What You Can Do With A Bag Of Fabric

So a group of say about 28 women get together for four days. They each have a bag or two or three of fabric. What do you think can happen with that fabric in four days of sewing? Well it was pure magic, my Sweeties! Pure magic!

Look and see what the results are. And feel free to drool!

Is this cutest guy you ever saw? And all made out of little pieces of fabric. Can you see the squirrel and the rabbits?

This is his not so little playmate. Isn’t she a beauty? Again, all done with little bits of fabric that were fussy cut.

This one was put together, cut apart and put back together. Now how clever is that? Spectacular!

This medieval looking gem has wonderful thread work in every block. It is too beautiful for words! When it is finally all together, it will be a stunner!

Here is a really lovely Quilt of Valor. It is meant for a specific veteran and is truly personal. A lot of love is going into this quilt.

These two lovelies are coasters and couldn’t be nicer.

These pieced butterflies are going to be wonderful in the final quilt, whatever it is. Of course, I especially love the the blue one!

Here is some hand embroidery beyond compare! Just sit and enjoy!

More embroidery. Drool if you must!

Love the colors in this beauty!

How nice is this? Won’t it be great in a camper or a lodge?

Now this is a fantastic quandary. Not sure what it will be, but it is divine.

What a cutie patootie is this! I want one!

There is nothing like a good old fashioned bowtie quilt. Brings back memories, doesn’t it?

What a sight! Can you believe this? The work and the precision!

Another version of a bowtie quilt. X’s and O’s.

Doesn’t everyone want one of these? I sure do!

Oh my goodness! A baby quilt that practically brings tears to your eyes.

How lovely is this? Love the scrappy border!

More butterflies! But this time in the border. How unusual!

Oh how I love a blue and white quilt! And those fabrics, yum!

One version of a good old Log Cabin. Wonderful!

And so ended our four day quilt retreat. The quilts are the only part I can show you. I can’t show you how much we laughed or how much we talked or how much we cared about each other. I can’t show you the hugging, the touching, the sharing that went on.

The fabric is what draws us together, but the fellowship is what keeps us together. Quilting is the purpose but caring is the glue. A bag of fabric may be the reason we gather but true love is why we stay.

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Two Weeks, Two Retreats

I have just returned from two quilt retreats in as many weeks. Some folks told me that much intense quilting would probably kill me. But it didn’t.

In fact, it was exhilarating! It was inspiring! It was certainly a whole lot of fun! OK, it was a bit tiring. But I would do it again in a heart beat.

At a quilt retreat you join like-minded friends i.e. other quilters for a few days of sewing, laughing, sharing, learning and maybe a practical joke here and there.

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At the first retreat, I and about 25 other women spent four days in a special center built for just such occasions. We had our rooms and food provided – what a luxury! All we had to do was plug in our machines and begin sewing.

And sew we did. Quilts began showing up on the design walls immediately and didn’t stop until we were forced to leave four days later.

The five newbies were a bit overwhelmed by the sounds and the sights of the big room. But the sounds of the workroom were so familiar to those of us who had been before. The hum of machines, the chatter of conversations here and there, the ring of laughter floating over all, the chime of an “AHA!” as someone finally figured out a difficult problem.

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And what looked like mass confusion was really busy organization at work. Quilts were being planned, resized, sewn, ripped, resewn, quilted and bound. Advice was being given and received, knowledge shared, tips and tricks passed from one generation to the next.

All this was happening while relationships were being formed and strengthened. Actually, isn’t that what it’s really all about?

So, after four days, I came home, unpacked, washed my clothes, repacked and headed off to my second retreat. This time it was at a hotel and resort center.

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I roomed with a dear friend whom I have known since sixth grade. We joined 85 men and women for another four days of quilting heaven.

Yes, I said men! We have men in this group that quilt and they are wonderful. That is one of the great things about the art of quilting, it is very inclusive.

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So how do 85 people quilt together? Well, first they take over the entire Ballroom with tables, sewing machines, irons, ironing boards and design boards. It was a tight fit, but we  made it.

We nearly drowned in fabric, scraps and thread. But thanks to the hotel staff that vacuumed every night, we kept our heads above water.

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I have never seen such a flurry of activity anywhere in my life. It looked like mayhem, but was controlled work, in actuality. Again the quilts began to appear almost immediately.

The creativity and beauty I saw was amazing. It just kept coming, from every corner of the room. From young and old (Our oldest quilter is 89!). From skilled to newbie alike, the results were wonderful, spectacular.

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Now I’m home again with my two finished quilt tops, one quilt bound and one quilt started. I got a lot accomplished, renewed friendships, met some new friends, ate very well, laughed until it hurt, learned some new tips and shared some others.

In other words, I had a perfect two weeks. The hardest part now is getting used to cooking again. Ugh!!!

Dresses For Christmas

What could be better than a new dress for Christmas? Say a dress made of white Batiste with cranberry trim and maybe some smocking? Maybe it would have a beautiful little green ribbon running through the threads of the smocking and maybe the tie would be cranberry too?

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Would that dress be the prettiest thing you ever saw? Would a granddaughter of eight years old think it was the best dress ever made for her?

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Would Christmas be just that much better wearing a new dress made just for you? Would you feel like a princess in a crisp white dress ironed just so and stitched with all the love possible?

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Would the pictures taken of a dark haired girl in the new white dress be all the more precious because her grandmother made the dress just for her? Would the dark haired girl feel the same because she knew the dress was meant for no one else but her?

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What could be better than a new dress for Christmas? How about two new dresses for Christmas? How about a dark haired granddaughter and a fair haired great-granddaughter in matching dresses? How about Christmas memories that will last a lifetime for two?

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Is that not that the best picture for Christmas? Two precious girls, in two precious dresses, at the same time? Am I the luckiest Granny ever?

To Houston And Back Again

What would make 48 women get up in the middle of the night, drive to a deserted mall, then get on a bus and ride five hours to their final location? And do all that with joy and excitement in their hearts? Only one thing I can think of – The Houston Quilt Show!

And so it was. We 48 with bags, backpacks and credit cards in hand, made our annual trek to the quilters’ version of Mecca. The one place that calls to beginner and master alike, to traditionalist and modernist as well, to anyone who has ever looked longingly at fabric or wanted to make something wonderful from a scrap of woven anything – that place. We just call it “Houston.”

Houston has quilts to view of every kind, shape, color and era. One of the exhibits this year was “Dear Jane” quilts. They are near and dear to my heart. Well, Houston did not disappoint! Oh my, oh my!

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Even some of the backs are absolutely exquisite!

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Here’s a Dear Jane that forms a secondary heart design on the front of the quilt.

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Some are red and white, some are blue and white, some are black and white, and some are multi colored. It is a personal choice.

A person could spend days just viewing the lovely quilts hanging everywhere – the Christmas quilts, the modern quilts, the Millefiori, the dresses (yes, I said dresses!), the 20 foot crocodile and on and on.

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This is Best of Show which looks like a photograph. Here is the artist in front of her quilt.

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This quilt looks like photo up close and the shelves look like real wood. It is a masterpiece  of quilting.

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The miniatures were especially appealing to me. And I do mean small – these cuties were about four inches long and belonged in a dollhouse. I’m pretty sure they were made by elves.

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There were even quilts made out of linens and doilies and then quilted and beaded. They were exquisite beyond words.

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Entire quilts can even be done with thread alone as in this one. Beyond description really.

That night we had dinner at the Aquarium. How special is that? Yes, we had seafood for dinner and ate it in front of their cousins in the tanks, but it was so goooood!

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Anyway, the 350 pound Grouper didn’t seem to mind too much. The atmosphere was wonderful and the Pomegranate Kiss Martini didn’t hurt either. We had a grand time making friends and learning about the Aquarium.

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After a good night’s sleep, it was back to the show for more quilt Nirvana. Once we had seen all the quilts, it was off to the vendors’ section. Anything you could ever need, want or desire for quilting was there. And all the new things I didn’t know I needed!

What lovely fabrics and wools! Notions by the armload! Patterns to die for! There were shoes, clothes, jewelry, baskets, lights, irons. I got my rings polished. My friend even bought a sewing machine! An entire machine with all the extras, warranty, extra feet, carrying case, etc., etc. and had it all shipped home. What a great place is this Houston!!!

I bought a tin tray and some wool embroidery to fit on the top. I didn’t even know I needed it until I saw it! I was a very happy camper!

Finally the day was over and we tired, but very pleased 48 piled back into the bus with booty in hand. Bundles of fat quarters, quilt kits, rulers and stacks of wool were carefully placed in the overhead compartments. Patterns and books were kept to be read on the ride home.

In the dark of the night, we all looked at the pictures we had taken of the beauty we had seen. Soft conversations were held up and down the rows of seats, as we shared the sights and feelings of the day.

We talked, we laughed, we shared, we laughed some more, all in the darkness of a small bus. We tipped the driver. We gave a gift to the trip planner, coincidentally named Happy.

We knew the trip was coming to an end. Houston was now behind us and reality was again setting in. Our loved ones were waiting at the deserted mall to once again drive us home, where it all began.

But something was different. We still had all our goodies, our bags, our souvenirs, our new projects, and our pictures to take with us. We would remember. We had been to Houston!

Tea Dyed Quilt

I recently made a small doll quilt with some challenge fabric from the Jane Austen Group I belong to. It turned out very cute and colorful. But it seemed a bit too bright for me. I wanted it to look a little bit older and maybe a bit more used. The Log Cabin pattern kind of calls for that look, I think. So what to do?

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I had already made the quilt, so dying the fabric pieces was out. Maybe I could tea dye the whole quilt! Why not!

I got a pot big enough to fit the whole quilt into and filled it with water almost to the top, leaving room for the quilt. Brought the water to a boil and added my tea bags. As it happened, I only had one bag of regular tea. The rest of the bags were herbal tea. Wasn’t sure if that would work, but what the heck.

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Turned off the heat and left the 7 bags of tea to steep for about five minutes. While the tea was steeping, I soaked the quilt in cool water in the sink and wrung out the excess. After the five minutes, I added it to the tea mixture in the pot and let it soak for 30 minutes.

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I removed the tea bags when I put the quilt in. One source I read said to leave the bags in if you want a more mottled look.

Then I took the quilt back to the sink for another cool water bath to rinse out all the extra tea water. Finally I laid it on a soft towel to dry. That took about a day.

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The little quilt now looks just as I pictured it – a little toned down, a little old and a little used. I don’t think it could look any better!

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Why I Quilt

I love it. I have to do something everyday that gives me joy. Quilting (and sewing in general) does that for me. It brings a happiness that nothing else does. What a blessing to find that in my life and so early. I knew as a child I would sew the rest of my life.

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It gives me peace. When I am quilting, I am completely at peace with myself and my surroundings. Time and trouble have almost no meaning when I am in the midst of fabric and a sewing machine. For me, quilting is better at curing the blues than professional therapy.

It makes me use my mind. Quilting involves a fair amount of math; using fractions, the metric system, division, geometry and angles. I must use my brain to keep measurements accurate. I also have to make squares, triangles, etc. match up. There are many skills I have to learn and new ways of doing things. There is always something new on the horizon. Quilting keeps me on my toes, alert and always aware. I think it helps keep me young.

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It’s a way to be creative. Colors, shapes, sizes, contrast and harmony – all combine in a million different ways. How fun it is to explore the possibilities that quilting affords me. I can literally think of anything and try it out with fabric! It doesn’t get any better.

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It keeps me organized. Keeping all the parts of a quilt in order can be a chore, but it does make me develop a system. The system allows the quilt to go together in the right sequence and it is different for each quilt. That way I’m able to stop and start without getting lost.

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It allows me to be messy. When I’m quilting, it can look like a fabric bomb has gone off in my sewing room. And that’s okay! Allowing the fabric to speak and jump out can be a freeing experience. Try it – I think you will like it! And I don’t have to clean it up until I’m ready.

It gives me a sense of accomplishment. Making progress on a quilt is very invigorating. Every block done is a goal accomplished. And a finished quilt is a thrill beyond compare. All the thought, planning, work, ripping, re-sewing and love become a beautiful fabric hug.

It never ends. Even before one quilt is done, I’m looking forward to the next project. There is always a new energy and an eagerness to get to the next idea. Numerous thoughts concerning several quilts can be going on at the same time. Quilts follow quilts. They never end!

The community of other quilters. Sharing the love of quilting with other like-minded people just multiplies the joy. I have found quilters to be the most selfless, caring, inclusive, sharing folks on the planet. I can’t imagine quilting all alone. It is a gift that must be performed  with others. I must share. I must be taught. I must teach. I must know the happiness of a group quilting together.

Photographs for the book "Teach Yourself Visually: Quilting" by Sonja Hakala. (Photo by Geoff Hansen)

Photographs for the book “Teach Yourself Visually: Quilting” by Sonja Hakala.
(Photo by Geoff Hansen)

It is part of my legacy. I envision quilts I made being handed down to my family for generations. I have also made many quilts as gifts for family and friends. These quilts are part of me and show my love for those in my life. Like my laugh and my sense of humor, they will be remembered and talked about for many years to come.

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The act of quilting itself sets a good example for the younger generations in my family. As the matriarch, I want to be seen as a productive and active elder. I believe quilting does that for me.

One Hundred Years To Make A Quilt

One hundred years ago my grandmother Irene started embroidering linens and doilies for her home. She made tablecloths with matching napkins, pillowcases, dresser scarves, hand towels and handkerchiefs.

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She also began collecting special pieces that were decorated by others she knew. Some of the linens were probably to be used in a quilt or bedspread and some were treasured gifts from treasured people in her life. All were spectacular and beautiful.

Sixty years ago my mother Peggy inherited the wonderful collection of embroidered linens from my grandmother. She used a few of them in the house we lived in.

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Over the years, she added a few pieces to the group. I remember a tablecloth with napkins for a card table and a liner for a bread basket. I know she made more but that’s all I remember.

Both my grandmother and mother were great sewers and made most of their clothes. My mother made many of my clothes as well as my two children’s when they were little. What they didn’t do very much was embroider, so everything they did embellish is just that much more precious.

The embroidery has become more than just a pretty attraction. It has become a symbol. It represents continuity – a connection over the years, the decades. It is a thread that binds my grandmother to mother to me. All the hours they spent are there. All the starts, mistakes, restarts and finishes are there. All the plans blossoming into beautifully decorated linens are there. There for all to see, appreciate and learn from.

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Forty-three years ago I became the recipient of the grand collection, which by then had become fairly extensive. After a few years of my own collecting, I began to try to plan a good use for the expanding treasure trove of embellished pieces of linen and cotton.

Last year I designed a quilt using as many of the antique and vintage pieces as I could. The center is the middle of a tablecloth surrounded by four hand towels and corners of two dresser scarves.

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Around that are the borders of a tablecloth. The mosaic panels are made up of all sorts of linens and doilies overlapping all around the quilt.

Doily Quilt5 It is a glorious mixture of all the types f embroidery, crochet, tatting and crossstitch.

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The final border is made up of handkerchiefs of every color and design.

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While sewing every seam, I thought about mother and grandmother, their love of sewing and their contribution to the quilt. Their enthusiasm and love of the art were with me every step of the way. What a lovely way to share with the generations.

One hundred years of hand work, collecting and loving special pieces of cloth, three generations of women and one quilt to show all the care. What a grand result!

I couldn’t have done it without you two!