Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Best Quilt Day, Ever

Good Morning!

We got off to a very early start yesterday, up before dawn, on our way to the annual Prairie Strippers sewing day. We are definitely "regulars", as this is our sixth year of vending and teaching classes at the event.

Wesley stopped for a minute to capture this image of the breathtaking sunrise, as the morning dew evaporated from the low areas.

Around 7:30, he arrived at the Dupree Pioneer Hall with our "traveling quilt shop".

Our trailer and SUV were packed to the brim with a vast array of quilts and merchandise. Guild members met him at the door, ready to help. By the time Laurie-Ann, Barb, & I arrived at 8am, he was unpacked and setting up for the day.

This year the guild had record attendance. Around 65 quilters (many traveled quite a distance) registered for classes, and generous guild members served as hostesses, organizers, and lunchroom volunteers. Five classes took place simultaneously in a large open room. The sounds of sewing machines, class discussions, lunchtime preparations, and laughter created a sense of warmth and companionship. It's was a modern version of a "quilting bee".

The smell of fresh coffee, homemade donuts, and fresh fruit wafted from the kitchen in the early morning. Lunchtime treats included delicious salads & sandwiches, and a variety of cookies & bars. Everything was homemade, from the buns to the pickles. Many vegetables were homegrown. And, by mid-afternoon, we were eating again.... coffee, bars... and more of those melt in your mouth donuts.

Just after classes started, the power flickered, then snapped off. We initially assumed it was a quilter's problem... too many irons, too many sewing machines. But, we quickly found out that the entire region was without power, and it might be hours before it could be restored. Undeterred, the students cut their fabrics in the sunshine, and we held an impromptu trunk show & demo outside in the fresh morning air.

A show & tell followed the classes: a breathtaking display of creativity and artistry. Two guilt members climbed upon a picnic table, and carefully held each quilt up high so everyone could see. From beginners to experts, the guild members and their guests shared their finished projects (and some "almost finished" ones), and spoke about their significance. Graduation quilts, wedding quilts, baby quilts, memory quilts, show quilts, quilts from classes they took, and quilts they can't bear to give away. In the process, we heard snippets of family news.. a new grandbaby... a fall wedding deadline... empty nest... a teenage granddaughter interested in quilting.

In many ways, the day reminded me of a family reunion. A very close knit group of women, from different generations, unfailingly supportive of each other, simply radiating with kindness, generosity, talent, and creativity. No "quilt guild politics" in this group... just the usual "family stuff."

Wesley & I go to a lot of retreats, quilt shows, and guild events. We can honestly say that we have never had a bad experience, and each one is memorable in it's own way. We are always impressed with hospitality of our regional quilt guilds, and the immense amount of effort it takes to organize activities for quilters.

We drove home in the dark last night, tired from the long day, achy from the hard work, and munching on the homemade sandwiches the kitchen gals kindly wrapped up for us.

It was the "Best Quilt Day, Ever."

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Middle of Somewhere

matthewsoxhamptonatpublicschool deerinthepasture

Good Morning!

North Dakota has been in the national news lately with a feature story about people relocating to our region for jobs. The state has one of the healthiest economies in the nation, and good jobs can be located via North Dakota Job Service.

The majority of the newcomers head for Bismarck, Fargo & Grand Forks, our three largest cities. But, some choose rural areas. They joke that they are moving to "the middle of nowhere". I'm certain that it does feel that way, when they first arrive.

I'm not naive enough to think that everyone will love to live here. Our climate can be pretty miserable, especially in the dead of winter. Conveniences like all-night grocery stores or "big box discounters" are only found in a handful of North Dakota cities. Entertainment is not always easy to find in our little towns. For us, the closest shopping mall, Walmart, McDonald's, and Apple bee's are seventy miles away, and we're lucky if we get there once a month.

But, we try to focus on what we do have, rather than what we don't.
If they open their minds to the possibilities, and give us a chance, newcomers will find:

  • Hard-working, friendly people, willing to do just about anything to help a family in need.
  • Hard-working, friendly, small business owners, who go out of their way to help each customer. The'll often order specialty items, as long as you don't mind waiting for the "next shipment." I happen to know of a pretty nice quilt shop that fits this description :)
  • A strong school system with devoted teachers and administrators. Matthew starts school on Tuesday, but on Friday we went to the "First Grade Open House". The top photo shows him with Sox & Hampton, perched on the "Public School" sign outside the main entrance. He was so excited, he could hardly sit still for the picture. He would have taken his furry friends inside to visit the classroom, but reluctantly respected the "No Dogs in School" rule.
  • Tasty food at family owned restaurants.
  • Excellent health care (although driving distance can be lengthy, depending upon where you live).
  • Clean, safe, close-knit communities, that are great places to raise a family. Every town has a yearly celebration of some sort, such as this weekend's "Tractor Fest" in Mott. The Mott quilters arranged a lovely demonstration of their work, and borrowed our bags & pincushions for a special display.
  • A strong emphasis on athletics. Expect the "whole town" to show up for important games.
  • Some pretty amazing outdoor scenery, and lots of wide open spaces for hiking, biking, boating, and more. Wildlife is abundant. The deer in the photo were grazing in the pasture just below our house last night, and trotted off over the hill after I captured the photo.

  • All in all, we are welcoming the newcomers with open arms. After so many years of "depopulation", we're excited to see some "re-population". It's a good thing for our state, our schools, and our communities. We hope the new residents will embrace our way of life, and will be happy here.

    This isn't "the middle of nowhere", it's the "middle of somewhere really nice!"

    Miss Rosie’s Quilt Company: Fruit Salad Pincushions


    Project: Watermelon Pincushion designed by Carrie Nelson,  featuring “Bees Knees” fabrics by Maywood Studios.  Click here  for pincushion pattern.  Click here for a fabric kit. Click here  for fabric collection (currently on clearance at $7.50/yard).

    Finished Size: approximately 4” x 7”

    Skill Level: Intermediate


    • Curved Piecing
    • Embellishment 

    Useful Supplies

    • Fusible Fleece (click here & here)
    • Aurifil 28 weight thread for machine quilting, top-stitching, and pin-cushion construction. Click here for our current selection.
    • Embellishments not included in fabric kit: Perle cotton No. 5, or Embroidery Floss.  Beads or tiny metal brads for seed accents. I found the brads at Fried’s Scrapbook Shoppe.

    Project Description:

    A three dimensional watermelon pincushion is created from quilted layers of coordinating fabric.  Seed accents are added. The pincushion is stuffed with a combination of cotton stuffing and crushed walnut shells.  A herringbone accent is hand-stitched as a decorative accent.

    Disclaimer: This blog is meant to illustrate the ease of pincushion construction, and demonstrate some useful tips.  It does NOT replace the pattern.  Please refer to Carrie Nelson’s pattern for precise measurements, excellent sewing diagrams, and step by step instruction.

    Let’s Get Started:

    Lay out assorted red cotton strips in a pleasing fashion.  Use either (4) pairs, or (8) unique prints.


    Join the strips together to create a strata.


    Sub-cut the strata into (8) segments.


    The first segment is left “as is”.  The remaining (7) segments are rearranged by removing a set number of squares from the top of the segment and re-sewing the squares to the bottom.


    The “rind” is created by sewing scrappy segments into a narrow strata.  Then, a fabric “sandwich” is created with  layers of  fusible fleece & muslin.


    Another “sandwich” is created for the red checkerboard.


    Each sandwich is machine quilted to stabilize all layers.  I simply stitched on the diagonal with matching red thread for the “fruit’, and straight stitched 1/4” from each seam on the rinds.

    Using the shapes provided in the pattern, a freezer paper template is created for both the “rind” and the “fruit”. 


    And the specified shapes are cut according to the pattern.


    The freezer paper template includes  markings for “seed” placement on the fruit.  I simply pressed my Quilter’s pencil through the freezer paper, to transfer the marking location to the muslin backed “fruit”.


    Then, small pewter scrapbooking “brads” were inserted into position.  From the top, they look like this:


    And from the back, they look like this:


    Right sides together, the “rind” and “fruit” are carefully pinned into position, and sewn with a curved seam technique.  A 2.5” hole is left open to allow turning.


    After the seam allowances are trimmed to eliminate bulk, the pin-cushion is turned right sides out.


    The inner corners of the cushion are filled with cotton or polyfil.  This helps the cushion retain it’s fullness.

    Then, crushed walnut shells are poured into the cushion until the cushion is pretty much packed.  


    A nice sized clump of cotton stuffing is placed over the walnut shells to make sewing the hole shut a little easier.


    And the hole is hand-stitched shut, using tiny, neat stitches, and heavy weight thread.

    Then, a herringbone accent stitch is added using Perle Cotton No. 5.  I actually used (3) strands of embroidery floss, because I didn’t have Perle Cotton in a shade that I liked.


    The finished project has a nice shape & weight.  A creative sewing room accessory… or make a coordinating strawberry cushion and use the pair for a decorative accent or centerpiece.


    Cabin Award Winner: August 23, 2009

    Congratulations to Julie Banaszynski!

    Your name has been randomly selected as this week's winner of the Cabin Award: a "“Tag Along Tote” pattern by Terri Atkinson, and a pair of “Machingers” quilting gloves", retail value $16.00. Please send an e-mail to Laurie-Ann at with your mailing address, and she'll help you redeem your reward. (Please specify your glove size: XS, S/M, M/L or XL).

    The next "Cabin Award" will be posted on Sunday, August 30th. The lucky recipient will receive a “Fruit Salad Pincushion” pattern by Miss Rosie’s Quilt Co. and a fabric kit to make the watermelon & strawberry pincushion, retail value $19.00. Be sure to check out this week’s blog entry regarding these items.

    Cabin award winners are randomly chosen from our list of blog followers. To become a follower, click on the colorful “FOLLOW” icon on the left side of this page, and proceed with the instructions.

    Sunday, August 16, 2009

    Cabin Award Winner: August 16, 2009

    Congratulations to NadiaConitz!

    Your name has been randomly selected as this week's winner of the Cabin Award: a "Minnesota Morning Kit with Pattern", retail value $27.00. Please send an e-mail to Laurie-Ann at with your mailing address, and she'll help you redeem your reward.

    This pretty table-topper kit is currently part of our Back to School Clearance, and has been marked down to $15.75 plus $4.50 for the pattern. Click here to visit the "Back to School Clearance" area, and here to view the Minnesota Morning kit.

    The next "Cabin Award" will be posted on Sunday, August 23rd. The lucky recipient will receive a “Tag Along Tote” pattern by Terri Atkinson, and a pair of “Machingers” quilting gloves.  Retail value of this award is $16.  Be sure to check out this week’s blog entry regarding these items.

    Cabin award winners are randomly chosen from our list of  blog followers.  To become a follower, click on the colorful “FOLLOW” icon on the left side of this page, and proceed with the instructions.

    Saturday, August 15, 2009

    Atkinson Designs: “Tag Along Tote”


    Project: Tag Along Tote designed by Terry Atkinson,  featuring “Urban Couture” fabrics by Basic Grey.  Click here for bag pattern.  Click here for fabric collection.

    Finished Size: 7” x 8” x 2”

    Skill Level: Confident Beginner


    • Free Motion Quilting
    • Binding
    • Basic Bag Construction

    Useful Supplies

    • Machinger’s Quilter’s Gloves (click here)
    • Fusible Fleece (click here & here)
    • Aurifil 28 weight thread for machine quilting, top-stitching, and bag construction. Click here for our current selection.

    Project Description:

    The pattern states: “For a fast fashion statement, make this tote in your favorite colors.  If you have extra time, add the optional zipper closure.  Tuck your cell phone or iPod in the pocket, add a dash of cash, and away you go!” 

    I’ve made a lot of bags lately, and some pattern designers clearly stand apart from the crowd.  Terri Atkinson’s bag designs are exceptionally clear, concise, and accurate.  But, I wouldn’t expect anything less from her… her quilt patterns are the same way.

    I love the way this little bag comes together.  Initially, as I cut the pieces, I didn’t understand how the lining was created, but she cleverly walks you through it, step by step, and everything fits together perfectly.

    Also, the fabric requirements are simple.  Three fat quarters: one focus print, and two accent colors.  That’s It!

    Disclaimer: This blog is meant to illustrate the ease of bag construction, and demonstrate some useful tips.  It does NOT replace the pattern.  Please refer to Terri Atkinson’s pattern for precise measurements, excellent sewing diagrams, and step by step instruction.

    Let’s get started…

    Quilting fabric “sandwiches” for a bag is a good opportunity to practice free motion quilting. I’m still a beginner, and it is much less intimidating for me to work on fabric rectangles like this, rather than try to quilt an intricately pieced quilt top.  If I mess up… there’s no harm done… I can always start over.

    I struggle to keep my stitches nice near the edges, and it doesn’t matter with this.  The sides, top, and bottom are eventually trimmed away.

    Before you quilt your rectangles, practice a little on a fabric/fleece/fabric sandwich.  Adjust your thread tension if needed (I usually find that I need to loosen both my top & bottom tension.)  Be sure that both the top & bobbin thread looks nice on your practice piece.

    Create a “sandwich” using the lining fabric, some lightweight batting or fusible fleece, and the focus fabric.  I prefer fusible fleece because it is sturdy without being heavy.  It gives bags nice body, and doesn’t bunch up.  Press to fuse the fleece to one fabric, and use quilt basting spray to adhere the fleece to the other fabric.


    Starting at one end of the rectangle, begin free motion quilting.  Draw the bobbin thread to the top, so it doesn’t get tangled in your stitches.  Use a free motion “darning” foot on the sewing machine.  I like to use Aurifil 28 weight thread for quilting because the heavier weight thread shows up nicely. It is also good for bag construction because it is so sturdy.  Click here for our current selection.


    Begin free motion quilting.  For me, this consists of random loops and swirls, trying to keep stitches even and the direction smooth.  Machingers quilting gloves are very helpful to grip the fabric as you work.


    Trim the fabric rectangle to size.  The edges become trash, and a neat fabric/fleece/fabric “sandwich” remains.


    One end of the rectangle is cut at an angle:


    The small wedge shape (photo right) becomes the top of the bag front.  The large wedge shape (photo left) becomes the bottom half of the bag front, the bag bottom, and the bag back.


    Un-quilted lining fabric is trimmed at both ends.  Only the central portion is used in the bag.


    Align the un-quilted lining piece (photo left) with the small quilted wedge (photo right).


    Sew these two pieces, right sides together.  The end of the quilted wedge needs to protrude 1/4” beyond the lining, for perfect alignment.


    The quilted wedge (photo right) is sewn to the un-quilted lining (photo left), right sides together:


    The lining is wrapped around the wedge, and a second seam is sewn over the first.


    The lining is then turned right side out. The result… un-quilted lining fabric finishes the edge of the quilted wedge.  Only the right side of the lining fabric is visible. The lining forms a neat fold at the bottom of this photo:


    A little pocket is created from a fabric rectangle.


    And neatly turned right sides out:


    The pocket is aligned on the outside, and top-stitched on the sides & bottom.  The main side of the bag is complete.


    Next, apply a  double fold binding to the angled end of the larger portion of the quilted fabric rectangle.


    After sewing the binding in place by machine, it is wrapped to the inside.  I chose to hand stitch it in place, although I could have “stitched in the ditch”.


    The top portion is aligned with the bottom portion, and the layers are stitched together.  (Sorry, I didn’t take a long enough photo.  There is a long piece of quilted rectangle that extends beyond the bottom of this photo):


    Then, the bottom half of the rectangle is folded up to the top, right sides together, and the side seams are created.  These seams are finished with a zig-zag stitch.


    With the bag inside out, the bag bottom is created by sewing across the corner at a 45 degree angle.  I use the markings on my cutting mat to neatly align the edges, and mark the corner for sewing (A seam will run from top to bottom, 1” in from the corner point.)


    When both bottom corners are sewn, the bag has a tidy shape, with a 1” bottom:


    The top of the bag has a neat binding.  This is easiest to sew using the free arm feature on the sewing machine.


    The binding is neatly wrapped to the inside of the bag.  I hand- stitched it in place… it’s a little bag, so it doesn’t take too long to sew by hand!


    Fabric strips are joined at a 45 degree angle to create the straps.  I lay the strips at right angles on my cutting mat, and draw a chalk mark on the diagonal.


    Excess fabric is trimmed away.


    The raw edges of the fabric strips are pressed to the center.


    Then, the strip is folded in half lengthwise, and top stitched.


    Two long strips are created, then knotted in the center and at each end.


    The handles are neatly sewn to both sides of the bag, just above the knot.


    And, the bag is complete. 


    My cell phone fits perfectly in the little pocket.  My new “flat wallet”  just fits inside, although if the bag was a little taller it would fit better, and I could add a button or snap closure. 


    Making this bag was fun, easy, and took about 4 hours.  I think these would make great gifts, as the cost of the supplies is minimal, and the fabric choices can easily be adapted for anybody’s preference. 

    The possibilities are endless!