Missouri Star


Missouri Star pillow

My grandfather turned 96 in August. He’s a child of the Midwest, a father of eight, a Harvard Business School graduate who never went to college, the founder of the first radio station in southwestern Missouri and of Channel 38 in Boston, a former Fidelity VP who also worked for NASA, and an electronics whiz who installed and taught the use of radars for Doolittle’s Raiders.

Yes, you read that right. My grandfather has done some very interesting things in his 96 years.

When I was little I knew none of this, though. I knew that my grandfather was a vegetarian with a sweet tooth and a Christmas tree farm who could do a flip off a diving board well into his 60’s and went to church every Sunday. That he’d decide to build a two-car garage and end up with a second floor guest suite, too. That he’d always have a tree swing in the backyard for the grandkids, and that despite living in New England for half a century, he never lost the Ozark twang in his voice. And all that is pretty darn cool, too.

These days my grandfather lives half a country away. Although he tires easily, his mind is still sharp and his memories are priceless. I thought, when I went to make him something for his birthday, that I’d keep those things in mind – his sharp intellect and his connection to the past. I chose a Missouri Star block for its history and the fabrics for their evocative nature, and put them into a pillow for comfort.

Missouri Star pillow detail

The Missouri Star block is a traditional one and my grandfather immediately picked up on it; it reminded him of the quilts his mother made for friends and family. I used blues and soft grays, looking for patterns that were masculine but expressive – wheeling birds, a navy and white print that, when cut into small parts, made me think of rough grasses; pale blue and gray crosshatch like worn and well-loved shirts.

Happy birthday, Grandaddy.

Blueberry Season



blueberry pudding cake

The stores around here were full of blueberries at ridiculously good prices last week. When that happens, I make this cake. It’s not a Cake cake. No frosting, kinda messy, lots of berries and sauce. It’s more like a pie in cake form. In this house, we eat it for breakfast. And lunch.

The original recipe is by Melissa Roberts-Matar, printed in Gourmet magazine, July 2005. I’ve tweaked it slightly to my taste. If you want to try the original, you can find it on Epicurious.  My version is below.


Serves 8

1/3 cup plus 1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup water

1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice (I just squeeze half a large lemon and call it good)

1 teaspoon cornstarch

2 pint containers of blueberries

1 cup flour

1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 large egg

3/4 cup whole milk

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, melted and cooled slightly

1 teaspoon vanilla

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter an 8″ baking pan. (I use a basic glass pyrex baking pan.)
  • Stir together 1/3 cup sugar with water, lemon juice, cornstarch, and blueberries. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the berries have broken and the sauce is a deep purple (about 5-6 minutes). Remove from heat.
  • Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a medium bowl. Add the egg, milk, butter, and vanilla and whisk until just combined.
  • Pour the batter into the baking pan and spread it out evenly. Pour the berries over the top. Some berries will sink and some of the batter will bubble up.
  • Bake until a knife or toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cool for at least 10 minutes before serving. The cake will sink as it cools and the sauce will thicken up a little.

This cake keeps well on the counter for a day or two if kept covered in foil.

On My Bookshelf: A Dangerous Place


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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


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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.

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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


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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


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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


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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.


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