Trinket: My New Autumn Quilt

This September when I got out my autumn quilt from the top shelf of the linen closet, I got the itch to make a new one.

_MG_7647 5x7
my first autumn quilt

I’d been reading quilting books about paper piecing, and a technique I read about in Sarah Sharp’s book, Adventures in Paper Piecing and Design, . She calls it “graffiti,” and it means making the solid places on your quilt out of different pieces instead of one piece of fabric. She’s referring to paper piecing, but I loved the idea.

Somehow that little spark grew into an idea: what if I made a graffiti autumn leaf as a sort of center medallion and then surrounded it with log cabins?

Especially since I realized that while I’ve made several baby quilts out of log cabins, I’ve never made a quilt for myself with them. And I love log cabin squares. They are magical to me, that mix of dark and light and the way that how you arrange them entirely changes the quilt that you’re making.

So one morning after physical therapy, I popped in to one of my local fabric stores. I found some gorgeous autumnal pieces. Then I visited another store and found some more. I went through all of my stash, looking for extra pieces to add. I wanted the quilt to feel like a walk in the autumn woods does, when the mountain is scattered with all different colors of leaves and light filters through the thinning trees and it is all entirely magical.

It didn’t quite feel right yet, though. I kept looking at the fabrics I’d assembled and it was close but not yet exactly right.

Then, a few days after the autumn equinox, Kendell and I went for a long drive in the canyon so we could go on a short walk. (All I was up for at that stage in my surgery recovery.) As I scuffed through leaves, that’s when I noticed: there are bits of purple here and there mixed in with the golds, browns, reds, and oranges.

Purple was the bit I needed to bring the quilt to life. (I also mixed in a very few brownish pinks.)

I love how it turned out!

Trinket Autumn quilt

To make the center leaf, I started with the “Fall Leaves” pattern by Cluck Cluck Sew. I increased the measurements of the block by 1.5 because I only wanted one big leaf in the middle.

To create the “graffiti” for the leaf, I drew out how tall and wide the pieces would be, and then I drew lines to help me map out the horizontal seams. (The seams on the pattern, not the strips, if that makes sense.) I didn’t want a strip to coincide with a seam but wanted the color to cover both sides.

Trinket graffiti leaf

Then I sewed all the strips together, wide and long enough to then cut the pattern out. I arranged the colors of the strip into an ombre pattern. (Not technically a rainbow because there isn’t any green or blue.) And I used an autumn print I absolutely loved for the background.

I blocked out the rest of the leaf with background strips and what I think of as photo corners so that the leaf square was 19.5” squares.

For the log cabins, I used 1.5” strips for the low volumes and whites, and 1.75” for the colors. This is the first time I’ve made log cabins with strips the same width! (On other quilts I’ve just made wonky squares.) The uneven sides make a slightly curve in the resulting squares on the quilt. (This would be more dramatic if the difference was bigger.) There are four strips on each side (8 light, 8 dark). I wanted this to be a fall quilt, and since Halloween is in the fall, I put in a few Halloween fabrics, but none that scream ghouls and ghosts. (Although one literally does say “Witch’s Brew”!)

I made 60 log cabins (because it’s 8x8) so it’s about 75” square.

For the back, I used a panel I bought last year on clearance (it’d be hard to track down by now I think) and some Woolies flannel.

I worked on this throughout October and finished it a bit after Halloween. The quilting was done by Melissa at Sew Shabby Quilting and I have to say: HOLY COW. Her quilting just took this over the top. I wanted something swoopy and beautiful, and the wave pattern she used was perfect. I wanted the quilting to stand out so I had her quilt it with pumpkin-orange thread.

Finally, for the binding, I made a flange and then sewed the front of the binding on with chunky quilting. This was my first time doing that and I’m not sure I did a great job (and my thumb and forefinger are so sore!), but I enjoyed doing it. And I ordered several different colors of thread for it, so I think I see more chunky quilting in my future!

One thing I love about quilting is that it gives me time to my thoughts. Some of that time I spend listening to audio books, but some of it is just thinking. Part of my thoughts while I made this quilt was about creativity and personal style. In essence, this quilt grew out of one of my oldest quilts, the rag quilt I made in 2009. When I made that quilt, Kaleb was only three and Haley 13. So much has changed during the time between that quilt and this one. My family…my outlook on life…my faith…my body. I have learned so much about many things, including quilting. I am a better quilter and have more skills. But my basic design aesthetic is the same. I like scrappy quilts and I think I am pretty good at figuring out how to put a  bunch of seemingly-disparate colors together.

And all these years later, I still just love this hobby. The colors, the textures, the techniques. The making of things that might last longer than I do. Items to wrap around people, to sleep and read and snuggle under. Hopefully it will be something to love for the next decade. A bright thing to love during my favorite bright season.  

PS. I like to name my quilts. This one is called Trinket from an Emily Dickinson poem about fall. If you zoom in you might spot one of the strips also has an Emily D. quote. 

My 100 Day Exercise Challenge

This week my life got a little bit more normal: after six and a half weeks of being on crutches so my foot could heal, followed by three weeks of being in a boot, on Monday I was cleared to start wearing shoes.

This is a transitional period, wherein I can start going on short walks (10-15 minutes long) and building up slowly (add five minutes to my walking time every 5-7 days). If I need to be on my feet for a long time, like when I’m cooking dinner, I’ll still wear my boot at first. Not much time spent walking barefoot. I’m still very clumsy and slow, because my foot is learning how to bend and roll again. I’ll still go to physical therapy once a week.

But it feels like I am at least at the start of getting back to normal!

And let me tell you: I am so out of shape it’s ridiculous.

So here’s my plan.

Working around my limitations, and acknowledging that I have to start slowly and not push myself too hard, I’m challenging myself to exercise every day for the rest of the year, starting tomorrow. (Although I did go for a walk today.) September 23 is 100 days from December 31, so the challenge is to exercise for 100 days in a row.

What I’m counting as exercise:

  • Walking
  • Hiking (when I am able)
  • Beach Body workout (I haven’t decided which one for sure)
  • Weight lifting at the gym
  • Strength training and yoga
  • Running (when I am able)

Since my walk today was 15 minutes long and my foot felt OK, I’m going to start at 15 minutes and then go up in time as I can.

And, because my inner kindergartener requested it, I made a simple chart to keep track of my progress.

Download 100 day

I am also challenging myself to talk about this challenge on social media. I am also posting on Instagram (I’m @amylsorensen on Insta if you want to follow me!) and am going to update my progress on my blog every twenty days.

Finally, I’m assigning myself three sugar-free weeks during this challenge. I’m not sure when those will be, but will mark them on my chart when I do them. My first one will start as soon as the chocolate-frosted pumpkin cream cheese cake in my fridge is gone.

I’m not expecting huge results but I’m hoping by January first I will have built a solid base to start really building upon so I can train for a race or two next year.

And that, friends, is my plan for getting back to normal!

Your Garden Always Loves You Back

From the window behind my laptop, I can see one of my big sycamore trees and two of my rosebushes. The sycamore has many dead branches that are just dangling, lodged or stuck against other living branches. After wind storms I examine the tree (from my perch behind my computer) to see which ones might’ve budged. There’s always one that gets blown out, but never all of them, and for six weeks I have itched to climb the tree and free them all.

View from my window summer 2021

And the rosebushes! They were both given to me by my parents, and during my recuperation I’ve watched them go from blossoms to bare stem heads, a process that left them in all levels of flower: bud, bloom, faded petals, naked. I could only watch the progress and do nothing.

But yesterday—yesterday I got to work in my garden.

It was awkward. The walking boot is definitely better than crutches but it’s not me on my own two feet. I nearly tumbled over at least twelve times and I couldn’t reach everything I wanted to. I could feel that in my weeks of healing, my body has grown weak and tight; my back ached and my hamstrings protested a bit. I couldn’t use a shovel and I definitely could not climb the trees for errant branches.

But I pruned the rosebushes. I pulled weeds. I thinned out the cosmos which have taken over my front flower bed.

And I discovered that two pumpkins have grown! I planted pumpkin seeds in April, on a whim because they were displayed right next to the Coban at the farm store where I buy it. (Technically it’s tape for horses if you buy it at the farm store, I guess, but I don’t care. It’s four dollars cheaper there, so horse tape it is!) I’ve often thought about planting pumpkins but never actually done it.

When I told Kaleb what I was doing, he said “Mom, don’t get your hopes up. If any do grow, the neighborhood kids will steal them.” Such cynicism in my baby! But, to be safe, I planted some in the front bed (which is, yes, a temptingly accessible spot for a pumpkin to grow) and some in the east bed, which is behind our fence and so would require much more shenanigans for theft to happen.

I’d seen a few blossoms before my surgery, but the vines had grown too thick for me to see if any of them grew into pumpkins, unless I got down on my knees which I definitely couldn’t do with my crutches and splint and my other knee sore from my pre-surgery tumble.

So when I pushed back the leaves yesterday, I discovered this cute pumpkin:

September 2021 pumpkin no1

And then I made a sound like a little girl excited about her birthday cake because seeing that just—well, it just brought me this little, sweet spike of pure joy.

All the time I was in the house, looking at the world, looking at my little part of the world, it was still making progress. I couldn’t witness all of it, but it didn’t need me to. It kept growing all on its own. I was healing, my garden was growing. There is something rejuvenating and hopeful in that thought. It makes me feel less like this year has been a sort of wasteland I’ve wandered, getting chubbier and sadder. My garden still had flowers.

My garden grew a pumpkin.

Two, in fact; there’s also this perfectly round one in the east flower bed, safe from thieves:

September 2021 pumpkin no2

I’d only gone out there once during my recovery because crutches+grass=nope. It was a riot of color, the zinnias and sunflowers I planted in the spring at their full, beautiful peak, and that bright orange pumpkin!

I know not everyone loves gardening and the work it takes to have flowers. But I hope I can always have a little piece of earth for my own, partly because I enjoy nurturing it, partly because of how often it nurtures me right back.

Welcome September!

September is here!

Sunflowers september 2021
In Utah we still have weeks and weeks of hot weather coming, but at least not as hot as July and August were, and with breaks of cooler days and rainy weather. Autumn is my favorite season and every year I think “this year I will savor every second” but it still slips away. The colors come and are gone so fast.

This year will be harder than ever to savor, because I can’t get on the mountain trails like I usually do. This week I graduated from crutches and no weight bearing to being able to walk in a boot. But you can’t really hike in a walking boot, so I have at least three more weeks of not getting on any trails. And then when I do I’ll certainly not be in any condition to deal with much vert. Hopefully by the end of October I’ll be back to longer hikes (and running! oh how I have missed you, running!) but by then the colors will be long gone.

Which is sad.

But I’m making a list of things I want to do to help me savor fall this year anyway. Even without hiking boots and dirty feet.

∙ Drive the Alpine Loop. This is a mountain road in Utah near where I live. I get on it quite often to access hiking trails, but it’s been a few years since I drove it just to drive it. Stop and admire the view, get close to yellow aspens and orange scrub oak. Just enjoy the drive. Not sure if I’ll do this on my own or go with Kendell—that choice totally changes the experience. Or maybe I’ll do it twice.
∙ Visit Cascade Springs. This is a spot in our mountains that has short trails that are mostly boardwalk. I haven’t been there since 2006. After wandering I want to leave by the new Heber side of the road and find a fun little spot to eat lunch.
∙ Learn to like green tea. Recent gastronomical adventures have brought me to a horrible place, where almost all caffeinated beverages can no longer enter my body. Except green tea, which is actually supposed to help heal gastritis. I’m really not a fan of tea, but I am a dedicated fan of the ritual of a warm drink in the morning (even in the summer!). So I’m trying to learn to like it. Right now, in fact, as I write this I am drinking a green tea latte which I made with green tea, almond milk, and a titch of vanilla. Tomorrow I will try it with honey instead. Any advice or tips on this appreciated!
∙ Bake. Oh baking, how I have missed you too! It’s just too complicated to do while on crutches. I have a delicious pumpkin bread I will just keep in permanent rotation for a little while. And I think this week I will get my hands on some peaches and make a peach crisp.
∙ Start working on my “get strong” goal. During the Olympics, I remembered how it felt when I had a strong gymnast’s body. I will never be that lithe and strong again, of course, but I had one of those nudges from the universe that I need to concentrate on getting strong. This won’t be able to happen immediately (see: walking boot) but I started yesterday by just stretching and reminding my body how to move. I have two smaller goals to help me reach the bigger one: get strong enough to do pull ups and to hold a handstand.
∙ Go outside every day. I did not do this in the summer. The air quality here has been so awful, the result of the wildfires on the west coast. I’m hoping by the time I can run, it will be manageable. But even before then: go outside. Work in my yard. Waddle down the street for a little walk. Admire the last of the flowers. Sit on my porch with a beverage (my choices: water, green tea, apple juice) and read. Just get outside every day.
∙ At least one box of pumpkin spice donuts. Probably two.
∙ Make a big meal for my kids and wish Haley could be here with us.
∙ Make some curry. I know that in theory curry isn’t seasonal, and I make it in all seasons except summer (just too hot for so much stove time), but in my mind curry is an autumn tradition.
∙ Actually get out my Halloween decorations. I didn’t last year and it was a sad, sad October.
∙ Quilt my other Halloween table topper. I can freeform quilt now on my machine, without much terror, and think I can manage something appropriately swirly.
∙ Harvest my pumpkins. Can I carve them? Who knows. Don’t care. I’m just excited I have some I grew all on my own.
∙ New cardigan acquisition. Do I need more cardigans? Absolutely not. Do I need a new one to celebrate this fall? Totally. Perfect cardigan for me: longish, with pockets, elegant shape, soft fabric. I’m going to try to not go with black.
∙ Sewing challenge with my sister.
∙ Fall reading challenge. I’m not sure what that will look like but I’ve so enjoyed my summer challenge (which I am finishing next Tuesday as the first day after Labor Day feels like the start of fall). It’s helped me read more and I am all for that.
∙ This blogging challenge (I’m trying to blog every day in September) and an October Daily challenge on Instagram. I find that if I have some social media impetus I record more and thus seek out more things to do to record.
∙ More pancakes. Before I started hiking on Sundays we used to have pancakes at least twice a month. Now I’m back on my feet again I am going to institute pancake Sunday more often. And switch it to Saturday once I start hiking again.
∙ Start walking again as soon as I can. I’ll set some fitness goals once I can wear two regular shoes again.

What are your plants for the fall?

Linger in Fall

Today is September 10th.

No, wait: Today is September 10th.

Autumn, as I've long established, is my favorite season. The cooling air, the trees taking up their colors, the slant of the light: while I also love spring, autumn is my favorite because it is moody and sometimes dark and sometimes complicated and isn't afraid of letting things go.

September 10th is the crisp edge of the beginning of fall, and already I am sad; the trees haven't even started changing colors in the mountains yet, except for a few early patches on Maple Mountain, but it will happen so soon, and then a wind will come and blow everything away, and then autumn will be over.

It's a season you can't hold on to.

But I want to grasp it and hold tight, even though I know I can't.

Today in the shower, I was thinking about this, how I love fall but I don't ever really want fall to get here, because once it arrives it's already ending.

And I decided to set myself a challenge: to linger in fall by writing about it. I almost decided to do this on Instagram, but I'm hardly known for brevity and sometimes I bump up against that character limit Instagram sets. And I feel strangely vulnerable now, posting things on Facebook, because it seems like no one posts stuff like that anymore there, and when I do I feel exposed. 

So, what I'm going to do is pay attention. I'm going to watch for the moments in my day that feel like I am soaking deep inside of fall, and then I'm going to write about them.

My posts will probably not be long. They might be photo-heavy or have no photos at all. They won't happen every day.

But maybe by purposefully paying attention and then by recreating as best I can what I felt using words—maybe that will help me feel less like autumn is slipping through my fingers.


This morning, after I took Kaleb to school, I drove to the Dry Canyon trailhead. I was going to hike with my friend Wendy, but already, as I drove up the steep hills past the enormous houses on the road that leads to the trailhead, it was starting to rain.

Past the houses and through the gate that closes off the rest of the road in winter, there was a wildfire last week. It burned right up to the road, and the dead trees still smell crisply acrid, a bitter smell that is offset by the rain. When it falls on so much soil, rain doesn't smell like petrichor. Instead its scent is sweeter and larger, somehow, a billow of wet dirt and wet leaves, an organic and almost floral smell that makes me think  the trees are drinking?. 

I sat at the trailhead waiting for Wendy, reading my book in the truck while the windshield became almost opaque with rain, the door window open just enough to let the smell in. I was parked in front of the Great Blue Gate, one of my places I go to when I want to feel that nature is prescient and knows, in some stony way, that I exist. Thunder—we almost never have thunder in the mornings here—bounced inside the canyon and the wind made the trees shiver. I watched a couple climb out of their truck, take a selfie together, and then start up the trail, seemingly oblivious to the rain.

I knew it would be too wet to hike, and Wendy texted shortly to say she couldn't make it anyway (sick kid), but still. I sat there for a little while longer, listening to the rain. I thought about how last week it was still close to 100 but at that moment it was only 65, and I at last felt cool again. Summer breaking: that's what I witnessed this morning. There will be other hot days, of course. But from now on it will be more cool than hot, the sky moodier, the grass gone dry from August's lack of rain wilting in new, wet winds.