On My Bookshelf: A Dangerous Place


, ,

dangerous place coverJacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series takes a darker turn with A Dangerous Place.

Reeling from tragedy, Maisie isolates herself from her usual crew of friends and family in an attempt to heal. While avoiding home with a stop in Gibraltar, Maisie stumbles across a dead body and a tiny flame of investigative curiosity ignites in her damaged psyche. As Maisie digs deeper into the life of the murdered man she also learns more about the war raging over the border in Spain and the complicated politics feeding the conflict.

This is Maisie at her darkest, a reflection of both the trauma in her life and the black clouds gathering over the world political stage. And yet she is still the Maisie Dobbs readers have grown to love over the course of the series: resilient, truth-seeking, thoughtful, and compassionate. Maisie’s struggle to right herself rang true and kept me reading even when the politics of revolutionary Spain lost me, but I did miss the presence of Maisie’s long-time assistant, Billy, her best friend, Priscilla, and her father, Frankie. Winspear’s writing is, as ever, elegant and meticulously researched, portraying not just historical facts but the atmosphere of the time through the lens of Maisie’s observant eyes.

As a fan of the Maisie Dobbs series, I see how this book fits into the story arc but I did find it to be a more difficult read than earlier books. The jump from Leaving Everything Most Loved to A Dangerous Place is a big one, covering four years and a large piece of Maisie’s personal life in a few letters, and it lacks some of the relief from Maisie’s seriousness that Billy, Priscilla, and Frankie provide. And yet, I am looking forward to seeing where Maisie goes next. A Dangerous Place leaves her at a turning point, deep in the Spanish Civil War, on the brink of WWII, and about to begin again.

Out of the Blue


, ,


Sometimes something comes along that catches you by surprise and leaves you with a big grin on your face and a little tear in your eye. I recently came home from a weekend away to find a box on my doorstep that turned a lovely day into a golden one.

In the early 1940s, my grandmother made a this toy camel for one of my aunts. The Camel with the Wrinkled Knees, of Raggedy Ann fame. He had black button eyes, a yellow saddle, and red feet. His stitching was perfect.

The camel was handed down from sister to sister and thirty five years ago the youngest gave the camel to me. He traveled with me until my aunt wondered aloud on the family website if anyone knew what had happened to him. It seemed important that she see him again, so Mr. Camel went into a box and off to Tennessee.

Camel package

Birthday 1944Seven years later, my aunt has returned the favor and then some. The box on my doorstep not only held Mr. Camel but the original pattern (McCall 914, $.35, copyright 1941), a copy of Raggedy Ann and Andy and the Camel with the Wrinkled Knees, and a picture of my aunt, age 3, on her birthday with Ann, Andy, and Mr. Camel. Such a sweet little face.

My aunt sent me a note, too, to be prized with the rest, in which she writes about the camel, the dolls, where they lived at the time, and how she pored over the pictures in the Raggedy Ann books as a child.

What a gift, this peek into her childhood and a vintage pattern and book for the sewist and reader! My little one immediately sat down with the book and the camel and started poring over the pictures, just as my aunt did as a girl. I took a photo, which I will send back to her. I think she’ll appreciate it.

Linen Bags for Summer



I went on a bag-making spree in June. For my mother, a color-blocked cross-body bucket bag. For me, rope-handled tote with a matching zip pouch.


The color block bag is from a pattern in Modern Patchwork Magazine, Spring 2015. I used the instructions in the magazine pretty much to the letter and was pleased with how the bag turned out. It’s bright and cheerful and a good size for a wallet, sunglasses, book, and light sweater. Not too big; not too small.


Materials: Essex linen in natural for the exterior, Essex linen in hot pink for the lining, and various scraps from my stash for the color blocks. The 10″ zipper is from ZipIt.


My bag is a slight adaptation of Anna Graham’s Caravan Tote. I used the handle style and placement from this tote featured on the Hawthorne Threads blog, modified the lining and needle pockets a little, and I left out the exterior pouch pocket. Oh, and I skipped the heavier interfacing. I may regret that choice down the road, but it seemed like it would be so bulky to sew through when I was already using linen on the exterior. I’ll probably make this bag again in another print and will try the additional interfacing. So far, though, no complaints! I’m quite happy with it. It may seem like I changed a lot from the original Caravan pattern but I really did follow all the essential construction steps for this bag. I know how to make a basic lined tote without a tutorial but this one involves zippers (my nemesis) and multiple linings, and I wanted to make sure I got it right.

035 033
Materials: Sunshine and Essex linens on the exterior, Priory Square prints for the linings, rope handles and gold swivel clasps from Joann’s, 14″ red zipper from Zipper Island.

Fourth of July Pinwheel Quilt



Fourth of July pinwheel quilt

I finished up my Fourth of July pinwheel quilt just in time to take it to the local fireworks display – hooray! My kids happily curled up under it, which pretty much made the evening for me.

This quilt is made up of 20 pinwheel blocks (tutorial here) and stipple quilted. The solids are Robert Kaufmann Kona, the backing is a gray batik and the binding is a red and white chevron of unremembered origin.

I’m quite taken with this quilt, despite (or maybe because of?) the fact that all solids and high contrast is unusual for me.

Hope you all had a fun and festive Fourth of July!

Fourth quilt back detail

Pinwheel Fourth of July Block for the BMQG


, ,

Hello and happy July! Today I have a tutorial for a pinwheel block that evokes fireworks and Fourth of July pinwheels. It’s part of the Boston Modern Quilt Guild block of the month series. Enjoy!

pinwheel block

The assignment: Create a block in guild colors of dark blue, red, and white
The inspiration: Independence Day! Fireworks in a night sky and pinwheels
Materials needed: 1/4 yard dark blue solid; 1/8 yard each deep red and white solids
Finished size: 12″
     8  6.5″ x 3.5″ dark blue rectangles
     4  3.5″ x 3.5″ red squares
     4  3.5″ x 3.5″ white squares
Notes: Square up your pieces after each step to accurately match up your points.
1. Place the red and white squares on the blue rectangles, matching up the top and side edges.
2. Sew from the top left corner to the bottom right corner of the square.
3. Trim 1/4″ from the seam line on the upper/right side of the seam line, as shown.
4. Press the resulting triangle away from the blue rectangle.
5. Pair up the red/blue rectangles with the white/blue rectangles. You’ll have four pairs. Match up the long edges as shown, overlapping the corners of the red and white triangles, and sew. Press the seam open. Repeat for each pair.
6. Arrange the four sections so that the white and red triangles alternate in a pinwheel. Sew the bottom pair together, matching up seam lines, and then the top pair. Press seams open.
7. Match up the center seams of the top and bottom sections and sew together. Press seam open.
8. Trim up your block and you’re all set!

A Sweet and Simple Baby Quilt



sweet and simple squares 2Sometimes I just feel like sewing something, even if there are no birthdays, showers, fundraisers, or other events coming up. Simple squares, straight line quilting, cheerful colors. Happy quilting. I particularly liked this combination of brights and pale, soft blue. I backed the quilt in a fun umbrella print and bound it with a floral from the same fabric line (April Showers by Bonnie & Camille). It’s stroller size – 31″ square – and perfect for naps and tummy time.

squares backings

This quilt is available in my Etsy shop.

A Pre-K Quilt


, ,

Pre-K Quilt tree

This spring I did a variation on the Kindergarten Quilt Project with my daughter’s Pre-K class. This was a simpler version – fewer kids, no coordination of donated materials, and on-the-spot piecing. I brought my sewing machine in to the classroom so we could work on a crazy quilting border together. The kids were great and I enjoyed seeing the choices they made with color and shape. Two boys brought up matching honeycomb prints to be placed side by side “’cause we’re best friends,” a quiet girl was fascinated with text prints, and one eager child didn’t care all that much about the fabric but really wanted to know how fast the sewing machine could go.

Yes, I cranked the machine speed up for her.

The kids worked on fabric drawings when they weren’t at the sewing machine. As I did with the K-Quilt, I asked them to draw what makes them happy.

crazy quilting detail

My own munchkin whipped out a drawing in her signature saturated style and then seated herself at my side, a petite assistant. She reminded friends to keep their hands in their pockets when the sewing machine was going. She answered questions about thread and what the buttons in the machine did and if it could stitch backwards. She kept order. She beamed.

Note to self: Take more time to do stuff in the classroom.

One challenge with working with drawings from small children is that they are often very loose. Abstract. Sometimes scribbly. Individually they are each lovely or funny or adorable but putting them all together can be visually chaotic. To balance out the drawings I did a few things: I broke the drawings up into two groups; I did a fairly heavy stipple pattern when quilting the crazy patchwork to give it a cohesive texture; I added two 1″ red frames to highlight the square quilt shape and provide a small amount of solid color to ground the drawings. (I picked red because it’s the school color.)

Pre-K Quilt

The result was a square throw quilt with 33 drawings and a 5″ wide section of crazy quilting. It’s bright and cheerful, and it is a sweet snapshot of this moment in time, as these little ones change rapidly and get ready to leave preschool. I think last fall the drawings on this quilt would have looked very different, and by this coming fall they will be in another dimension entirely.

The Pre-K Quilt was raffled off during a fundraising event for the school. I was a little sad to see the quilt go, but you know what? I’ll be back to do it again next year.


P.S. For those who think I’m nuts for bringing my machine into the classroom or want to try something similar: We set a few ground rules with the kids first. 1) Only I touch the buttons to make the machine start and stop. 2) All hands in pockets or on top of heads when the machine is sewing. 3) Only two or three kids at a time with me and the machine.

On My Bookshelf: All Points Patchwork


, , , ,


This week I’m really looking forward to the arrival of my print copy of All Points Patchwork, a lovely English paper piecing book by Diane Gilleland of craftypod.com. I’ve spent the past week pouring over the digital advance copy and can’t wait to get my hands on the actual pages!

All Points Patchwork provides clear, user-friendly, and thorough instructions on how to use English paper piecing (EPP) to create stunning patchwork. This isn’t a project book – there are no step-by-step tutorials on how to complete specific projects – but instead is a beautiful and intuitive primer on how to use EPP. As someone who frequently passes over purchasing craft books because I don’t want to make more than one or two of the projects in the book, I was pleased by this open-ended approach. Make no mistake – there are plenty of project ideas and beautiful photos in this book! But Gilleland teaches you how to do the piecing; the exact application is up to you.

And teach piecing she does. I’ve tried a little EPP for applique for tricky spots in small quilts but have never attempted a large project; now I feel much more confident about trying my hand at something sizable. Gilleland breaks down the history of EPP, how it differs from other types of piecing, the various types of templates/shapes and basting techniques, how to work with the templates, how to join patchwork pieces, how to design a pattern, the effects of color and scale, and how to handle trouble spots like mis-matched edges. The book includes a generous number of templates to get you started.


There are, of course, wonderful photos to illustrate piecing techniques and the possibilities of finished projects. From pillows to a child’s dress to throw quilts, Gilleland uses every opportunity to show off how the crisp lines of EPP patchwork can turn a nice project into a stunning one. Gilleland’s charming handiwork graces dozens of projects large and small. There is a starting point here for just about any sewist interested in trying EPP.


With summer rapidly approaching, I’m looking forward to starting on some portable hand-stitching work that can travel with me. I think something inspired by this might fit the bill nicely:


All Points Patchwork is available May 19, 2015.

All images excerpted from: All Points Patchwork (c) Diane Gilleland. Photographs by (c) Alexandra Grablewski. Borrowed with permission of Storey Publishing.

On My Bookshelf: Nightbird

nightbirdAh, this is the sort of middle grade novel that I love: A bit timeless, a bit magical, featuring an early-teen girl finding her place in the world. Oh, and it features apples and a little early New England history. Always selling points for me.

Twig lives in a small western MA community with her mom, where she is the oddball girl in her grade – she doesn’t go to parties or friends’ houses and spends most of her time in the family apple orchard. Her mother, beautiful and guarded, is the region’s best baker and biggest mystery. Twig is painfully lonely, so when a new family moves in next door the lure of friendship is too difficult to resist. She violates family tradition, putting a long-held secret at risk, in an attempt to break out of the isolation that has cloaked her childhood. In the process, she pulls her whole family along with her, dredging up ancient history and rewriting the future.

This is a book to buy and keep, re-reading on late summer nights or when the need for gentle fantasy strikes.

A Few Finishes


, , , , ,

stroller quiltbutterfly pillow fairy skirt Frequency

Frequency 4

blue room 3

April has been a month for finishing things. For my friend’s new baby, an I-spy stroller/nap quilt. For friends, a half-square triangle throw quilt. For my kids, a freshly painted room with new shades.


I only snapped one decent picture of the stroller quilt before wrapping it up for my friend. This little quilt was fun to put together and I enjoyed playing around with all the fussy-cut prints. I started with a deep teal blue as my base, then added light blues, alternating them in each row with animals, clouds, and letters. The backing is a soft gray and white checked flannel. It’s just shy of 3′ square, a good size for tummy time or tucking in to a stroller.

The half-square triangle quilt is made up entirely of Petal and Plume fabrics, in a pattern that radiates out from a center square. I am proud of how this came out, but boy, did it drive me nuts while I was piecing it! I turned pieces around the wrong way so many times….Patience and careful squaring up paid off, though. After some consideration I decided to quilt this simply, using a navy thread to stitch in the ditch along the diagonals and then around the squares formed by the navy prints. I used Warm and Natural cotton batting and more Petal and Plume for the backing and binding. The result is a quilt that is soft and light and wonderfully drapey.

In non-sewing news, the kids’ room is finally done! For the better part of three weeks, Mr. K and I stripped wallpaper, washed down walls, spackled, sanded, patched up window trim, painted, and did a lot of vacuuming of dust. Yes, three weeks is a long time for one room. Removing that wallpaper was HORRENDOUS. For the record, very hot water in a spray bottle is still the most effective method of removing wallpaper in ye olde condo.

I was so very glad when the last scrap off paper was off the wall, the last lump of spackle was sanded, and the walls were ready for paint. Paint is easy. Paint goes on quickly and provides an immediate, tangible reward. We chose two shades of blue for the room, Sail to the Sea and Oh, Boy!, both by California Paints. These are fun, lively blues that appealed to both kids and look good with light and dark furniture.

Just for perspective, here’s the same corner pre and post paint:

spackled wall blue room 1

The room is fairly small and there’s a lot in it, so I opted to do roman shades instead of curtain panels. I ordered this dandelion fabric and used this tutorial for turning metal blinds into fabric shades, adding a liner to the back side of the fabric first. I’m happy with the result, cheerful and clean-lined.

The relief from snow is almost tangible in our part of the world. New Englanders sprang out of doors this past week, working on neglected yards, flooding playgrounds, strolling the streets, sitting in cafes. Fairy wings came out of the dress-up box and scooters out of the garage. We joined the masses of sun-seekers, and when I went to the grocery store over the weekend I found this most precious of spring produce: Rhubarb. If you’ve followed this blog for a little while you know about me and rhubarb. When it first shows up in the stores I celebrate with a rhubarb custard pie, made from an old recipe in the family cookbook.

rhubarb custard pie

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 68 other followers