Sunday, February 28, 2010

With My Needle & Thread


Pen on paper,
Brush on canvas,
Needle, thread, and cloth,
Bow on strings,
Fingertips on clay,
Graceful toe en pointe,
Chisel on stone,
Camera on subject,
Voices in a cathedral...

Passed from generation to generation, teacher to student, these artistic elements reach into the heart of what it means to be human. At the very core of our beings, we are all artistic, creative, and blessed with individual gifts and talents.

I sew. I write. Sometimes I get lucky and capture a beautiful picture with my camera. Writing comes to me naturally, a gift inherited from my father. I can't sing a note, play an instrument, or paint a picture... but I have a heartfelt appreciation for those who can.


Last Sunday afternoon, the Cub Scouts met in a church basement. As our meeting came to order, we heard the strains of a violin. Then, another. We realized that Pastor Ron Nelson was holding a rehearsal for his "Borderline Strings" upstairs in the sanctuary. In addition to his many other talents, Pastor Ron teaches violin to anybody who wants to learn. He loves to begin with elementary age children, and many of his students remain with his group through high school. His only requirement is faithful attendance at practice. The children and teens perform at a variety of community events, and their talent is phenomenal.

As the graceful notes from the violins met my untrained ears, I felt a little melancholy about my lack of musical ability. Then, I considered that although the violin is not my chosen instrument, I do have a needle and thread. And, a pen and paper. With practice, patience, and occasional inspiration, I can express myself in a meaningful way.
Keep in mind, I was trained in science. Biochemistry, then medicine. I'm pretty comfortable in the world of equations, research papers, hard facts and solid evidence. Comfortable, but not complete.

I never lost sight of my needle and thread. I learned to sew as a teenager, and faithfully reached for my needle and thread during college, med school, residency, and the early years of my medical practice. It was a peaceful escape, a relaxing hobby, something that I never quite let myself consider a priority.

Then, with a lot of help & encouragement from Wesley, I allowed my passion for quilting to grow into what it is today... a pretty significant path in our lives.

Give yourself permission... take some time this week to pursue your hopes & dreams, express your creativity, and make something with your hands.

Your instrument may differ from mine... but it is not the instrument that matters, it is the hand that holds it. And the soul that sings.

Images courtesy of Wikipedia.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

American Beauty: Hand Appliqué Tutorial



Block 6: Bunny Hop in the American Beauty quilt features four little baskets with pretty curved handles. 

Regarding the handles, the instructions read, “Use your favorite method to hand or machine appliqué the basket handles…”

Hmmm….  a couple choices instantly come to mind.  Fusible appliqué is oh so quick & easy.  But, a block this pretty deserves something nicer than quick & easy, doesn’t it?  It is truly an issue of individual preference, but if you are new to hand appliqué these little handles are perfect for beginners.

Here’s my favorite method, recommended by Joanna Figueroa, Fig Tree Quilts.

1.) Use a regular ball point pen to trace the handle shape onto the shiny side of a scrap of freezer paper.


2.) Press a second scrap of  freezer paper over the piece you have traced the shape on, effectively sandwiching the traced shape between two pieces of freezer paper.  You are making a double thick freezer paper template, and if it was relevant, this step would also reverse the motif.  (This is a symmetrical motif, so reversing it isn’t really necessary, but with more complex designs, reversing is often an important step).  Your initial marks must be dark enough to be visible through the layers.


3.) Using sharp scissors, smoothly cut on the drawn line.


4.) Press the freezer paper template to the wrong side of your fabric.  The shiny side will adhere to the fabric with a firm press.  Because I need four handles, I divide the fabric into four quadrants with a press fold.  That way, I’m sure that I don’t accidentally use up too much fabric as I cut & trim.


5.) Trim the fabric approximately 1/4” away from the template. 


6.) Prepare your workspace.  You’ll need:

  • good lighting
  • a child’s cheap plastic paintbrush (I “borrowed” one from  Matthew)
  • a pressing surface (I like to use a couple yards of fabric folded, and set upon my kitchen island.  It is a comfortable height for me to work at)
  • a can of spray starch.  The cheap stuff in the aerosol can from the laundry aisle is just fine.  Spray some starch into the lid of the can, to crate a little puddle of starch.
  • a mini iron, heated to a low setting


7.) Work on small segments of the appliqué motif at one time.  For example, fold the ends of the handle back first.  “Paint” the fabric with the spray starch until it is clearly wet, and use the tip of the mini iron to carefully fold and press the fabric  edges under.  With more complex shapes,  you’ll also need to gently ease the fabric into position, either with your fingers (careful not to burn them), or some sort of instrument (example: tweezers, that purple thang notion, or a stiletto)

bhb6.5 bhb7

8.) Both inner and outer curves will need to be clipped to allow edges to neatly fold around the template.  As a ballpark, I clip about every 1/3”, and nearly cut as far as the template, but not quite.  Repeat the steps above: paint with starch, then carefully fold, ease, and press.


9.) Repeat for the outer curve:


10.) Gently unwrap an end, then tug the freezer paper template out of the motif.  Don’t rip the template, you’ll use it over and over.  Trim any messy threads, and press the motif neatly from the right side.


11.) Repeat to make a total of four basket handles.  The pattern has a placement guide, to allow you to judge handle placement.


12.) Using “Roxanne’s Glue Baste It”,  apply small dots of fabric basting glue to the back side of the appliqué motif.  Don’t put glue where you plan to stitch, as it is hard to push the needle through the dried glue. 


13.) Once the motifs are glued in place, and the glue has dried, you’re ready to sew.  This is my favorite part…. so relaxing!  Thread a small needle with a single pink thread, as close of a match to your basket handle fabric as possible.  Aurifil 50 weight is simply perfect for this purpose.

Tie a couple knots in the thread, then push the needle from back to front and catch one end of the handle with your first stitch. You don’t want to be too far into the appliqué motif, or your hand sewing stitches will show.  I like to be at least 2 threads inside the edge, so my stitches are secure.


14.) Pull the needle completely through, so the knot is gently resting snug against the back of your piece. 

Now, take your first stitch, setting the needle into the background fabric right next to where you are.  In the same step, push the needle up about 1/8”  away, and through the edge of the appliqué motif, in a position a couple of threads away from the edge.  Put another way, your needle tip goes through to the back of the fabric, and then back to the front of the fabric and through the edge of the motif in the same motion.


15. ) Repeat step (14) over and over, using small, smooth stitches.  From the back, your stitches should look something like this:


16.) And, once you’ve gone completely around, it will look like this from the back:


17.) Sorry, I guess I forgot to get a pic of the fabric piece from the front.  But, with practice, and the right shade/weight of thread the stitches are as close to invisible as you can imagine. 

The finished block looks like this:


The little handles are smooth and look much more neatly finished than if I had done them by machine.

Links to some supplies:

Regular Clover Mini Iron

Clover Mini Iron II (The Adapter Set)

Elisa's Backporch: Sew Easy Tweezers

Roxanne's Glue Baste It (Travel Size)

Roxanne's Glue Baste It (Larger Size)

Aurifil Hand Appliqué Thread Packets (50 weight cotton)

And now, for a “pep talk”… 

I know, this looks like a lot of work compared to fusible web.  Although it is somewhat more time consuming, the results are much nicer.  Once I got the hang of this technique, I fell in love with it.  There are other methods of hand-appliqué that you might prefer, but I personally really like this one.  I find preparation of the pieces easy, and love to hand-stitch them in place.

And, once you are comfortable with simple motifs, you can progress to more challenging appliqué patterns. 

I’m nearly done with “Madeline” (Click here)


And, I’m seriously considering starting “A Girl in Paris”  (click here).


Warning: some quilters find hand appliqué highly addictive.  Unfortunately, I cannot grant you  permissible to call in sick to work, or forget to feed your family because you are too busy working on your appliqué. 

Have fun!

~ Laura

American Beauty Photo Album: Blocks 1-6

This photo album portrays the first six blocks in the American Beauty quilt, pieced by Laura.

I have to admit, my first couple blocks were a little “shaky”, as I gradually learned the technique of the “Perfect Patchwork Templates”.

But, as I progress, I enjoy the process more & more. I am especially impressed by the flatness of the blocks. With complex pieced blocks such as these, I usually find myself pressing seams open in an attempt to eliminate bulk. Even then, my blocks are often “lumpy” in places.

But, with this method of block piecing, “NO LUMPS”! The precision is wonderful, and my blocks are flat and free of distortion. I could definitely find myself getting hooked on this technique.

Six blocks done. Six more to go.

Click here to join the “American Beauty” block of the month.

The Road Not Taken


TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Robert Frost (1874–1963). Mountain Interval. 1920.


Good morning.

I thought of this poem yesterday morning, as I took Sox for a run on our way home from town. As I often do, I took the "long way around", heading for a road of minimal use, one of Sox's favorite places to run. This little road runs along a section line, with herds of cattle on both sides, and a single house about a mile in. It's a pretty little road, about 2 miles long, and connects at the west end with our usual route home. At this time of year it is occasionally impassible because of drifting snow. Sox loves it because the tree groves and bushes are full of deer, rabbits, and pheasants, giving him the opportunity for a great chase. He's yet to catch anything, but that never stops him from trying.

I was pleased to see a path just wide enough for single lane traffic had been plowed through the snow. I let Sox out, and watched him head down the road with confidence in his step and joy in his heart. He loves to run, and knows our routine.

I paused for a minute to enjoy the beautiful image, and thought, "Two road diverged in a wood, and I- I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference."

Pause a moment.... Re-read the poem above. Savor the image, implant it in your psyche, let it sink into your soul.
I need to take this message to heart. We all make decisions for a variety of reasons, and at times I can consider and reconsider options to the point of obsession. I want to do what's "right", what's "safe", what's "fair", and I try to predict or control the outcome of most everything that's really important to me.

Far from a free spirit, or non-conformist, I think I commonly take the "road most traveled by", due to fear of the unknown.

However, some of the best decisions I've ever made were when I followed my heart, and not my head. Especially creative, or artistic decisions.

Traditional quilt making is very structured, well thought out, carefully planned and measured. Quilters often know what their quilt is going to look like before they sew the first stitch. For many, that is part of the appeal. Safe, organized, mathematical, and methodical.

But, my "right-brained quilting friends" (Rose & Kari come to mind, among many others) make inspired and beautiful quilts in a much different fashion. Sure, they have a plan. But, plans can change. Often mid-stream. Their creations are stunning, energetic, vivid, and breathtakingly beautiful. Unique expressions of their individuality... quilts that stand out in a crowd, not because they are odd or garish, but because they are like no other, and yet they are perfect.

I'm not planning an overnight transformation of my quilting style. I still need to make planned quilts, and I do truly love traditional piecing and find comfort in my methodical approach.

But, now and then, I need to "Take the Quilting Road Less Traveled By".... learn new techniques, use colors that are out of my comfort zone, and create something unique. The risk is really minimal. And the reward... unknown. Only time will tell.

Cabin Award Winner: February 21, 2010

Congratulations to jeanwesem!

You are the lucky winner of today’s cabin award: three packets of Quiltsmart preprinted fusible interfacing: the Smart Bag packet, the Cell Phone Bag packet, and the Market Bag packet.  Retail value $40.85 for the three packets.

cellphonebag marketbagqs smartbag

Please send an mail to Laurie-Ann at with your mailing address, and she'll help you redeem your reward.

The next cabin award winners will be announced March 7th, 2010.   I won’t be able to blog next Sunday due to a family commitment, so the following week we’ll have two winners. 

The lucky recipients will each receive a table-topper kit with fabric & backing, designed by  Sherri K. Falls (This & That Quilt Patterns). The new “Summer Thyme” pattern features Holly Taylor’s newest fabric collection, “Lakeside Resort”.  The scrappy appearance comes from a charm pack,  but extra fabric is needed for the background, borders, binding, and backing.

Retail price for the kit: $33.75.

SummerThymepattern summerthymepattern2 lakesideresortlogo

Click here to view the Lakeside Resort collection.  You’ll find a wonderful new assortment of fabric bundles, kits, and more.  The yardage just arrived this week, and is oh, so beautiful! Fresh and pretty for spring, in the Northwoods style that Holly Taylor is so well known for.  The blue accents in this group are fresh and cool, and set off the other colors to perfection.

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, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine’s Day!


Good Morning.

Happy Valentine's Day!

I watched the 2010 Winter Olympic Opening Ceremony with a deep sense of National pride on Friday night. My Canadian heritage is an integral part of who I am, but I have lived in the USA for long enough now that I often view things from an American perspective.

But, watching the opening ceremony brought a rush of "Canadian" emotions to mind... pride, hope, joy, courage, and appreciation of my country's cultural diversity. I thought the entire program was beautiful, and especially enjoyed the Sarah McLachlan's performance of "One Dream".

Click here to view the video for this hauntingly beautiful song.

I also loved the inclusion of Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now", and K.D. Lang's "Hallelujah". Both of these artists are from my home province of Alberta. Amazing.

Click here for NBC's "musical recap of the opening ceremonies".

I can hardly wait for the figure skating competition to start, but enjoy watching the other events too. It's fun for Matthew to see ski jumping, snowboarding, and skiing competitions, as he loves to play these on the Wii Fit, and gets a sense of what the sports are like in competition by watching the Olympic events.


"A bell is no bell 'til you ring it,
A song is no song 'til you sing it,
And love in your heart wasn’t put there to stay -
Love isn’t love,
'Til you give it away."

~Oscar Hammerstein, Sound of Music, "You Are Sixteen (Reprise)"

Cabin Award Winner: February 14, 2010



Happy Valentine’s Day!

Congratulations to Leanne Mitchell & Marlene S!

These lucky followers are the winners of today’s cabin award: an assorted bundle of fabrics from the Hoppy Spring collection.  Currently reduced to only $5.50/yard, these fabrics are perfect for Spring decor. Some prints are a little bit silly, while some are more muted or traditional. The prizes will be nice bundles of prints from the collection, a total of 6 yards of fabric: 17 fat quarters and a 1 3/4  yard cut of background fabric. Total value $33.00.

Click here to shop for Hoppy Spring fabrics.

Please send an mail to Laurie-Ann at with your mailing address, and she'll help you redeem your reward.

The next cabin award winner will be announced Sunday, February 21st. The winner that day will receive three packets of Quiltsmart preprinted fusible interfacing: the Smart Bag packet, the Cell Phone Bag packet, and the Market Bag packet.  Retail value $40.85 for the three packets.

smartbag cellphonebag marketbagqs

Please note: these packets include interfacing only…. you use your own fabrics to make each project.

Quiltsmart preprinted interfacing is one of my favorite “quick trick” products.  Preprinted interfacing is fused to the fabric of your choice, and used as a pattern of sorts.  Generally speaking, once the interfacing is fused in place, it is then sewn around the edge outline, then neatly trimmed.  Often the technique allows the raw edges to be finished neatly. 

In addition to the handy bag interfacings, Quiltsmart specializes in traditional quilt blocks made in a non-traditional way.  Click here to see our current selection of Quiltsmart.

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, February 13, 2010

The Quilter’s Studio


~ Essential Tools for the Avid Quilter~

Today, I’ll start a new series of blog entries, detailing some of my favorite sewing room accessories.  

Beginning quilters beware: the items we’ll feature are not essential for the practice of basic quilt making.  Start with a reliable sewing machine, a rotary cutter, mat & ruler, and good quality fabric & thread, and you’ll be good to go.

Avid quilters rejoice: you’ll learn about useful,  well-designed,  top-quality items that will help to make your quilt making experience even more productive and delightful.

Some of the accessories we’ll feature will be general purpose, suitable for all aspects of quilt making.  Others will be especially useful for a specific technique, such as appliqué or paper-piecing.

And, as a special bonus, at the bottom of each entry in “The Quilter’s Studio”, you’ll find a special offer or coupon that can be redeemed at

Quilter’s Studio I:

  • Clover Mini Iron II “The Adapter Set”. Click here.
  • Clover Cooling Stand.  Click here.
  • Clover Mini Iron II Cooling Tote Bag.  Click here.


  • Fusible appliqué, including art quilts, Celtic appliqué, stained glass quilting, and making or using fusible bias tape


Clover Mini Iron II “The Adapter Set”


This new mini iron is equipped with tips that are easily interchangeable.  There are five tips in the set covering a wide range of applications, including quilting, sewing, floral crafting, doll making and paper crafting.  Five tips are included with this set: Small iron tip, large iron tip, adapter ball tip, slim line tip, and hot knife tip.

When holding the fabric, the safety shield will help protect your fingers from burns by preventing the fingers from touching the shaft.

Although the set does include a small support stand, this can be a little awkward to use, and the last thing you want to do is have the extremely hot tip burn your work surface, your project, or worse yet, your fingers.

Clover Cooling Stand:

coolingstand1 coolingstand2

coolingstand3 coolingstand4

This convenient stand, made out of a heat-resistant material, is used for the Mini Iron and the Mini Iron II.

The lid is used as a stand, while the base is used for storing adapter tips. Note: only the Mini Iron II uses adapter tips.  The traditional (smaller) mini iron does not.

The lid and base part put together to become a compact item.

The base part has a divider so that a hot tip can be separated from the other tips.

One disappointment: the mini iron itself does not fit in the storage compartment.  The hot tip can be removed, stored in the box, but the body of the iron must be stored separately.

Mini Iron II Cooling Tote Bag:

coolingtote1 coolingtote2

Bag includes pockets for accessories, and a pouch to insert the iron.  Bag is made of a heat resistant material.

Downside: Although the storage of the iron is nice, especially if you are leaving a class and need to get packed up quickly, this accessory does not have the nice large cooling stand that is so safe and helpful when you are working with the iron.

Laura’s Recommendation:

The Mini Iron II with the Adapter Set is a big improvement from the original Mini Iron.  Although I personally have not tried all of the tips, I can see how they would be very useful for many types of crafts.  I love the small iron tip for delicate work, and the large iron tip for pressing appliqué pieces into position. 

I do think that the Clover Cooling Stand is a “must have” for me, as it improves safety and makes the iron easier to use.  Although I wish the Cooling Stand had room to store the entire iron, I am very pleased with the accessory. 

The tote bag is nice because the entire iron fits into it, but because I primarily use my iron at home, that feature isn’t as important to me.  But, if I attended a lot of classes, I would like to have the handy tote bag, as it can safely store a warm iron during the trip home.

Special Offer:


  • the Clover Mini Iron II with adaptor set at 20% off MRSP
  • plus either the cooling stand or the cooling tote bag at 10% off MRSP
  • and you will receive free shipping on your entire order to a USA address.  Once you put the required items in your cart, feel free to add additional items for no additional shipping cost. Shoppers from outside the USA will receive a discount on the shipping equivalent to the cost of shipping the package to a USA address.
  • Enter the coupon code: IRON at the time of checkout (exactly as shown), to receive your discount.  Offer expires March 13, 2010.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Our Crazy Quilt


Good morning.

Hooray! We are home.

Fourteen days (nearly to the hour) after we lost power, we finally got the phone call we'd been waiting for:

"Hello, this is Slope Electric. We're calling to tell you that we think we have restored power to your home. Is there a way that you can verify that for us?"

Wesley immediately used his cell phone to dial our home number. When the answering machine picked up, he knew that we were back "on the grid".

I had an indescribable feeling of relief. As we drove home after dark, our hearts filled with joy and excitement, the sight of our glowing home on top of our snow covered hilltop nearly brought me to tears. Of course a bunch of lights were on.... we'd been turning the switches on for 14 days out of habit.

As I thought about writing today's essay, and tried to put words to this experience, I realized that our home reminds me a well-loved crazy quilt. A little cluttered, adorned with bits of sentimental value, and embellished with precious photos, gifts, colors and textures. The chaotic result is one of a kind: uniquely beautiful, overflowing with warmth, contentment, love, and interwoven connections.


I've written before about the appealing decorating style that draws me into the pages of the Crate & Barrel, Ikea, or Pottery Barn catalogs. Free of clutter or distraction, clean, tidy, and contemporary in design. How lovely. Like a two color geometric quilt... right angles, crisp points, orderly and mathematical. The books on the shelves are color coordinated, the backgrounds are neutral, and there are no stuffed animals or clumps of cat fur on the carpet. I love that look!

Yet, our home is more like a crazy quilt. And, we are so, so, incredibly grateful to be living in it again. This experience has taught us how much we take for granted, and given us a striking new appreciation for the many luxuries in our daily life.

My heart goes out to our readers in the mid-Atlantic region who are in the midst of an epic blizzard, and the thousands of people without power. I hope you stay warm & safe, and pray for the safety of your emergency workers.

Spring can't come soon enough!

Photo Credit: Crazy Quilt by Granny Irwin, Museum of Appalachia, Norris, Tennessee, via Wikipedia

Cabin Award Winner: February 7, 2009

Congratulations to Katie Manning!

You are the lucky winner of this week’s cabin award:

A “Miranda Day Bag” pattern (Retail Value: $9.00) plus a pair of Clover U-Shape designer bag handles (Retail Value: from $10.50 to $15.50, depending on style).  Also, part of the award, a set of Handy Tabs in the color of your choice, to neatly attach your designer handles to your Miranda Bag.  (Retail Value: $3.00).  

Value of entire award: $24.50- $29.50)

Please send an mail to Laurie-Ann at with your mailing address, and she'll help you redeem your reward.

Next Sunday we’ll announce two cabin award winners.  The lucky recipients  will receive an assorted bundle of fabrics from the Hoppy Spring collection.  Currently reduced to only $5.50/yard, these fabrics are perfect for Spring decor. Some prints are a little bit silly, while some are more muted or traditional. The prizes will be nice bundles of prints from the collection, a total of 6 yards of fabric: 17 fat quarters and a 1 3/4  yard cut of background fabric. Total value $33.00.

19060-5 19065-2 19061-1 19063-2

Click here to shop for Hoppy Spring fabrics.

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.