of the frozen winter with sun once a week if we are lucky, and snow and cold almost every day.  The flowers must have been on the sidewalk outside for all of last summer, and then brought in to flourish through the winter in the windows.  The owner saved them, loved them enough to keep them going thru the winter and let us, those who walked by or came in for business, delight in their beauty.  All those shades of pink, rose, red, white! 
Note the gloomy, snowy, bleak landscape behind me in the photo, and our reflections too, all bundled up, trudging along.  Sigh.
We saw a mini library outside too, next time I'll get a photo of that, they are so charming.  The old shoe store but with modern Clark's in the window, and real moccasins, love that one too.  The chocolate shop, the bakery with incredible confections.  Then we arrived at Balistreri's Italian restaurant, one of our favorite local places, for yummy pizza.  We experienced Christmas all over again with the holiday d├ęcor, and spent a very enjoyable time, eating delicious thin crust melt-in-your-mouth real pizza. 
We're headed to way below zero again, and the icy ferns on my window will reappear, just another winter window for me to enjoy. 
I think I spoke too soon about enjoying the treasure hunt in my new Windows 8 computer, eeeeek!  I am finding it so frustrating not to get my old menus, not to be able to easily find and do things, but it is getting better as I conquer this.  I do like the slide shows of the photos from the App screen, much like those in tablets.
I reached my breaking point last week trying to print a coupon for the office store.  It was a pdf attachment and showed on a black screen.  No matter what, no menu, no right click, no way to say "PRINT."  Finally I read the Help topics and did a Screen Shot, saved it, and could print that from the little file folder system on my taskbar.  Well, it printed the entire black APP screen plus the coupon, which I did take with me to show my tech guy and ask how to do it.  He didn't know, and they all laughed at my using half an ink cartridge to get the coupon........grrrrr.  I had to laugh too.
I figured it out now; I hook up my old Windows 7 Netbook I used for travel, open the email and coupon in that, click Print, and out it comes on white paper, perfect.  There must be a better way.........
Then I get an email from HP telling me they will soon have new laptops with Windows 7!  Ah, too late.
Hope you are surviving winter, it's a bad one for the entire country.  I am glad I am not driving to teaching gigs, or the airport at 5 a.m. on dicey roads. 
Today I was organizing my photos, writing an article for American Quilter Magazine, and found the one, below, of my window in the room I often had at Asilomar where I taught for several years.  I loved that window.  I could relax after class and before dinner and evening events, feel the cool ocean air, smell the Monterey pines, and just "be." 
Soon I hope to crank up my trusty Bernina and do a bit of quilting.  I think Oliver would like to be back in "that room" again, looking out his two front windows, watching the world go by!
Keep quilting; don't let the cold grey days stop you.  Your work gets better every day...