Hearts Like Crazy Paving: Thoughts on a Quilt

Where do ideas come from?

In January I noticed that a lot of the quilters I follow on Instagram were participating in a “scrappy hearts quilt along.” (Click on the link to see the first post about the quilt along, which was hosted by Emily Dennis.)  All those images of cute, sweet, scrappy (mostly pink) patchwork made me think I haven’t ever made a quilt to put out for Valentine’s Day

For about five seconds I could imagine my own cute, sweet, scrappy, pink patchwork heart quilt.

Scrappy hearts qal ig snip

(a screen shot of the #scrappyheartsqal hashtag on Instagram to illustrate what I mean. SEE! Cute! Pink! Sweet!)

But then reality smacked me in the face. First off: I am still deep inside making my black and pink quilt. I don’t need another pink quilt. (To reality I said: that’s true! But I don’t have to make a pink one. I could make an aqua one. Or a purple one! All multicolor florals! All low volume! What about plaids?) Second: I get a little bit obsessive with scrappiness sometimes. Meaning, I’d start out intending to use my scraps, but then I’d think “I need something new” and then before I knew it I’d have made 27 trips to 5 different fabric stores and I’d have enough fabric to make six scrappy heart quilts, not just one, and I’d have spent enough to cover an airplane ticket to London. (To reality I said: that’s true! But…and I really didn’t have a comeback to that truth.) Third: Last fall I made three scrappy patchwork pumpkin hot pads with very similar design ideas (scrappy squares and a few half square triangles) and those things took me an entire month. If I were to make a Valentine’s Day quilt, I wanted something faster. (To reality I said: that’s true! But maybe with my new machine it would be faster?)

But reality’s biggest argument was this: I really don’t love Valentine’s Day. I’ve written about this many times so there is no need to rehash all the reasons, but I can sum it up like this: having not married a romantic man, I have zero hopes for romantic Valentine’s Day gestures, and even though he shows me he loves me in many other ways on many other days during our life together, my bitterness at wanting traditional romantic Valentine’s Day gestures anyway flares high in February. My bookshelves are a lovely romantic gesture (if you’ve read A Man Called Ove you know my reference) but sometimes a girl wants overly priced flowers or expensive jewelry—and it annoys me that I still have that want even while knowing it’s manufactured by rose sellers and jewelry stores and Hallmark commercials.

Valentine’s Day, then, sparks annoyance with myself and frustration with my husband (I mean, really…would it be that hard to just get me some damn flowers?) and then more annoyance at myself for being frustrated with my husband (because bookshelves) and then I also remember it isn’t about Valentine’s Day, really, but about unmet needs (on both sides) and just how hard marriage really is and then I’m sparked and frustrated and annoyed and sad and…yeah.

So to reality I thought that’s true! And then I thought I moved on.

But those cute, sweet, scrappy patchwork quilts still kept popping up in my IG feed.

And part of my brain must’ve continued working on it, because one morning I woke up with an idea.

What if I made a quilt that was representative of my relationship to Valentine’s Day? What might that look like?

Hearts like crazy pavement quilt 7

(And, yes, I confess: one of my first ideas was just a whole-cloth quilt, black cotton and broken hearts stitched in black thread, but then I thought too bitter, Amy and besides, my almost-50-year-old eyes could never manage that.)

I made a list: angles. Sharp edges. Corners and lines almost lining up, but not quite. A tiny bit of sweetness—candy hearts and all the times I made pink heart sugar cookies with my kids—but not too much. One of my favorite Valentine’s Day conversations, when Kaleb was six or seven and his favorite color was purple, but he was worried it wasn’t a “boy color,” so he asked me if he could wear his purple shirt to school on Valentine’s Day because “on Valentine’s Day purple is a Valentine color, not a girl color” and then we talked about color and gender and personal choice and individuality (and he wore his purple shirt of course). So, purple. And, yes: pink, but mostly bright, cool, deep pinks. Black, of course. Maybe even a little bit of silver (there’s a story there, too, but it would take too long to tell it here). Flowers of some sort, but not overtly floral, to represent that resentful wish for flowers. I wanted it to be edgy and maybe just a little bit punk. A rebellious quilt.

But I also wanted to keep in mind my other little nudges from reality. I didn’t want to spend a ton of money on this quilt, or cause a huge influx of new fabrics to enter my stash. And I didn’t want to spend months making it, either.

Hearts like crazy pavement quilt 4

By now, with all the rethinking and pondering, it was almost February, but I decided: I’m going to try to make a…I’d already stopped thinking of it as a Valentine’s Day quilt. Instead it is a quilt that is a textile interpretation not only of my complicated feelings about Valentine’s Day but also, somehow, of marriage (we were married on February 13 so the two days are tied together anyway), and of the contrast of what society—movies and romance novels and TV shows and social media posts—tells us what love is supposed to be like and what the reality of love really is. Also me right now and me thirty years ago and me loving my husband and my kids but also those memories of other, younger, wilder loves I still carry with me. Cotton and softness both, unpredictable lines but some sort of structure anyway.

Am I thinking too much? Am I being dramatic? Reading too much into a quilt? Or just…silly?

I don’t know.

My life hasn’t followed a pattern. It hasn’t lined itself up in neat columns and rows. It hasn’t been sweet, always. There is a part of me that feels I have never been loved or seen for who I am, truly—and maybe everyone on this wide world feels that way, too, I don’t know. Has it been bad? No. But I can’t pretend it has been all sweetness and light, either.

Hearts like crazy pavement quilt 1

Where do ideas come from?

Can making a quilt be cathartic?

Can pieces of fabric cut and then made into something different mean something other than just another quilt someone might cover themselves with?

Hearts like crazy pavement quilt 8

One afternoon when I was quilting this quilt—I do all of the piecing in my craft room, but my desk isn’t big enough for the actual quilting and so I do that at the kitchen table—Kendell walked down the hall and said “I had a great idea! Why don’t you start selling your quilts?”

He said this in an encouraging way, full of certainty that someone would want to buy something I made. I tried to explain to him the realities of selling items like quilts, how I’d have to have an Etsy shop or develop a website, and how probably only people with name recognition sell their quilts, and I didn’t even go down the rabbit hole of how much a quilt actually costs to make. He would not be deterred, though. He was certain I could sell my quilts, starting with that one, with this one I’d been working on all month.

(All of those thoughts and the creative(?) process that brought me to this idea were in my head, and in my notebook, not in our conversations so he has no idea about this quilt’s meaning, just what it looks like.)

And then I laughed a little caustic laugh and I said “listen! This quilt is a representation of my interpretation of modern love as it is influenced by consumerism! No one will want to buy it!”

And he said “you should have more belief in yourself and besides, that’s a weird thing to say about a quilt” and then he wandered back down the hall.

And then I laughed for real because that is it in a conversation, a summary of what led me to make this in the first place, of how it is to be married to someone for 28 years and have the history of unimaginable anger and unspeakable love stored in your body, of all the ways we try to see each other’s way of seeing but almost never do because we are two different people. All the times I have been shattered and then put myself back together and he has, also, and how for us it hasn’t been smooth or perfect or light but work. And how I don’t know if that is really how all marriages are, despite the Hallmark ads and the husbands buying roses at Costco. Maybe that, really, is why I can never love Valentine’s Day, because I am unable to pretend, even for just February 14th, that marriage is represented by cheesy conversation hearts and velvet boxes of chocolates.

I can’t pretend.

Hearts like crazy pavement quilt 5

For me, for us, it has been angles. Lines of communication almost matching up, but not quite. Stitching ourselves back together and trying again. Starting at entirely different points but sometimes, sometimes, crossing anyway. Meeting up, moving together. Clashing, figuring it out. Laughing at ourselves, sometimes. Bitterness, sweetness. History and tomorrow, bound up in acid pink.

That is why I couldn’t make the cute, scrappy quilt.

That is what I tried to put into this quilt.

(PS: I sat down to write this blog post thinking I would write a short introduction and then a tutorial. Obviously that got away from me. Tutorial next post/tomorrow.)

Disappearing Nine Patch: Color and Design

Sometime around the end of December, a friend and I were talking and she said something about "what's that thing you do with a nine patch?" and I remembered how much I enjoy making a good disappearing nine patch pattern. It is the pattern I used for my Thanksgiving quilt (which is one of the posts on my blog that gets the most hits, still—even 9 years after I posted it!), and you can read more detailed instructions about it HERE. Basically, though, a disappearing nine patch is a block made from a 3x3 grid of squares; you cut the big square in half on the vertical and horizontal centers, turn some or all of the smaller squares, and sew them back together.

When I decided I needed to get brave, put on my "real quilter" pants, and try out my new sewing machine (which I must blog about separately, it's so great!), that idea that had stuck in my head really wanted to express itself.

So I made two different versions.

One, a hot pad, is the first thing I sewed with my new machine. I am still definitely figuring out how to move the fabric, so the seams aren't as exact as I had hoped, but that's OK. I made this knowing it was mostly for practice, and it turned out, if a little bit wonky, just fine for using for its intent, which is sitting on my counter and having wet dishes or hot pans placed on top of it:

Dnp hot pad finished

That fabric! I love it, especially the text one I used for the center squares. I fussy cut that part so I could make sure to get the phrases I liked the best. And the colors I think are just lovely.

The second version is a baby quilt I made for my friend's new grandson. (Kendell thinks it's strange that I made a quilt for a friend's grandbaby, because I only know the parents via my friend. But it feels like a way of showing my friend I love her, and to celebrate the new person in her life. Does it really matter if I don't know the parents very well?) I made a quilt with shark fabric for their first baby, but I couldn't find sharks this time. Instead I went with these cute whales:

This one is called "Sun on Waves":

Dnp sun and waves darker

Since I’ve already written a tutorial for this square, I thought I’d just add some details about the process.

The fun thing with disappearing nine patch is that it can give you a random, scrappy look (like the baby quilt) or a more controlled, repetitive look (like the hot pad) depending on how you do it. ​It looks complicated but it's really simple: you make a nine patch square, cut it into fourths, and then rotate the new, smaller squares you made by cutting the larger one. The look you get depends on two things: how you organize the fabric in the larger square and how you rotate the smaller squares.

Fabric Organization

Think of the nine patch as a grid, three rows, three columns. What you put in each of these has an impact on how the finished piece will look. The fabric in squares 1, 3, 7, and 9 will become the large squares; 2, 4, 6, and 8 will become the rectangles, and the center square, 5, will become the smaller squares.

Dnp before cutting

(Forgive the ruler...I should've taken a photo of the block without the ruler but I didn't.)

In both of my examples, I used the same fabric for 1, 3, 7, and 9. These are my focal fabrics. I wanted them to be as visible and as...uncut, I guess, as possible. This is a good position for a fabric with a larger print, like those whales. Any smaller (I started with 8.5" squares) and they would've all just been cut apart and unrecongizable as whales.

The fabric in the center square is also important. Since it becomes the smallest piece, it is also visually noticeable. Especially when you assemble the quilt, this is the fabric that will give a sense of movement. I tend to put my very favorite small print here. 

I think of the fabrics in the even squares as supporting pieces. They set the tone of the finished piece but they don't grab as much visual attention. 

I've never made a disappearing nine patch that was scrappier than "Sun on Waves." I like the repetition that the pattern gives, but I confess, I'm itching to make another one that's even scrappier. What if each of 1, 3, 7, 9 squares were different? Or opposite corners were matching? (So 1 and 9 were the same, and 3 and 7. Or even 1 and 7, 3 and 9.) Or if the whole thing were done with, say, shades of purple but everything scrappy? (If I try it, I’ll share!)

For this one, though, I stuck with repeating the whale fabric in the corners, and then all the other squares are scrappy. I didn't repeat any of the other fabrics, so I used 16 8.5" whale squares and 20 8.5" scrappy squares. Since it was so many different fabrics, I unified with tones and by repeating colors—light blue, a little aqua, yellow, green, and a couple with more than one color but still the same tones. I thought about using a dark aqua for the center squares but in the end decided I wanted those to be scrappy, too.​ When I sewed together the nine patches, I made sure each one had at least one yellow and at least one green. I mixed in some aqua pieces, too. I think the balancing of color gives it a unified feeling—it’s not obnoxiously scrappy—while still appearing random.

(In case it’s not obvious: I really, really love a good scrappy quilt!)

Square Rotation

Once you cut the large 9 patch squares into smaller squares, it’s time to rotate. There are a bunch of different ways you can rotate the squares, and each one will give a different look to the quilt. You can rotate all of the squares one turn, or half of the squares two turns, or whatever else you come up with. If you haven’t done it before, play around with the rotation to see what you like!

Dnp hot pad cut and turned

For the hot pad, I rotated the top left and bottom right squares. I knew I wanted to do that, so when I sewed the nine patches together, I sewed those corners (#1 and #9) in upside down, so that when I rotated, they all ran the same direction. (If the main fabric doesn’t have a directional pattern, this wouldn’t matter.)

For the quilt, I rotated all of the squares clockwise one rotation. This makes the rectangles line up in a sort of spiral that I love. Since I wanted it to be scrappier and not have a repeating pattern, I also shifted the squares in each pile. I left the first one as it was, and then for all of the other piles, I shifted one, then two, then three of them underneath. I wasn’t worried about the main fabric staying the same direction because the whales are kind of swirling around anyway.

Dnp sun and waves cut and sorted

I loved making these two pieces. They came together so quickly and were fun to make!

Just for fun, here are the backs: 

Dnp hot pad with back

I almost always piece quilt backs. This one has a strip of minky, which, gah, means I had a pucker after I finished quilting it...puckers are almost inevitable, I think, with minky!

Dnp sun and waves back

2019 Quilting Finishes

Your mother’s death influences you in ways you couldn’t ever anticipate. For me, one thing that impacted me after my mom passed away in January was the process of dealing with her fabric stash.

My mom has always been a collector of fabric. When we were kids she had a sewing room in our basement, and the floor-to-ceiling cabinets were full of fabric. Back then she made clothes for us, and then sometime in the 80s she transitioned to quilting. (There was also a brief stint of making animals.)

As a scrapbooker who’s been invested in my hobby since 1995, I understand how supplies pile up. You see something you love and want to do something with, you buy it, you intend to use it by making the thing, but sometimes (ALL THE TIME) other things also grab your attention and then over the years you just accumulate a whole bunch of stuff. Some gets used but not everything, and if you saw my scrapbook stash you’d understand why I’d never judge or criticize my mom for her fabric stash.

I understand.

But when my sisters and nieces and I went through her fabric, it was…stunning. We gathered fabric from all different corners of her house and piled it into different colors, and by the end her entire basement was full of fabric. A lifetime’s accumulation. She had made quilts for each of her granddaughters when they got married, and for great grandchildren as they came, but in her house she only had three finished quilts.

As we sorted and shared and discarded yards and yards and yards of fabric, that contrast hit me: so much accumulation, but only three quilts in her house. This made something shift in my crafty psyche. It made me feel determined to accumulate less and to make more.

Plus, I think that quilting was a way of processing my grief while feeling a connection to her. She didn’t teach me everything I know about quilting, but she taught me enough to have the confidence to learn and to develop. I’ve been quilting off and on since I was pregnant with Haley, and (obviously) much more since I got my own machine in 2004. (Before I had my own I would go to my mom’s house and use hers.)  But this year was a year of quilting.

I didn’t finish everything I started. I have a fat, fluffy flannel quilt I made for Jake that I just need to bind. I have a Halloween table quilt that is pieced and pinned but I feel intimidated to quilt. I made *some* progress on my black and pink quilt but I didn’t put it all together. I found a pattern and bought the fabric for a quilt for Kaleb but I didn’t start piecing it yet.

But I did finish quite a few things.

I wish I had blogged more about the process of making these. Hopefully in 2020 I will accomplish that goal, too. But I’m glad I gave myself the time this year to make things, to sit at my machine and let my thoughts wander while I pieced and measured and strung fabric together into made things instead of just accumulating raw supplies. Here's my list:

1.  Book Print Mug Rug #1. I made this for a bookish Galentine's swap I signed up for. I sent it with a copy of Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin. I'll probably sign up for this again in 2020!

01 book rug mug

2.  Rag Baby Boy Quilt. I made this for my friend Jamie's daughter Rachel's baby. The dark blue flannel on the back came from my mom's stash.

02 rachels quilt rag patchwork

3.  Book Print Mug Rug #2.  I made this for my friend Mindy when she left the library. She is one of my favorite people I've worked with and I still miss her every day! I bought a TON of this book print fabric and if you look closely you'll probably notice it in a lot of the scrappy things I make.

03 book mug rug for mindy

4.  Emmy's baby quilt. A big log cabin for my grand-niece Emmy. Read more about it HERE.

04 emmys quilt big log cabin

5.  Running Shoes Mug Rugs. When I went to the Skirt Sports retreat, I needed to bring a gift for a basket some of the ambassadors were putting together. I decided a mug rug would be good, but why make one when you can make four? Actually I made five. I think because of the corners being cut on the bias but I had the hardest time getting the binding corners to look nice on these. Hence the fifth one because the one I kept was THE WORST for corners. I gave one to Becky, one to my friend Lynne, one to someone else I don't remember! :) 

05 running shoes mug rugs

6. Ian's Baby Quilt, Midnight Feeding. I decided I should start naming the quilts I made. I didn't actually name them all but I'll share when I did, and this is the first one I named. I made this for my grand nephew Ian. It's backed with a dinosaur print flannel because his grandma, my sister-in-law Cindy, told me she hopes one of her grandsons will love dinosaurs.

06 ians quilt log cabin

7. Gus's Baby Quilt, Imagination. This is actually one of the first things I made after my mom passed away, but Gus (another grand nephew) wasn't born until the spring and I didn't give it to him until July! This took me FOREVER because I was learning how to make log cabins and didn't know the ways to make them faster. I have a half-written poem called "Grief Cabins" inspired by making this quilt that I hope to finish in 2020. It's backed with a flannel cowboy print.

08 guss quilt log cabins

8.  Hot Pad for Sarah. I made this for a family friend's daughter who got married this fall. We've known her since she was five or six! I paired it with a bundt pan, a cake stand, and the recipe for the chocolate bundt cake I used to make and take to their house when they had us over for dinner.

09 hot pad for sarah

9.  Aiden's baby quilt, Summer River. This is for another grand nephew, same sister-in-law is the grandma! It has some of my favorite blues and greens from quilts I've made for Kaleb, Jake, Nathan, and lots of other babies. It's backed with pieced flannel and a few other squares.

10 aidens quilt scrappy patchwork

10.  Patchwork Scrappy Pumpkins hot pads. I totally meant to write a tutorial for these and will do that next fall when it is seasonally appropriate! 

11 hot pads pumpkins

11. In the Stacks Quilt. I made this for a beginning quilting class I helped to teach at the library. I have a tutorial all written up so I definitely should write a blog post about it. I keep this on the chair in my craft room.

11a library quilt in the stacks

12.  Gloria's Quilt, Aspirations. This one is for my friend Julie's granddaughter. The baby's mom has a fashion degree so I HAD to make something for her with those dresses. I can now whip up a log cabin square in the blink of an eye! I had this one quilted because it needed some elegant curves. I love the way the arrangement of the logs also suggests a circle without actually making a circle.

13 glorias quilt 4 log cabin squares

13. Baby Patchwork Quilt in a Day. I made this one for one of Kendell's coworkers. He was in Denver for a conference and I was going out later in the week to meet him, and I literally made this is a day. It was fun to challenge myself!

12 patchwork baby quilt in a day

14. Halloween Table Quilt. This one ties for the oldest thing I finished, along with #15. I made this quilt top in 2006 I think; when I finished it I didn't love it at all and so I put it in the closet under the stairs and forgot about it. I found it when I was organizing my fabric this February and March and decided, why not use it anyway? I redid the back because it was too small, had it quilted, and then bound it. (I LOVE the binding. Fabrics with prints are my favorite.) It still will never be my favorite quilt I've ever made, and I actually love the back more than the front, but it's OK. I like it because it reminds me of all the things I've learned since I first started.

14 halloween table quilt

15. Dancing Skeleton Hot Pad. I have had this little pieced piece sitting in the drawer with my Halloween scrapbook supplies since I made the above quilt. This was my FAVORITE part of the panel and I wanted to showcase it somehow. I think I thought I'd maybe make a pillow, or maybe put it on a piece of wood somehow so it could hang on my wall, but I never did anything with it. When I found the quilt top it matches I decided to pull it out and make a hotpad instead. I know...how many hotpads do I need? but I love her. I backed it with purple polka dots. I didn't remember to take a picture of it before I packed it up with my Halloween decorations, but here it is before I quilted it. I will likely use this image if I ever get around to writing a tutorial about self binding.

15 halloween hot pad dancing skeleton

16. Hotpad for Margot #1: Anne of Green Gables. I got to meet in person my friend Margot this year, who I've been friends with online for a long time. I gave her three hotpads—one was a Christmas one I made last year—this one, and #17. I picked Anne of Green Gables because we are kindred spirits!

17. Hotpad for Margot #2: Utah National Parks. Margot came to Utah mostly so she could hike Utah's redrock desert. I found this fabric online and it was perfect. I need to make one for myself, too! I had fun setting each park square at a random angle; I wanted it to look like a scrapbook page with photos on it, because she is also a scrapbooker!

17 margot hot pad utah national parks

18. Black & Pink Hotpad. This is a wedding gift that I still need to get something else to go with and then actually give it to the person I made it for. I have SO MANY black & pink half square triangles because I just keep making them and finding a new piece of black I love and then needing a pink to go with it and then suddenly I have 16 more matches which means 32 more HSTs...so, yeah. Probably a black-and-pink something is in a lot of people's future. I quilted this using masking tape which is another thing I want to blog about!

18 hot pad black and white

19.  Autumn Leaf Table Quilt. I had so much fun making this and I learned that I can freeform quilt. Not perfectly but clearly what it takes is just some practice.

19 autumn table quilt

20. Anne of Green Gables Hotpad for Chris. Chris is my oldest best friend and definitely a kindred spirit AND she has red hair so how could I not make this for her for Christmas?

20 chris hot pad anne of green gables

21.  Christmas Table Quilt. I will still write a blog post about this. It's highly imperfect but I love it anyway. And I'm including a photo of the back because I might like the back more than the front.

21a christmas table quilt front

This is the front.

21b christmas table quilt back

And here's the back. I love the back so much.

22. Another Running Mug Rug. This one has yoga ladies on the back. I made it for a secret Santa swap. 

22 rug mug running

23. Christmas Tree Hotpad. This made me happy for all the days I had it out—I finished it relatively late in December, though, so I will get more love out of it next year. It reminds me of my mom but it feels like my style. Still annoyed I ran out of the striped background fabric!

23 christmas hotpad pink tree

24. The Kitty Quilt, or, Misty, Noelle, Emily. I made this because I wanted Haley to have something comfy to sleep with when she was home—home sleeping on the floor because we don't have extra beds! I don't think she actually slept with it, but that's OK. I love it. I will blog about this one too. It was my last finish of a very productive year!

24 cat quilt

Not sure if I will quilt as much in 2020 as I did in 2019. BUT I do have a 20 projects in 2020 sheet that my local fabric store gave me, so, we'll see. I do know that quilting this year has brought me peace and happiness and a few pretty quilted things, and that is enough.




Tutorial: How to Make a Quilted Hot Pad

Ten years ago, I was in a fabric store falling in love with a line of Mary Englebreit Christmas fabric. I made a quilt with it (the only quilt I’ve ever made with pre-cut fabrics) but I wanted to also give it to some people I loved. So I asked one of the salesclerks at the store what I could make other than an entire quilt to give to someone.

She suggested I make some hot pads, and I loved that idea, so I bought some yardage, too, and she gave me a pattern idea (a modified log cabin). I started working on them the second I got home that day. Except, Haley came home from school sick with the stomach flu, so I set up a little table in the hall and started cutting, taking breaks to be with her in the bathroom.

(Oh those years when no holiday could pass without at least one of my kids getting the stomach flu, and often more than one.)

In my memory I made 25 or so hot pads that November (I didn’t actually finish the quilt until the next December), but when I stop to think about it, I’m not sure. I know I gave one to my mom and my mother-in-law; when Beth passed away she had hers in a drawer and Kendell had me bring it home with the other stuff we inherited from her. I’m not sure what happened to my mom’s (maybe one of my nieces has it?) but I don’t know…did I really make a lot of them? Or just a few?

At any rate, that was my start of making hot pads. I have loved making them ever since. They are actually an integral part of my kitchen cleaning process, as I use them to set wet, hand-washed dishes on to dry. The ones I make now are much larger than those first ones I made, and I love the little pop of color and hominess they add to my kitchen.

Also, I love making them because they come together quickly; you can easily make one in just a couple of hours. And your options for making hot pads are only limited by your imagination and your piecing skills!

To make one, you need:

  • A pattern for the top block. It can be as hard or as easy as you like. I’ve made improve blocks, lob cabins, stars, patch work, squares with fussy-cut holiday fabrics, whatever.
  • A piece of fabric for the back. A fat quarter is great for this! This should be about 4" larger than your finished block if you want to self bind, or 2" longer if you’re making a separate binding.
  • A piece of cotton batting that is about 2" larger than your finished top block. (A thin batting is perfect here.) (This is a great use for your batting scraps!)
  • A piece of Insulbrite batting that is about 2" larger than your finished top block. Insulbrite is an insulated batting; it is what makes this a hot pad because it protects your counter from heat. They used to sell it at Joann but I haven’t found it there all year. So finally I just ordered a huge piece from fabric.com.
  • A piece of fabric for the binding if you choose to make a separate binding. The size of this depends on how big your finished hot pad will be and how wide you like to cut your binding.

Here are the basic steps; for more details see THIS blog post.

  1. Make the top block.
  2. Make a quilt sandwich: the backing fabric face down, then the Insulbrite, then the cotton batting. Smooth out the top square on the top.
  3. Iron once more to smooth out any crinkles.
  4. Pin and then quilt as you like.
  5. Square up. If you are going to use binding strips, you just cut through all four layers. If you’re going to do a self binding, trim the top three layers so they are square, and THEN square up the backing. (This can get tricky. Be careful to NOT cut the backing! Fold it underneath the square as you trim.)
  6. Wash and dry.

Two years ago, I made another round of hot pads at Christmas. This time I made thirty of them, for nieces and sisters and friends. I made one for my mom but that was the December she got sick so I don’t know if she ever used it. I had a few people who said, “ummm, thanks for this quilted…little square?” so now when I give them as gifts I include a little card I had printed that explains what it is and how to use it. (YOU CAN’T PUT INSULBRITE IN THE MICROWAVE! Very important!)

Some notes on binding:

I go back and forth on making a traditional binding (there are several ways to do this, but I make mine like THIS) or doing a self binding (like THIS), which means binding the quilt with the quilt backing. Self binding is easier, but you have to pay attention to how you quilt the hot pad because the ending of the quilting won’t be covered. Regular binding takes longer, but it’s also more durable and it’s fun to add another fabric into the mix. I’ve improved my binding skills a lot by binding hot pads, so that’s great, but depending on how small the pad is, it can get frustrating to bind traditionally because that last step when you join the ends in a diagonal seem is HARD to do with a tiny piece. (I almost ALWAYS self-bind anything smaller than 9", unless, like the one I made over the weekend as a gift, I accidentally cut the backing fabric on step 5.

I have several Christmas hot pads, but I still made another one this year. Christmas tree hotpad front
(I like having a Christmas-themed craft I work on during December.) I love the two fabric lines I used, Swell Christmas and Sweet Christmas. I think it is a fabric my mom would like, but I also like it, which is great because our tastes are really pretty different. It has a mod, 60’s feel and I confess, I love pink in Christmas designs. I used a the "Christmas Tree" block pattern from The Sewing Loft to make the tree, except I modified it because I wanted a rectangle instead of a square. Modifying it pushed me a little bit and I had to recut the plaid part of the tree THREE times, which left me short on the striped fabric on the top triangle, so then I had to piece it, and I’m a little bit bitter about it. (I even went back into the fabric store to get more of the stripe but they were out. Sadness.) I used washi tape to mark the lines for quilting, which I think I need to write a separate blog post about.

Christmas tree hotpad back

I quilted with droopy curvy lines inside the tree (sort-of like Christmas tree lights?), an outline of the tree, and then the background is a double line set at a 30 degree angle. I wish I would've outlined the tree twice before sewing the background lines, but: onward and upward!

This has been an emotionally difficult December so far, but my two quilting projects have nurtured me through so far. Plus it just makes me happy to see this on my counter!

Autumn Leaf Table Quilt or, What My Husband Will Never Understand

Today I was looking for a blog post I thought I'd written with instructions for making a rag quilt (I either never wrote it or my blog is hiding it from me), and I came across THIS POST  I wrote ten years ago, which is ostensibly about a quilt but really is about my marriage and its struggles, creativity, loss, grief, parenting, love, and the lump I still have in my throat.

Autumn rag quilt

So many other lumps have been added since I wrote that post that I wish I could just reach bag and hug that Amy I used to be, for all the stuff she doesn't know she will have to work through. And for the clear validity of the painful things she was feeling when she wrote it.

I am different but the same. 

I still find myself making quilts to assuage some hurt. The hurts have been different than I expected, and some entirely surprising experiences have happened since 2009.

But, you know, what I wrote there is still true: sometimes I feel misunderstood by my husband. (And by “sometimes” I mean almost always.)

A decade ago, he was asking me why I was so invested in quilting. He still asks me this question. Why make a quilt for a baby when it would be so much easier to just buy a gift at the mall? (And yes, less expensive.)  Why spend time making another quilt for our house, when we already have a bunch? 

That also gives me a lump in my throat, but what can I do? 

Unlike the Amy I was a decade ago, though, I am much less invested in apologizing or feeling guilty. He doesn't have to understand it. I don't even have to understand it. Is it a compulsion? An obsession? A way of avoiding cleaning the bathrooms?

I don't care anymore.

I like making quilts. And this year especially, fueled by the absolute gobsmacking amount of fabric my mom left when she died, I have been making quilts almost nonstop. Six or seven baby quilts and an enormous flannel quilt for Jake, and all of the shopping for a new quilt for Kaleb. I've even made progress on my black and white half-square triangle quilt. Not to mention the, I don't know, maybe 15 hot pads I've made as gifts?

It doesn't make sense, but it is helping me process in ways I don't fully understand.

In September, Kendell walked into my crafty space and said "what are you working on?" and I said “a table quilt!” and he made that face: I don't understand my wife.

Tables don't get cold and they don't need quilts, right?

Except, I have thought for a long time about making a quilted tablecloth. It seemed a little bit overwhelming as I have an ancient oval kitchen table. If I made a quilted tablecloth I’d feel compelled to make it oval, too, and that just seemed impossible, so I just thought about it. For a long time.

But then I read THIS POST and I thought: OK. I’m not the only person in existence who thinks a table might need a quilt.

And then I saw THIS  “Fall Leaves” quilt block pattern by The Sewing Loft.

And I had my idea.

Fall leaf table quilt fabric selection

I used the pattern but I modified it by making it bigger. In the pattern, the largest block is 12x12, but my table quilt is 47x47. This was pretty easy to do, and turned out just fine except for that top point, which isn’t exactly the same as the smaller blocks in the pattern. (But it’s OK.)

This quilt top came together really fast. After shopping, I pieced the top in one afternoon. I was excited, thinking that I’d have it finished for at least half of September, and then I could put it back out again in November.

But then I decided to piece the back with my leftover scraps, and that actually took longer than making the front.

Fall leaf table quilt back piecing

And then I started quilting it. Fall leaf table quilt thread choice
The quilting on the leaf is meant to look like leaf veins. I did that quilting with my walking foot, and it turned out really well (you can do some pretty good arcs with your walking foot, I discovered! They just have to be large) but it took a long time. Once I finished quilting the inside of the leaf and around the leaf itself, though, I still had to quilt the off-white background.

The off-white (or maybe it is pale, pale greige?), paisley background that I love with every drop of my paisley-loving heart.

I wanted swirly lines on the background, and as I’ve been personally funding my quilter’s house payment for the last little while, I just couldn’t afford to take it to her. And then it was almost October so I decided that instead of quilting my fall table quilt, I’d make a Halloween one! And another Halloween one!

(Which is a different post altogether.)

But as October drew to a close, I kept looking at my leaf. I wanted to finish it. I wanted to put it on my table for November. So I decided to put on my big girl pants, get brave, and do some freeform quilting.

Even though I’m pretty bad at freeform quilting.

But I took my time. I watched several tutorial videos about how to adjust the tension correctly, and how to move your hands with the fabric, and how to keep the stitches smooth and consistent. I practiced on several different swatches until I had the tension as perfect as I could get it (no eyelashes!). I found a thread that wouldn’t be SUPER obvious on the fabric. I spent one entire hour just drawing the loopy shapes I wanted to make. I took a deep breath, adjusted my big girl pants (which were actually my comfiest pair of running tights), and got to work.

I, Amy Sorensen, freeform quilted my Autumn Leaf table quilt.

Fall leaf table quilt crinkles and swirls

Is it perfect? Not even close. I did manage to not have any eyelashes on the back, but the stitches are not consistent. The loops aren’t all the same size and there are some that are more octagon than oval. Even the top itself: I think the stem is obviously out of proportion and should be shorter. I cut off the leaf tips with my binding fabric.

But I love it: the colors, the patterns of the fabrics. The contrast of the aqua stem and binding. The fabric itself that I found for the binding—I love that fabric and think it is perfect.

Fall leaf table quilt binding

I love the mishmash of angles on the back, the way it looks like those triangles are open lids.

Fall leaf table quilt back

I even love the quilting, even with its imperfections. You can learn something from every quilt you make, and part of what I learned from this one is the tiniest bit of confidence that the only reason I’m not really good at freeform quilting is because I haven’t practiced enough.

And I love that I kept doing it until I finished. I stuck with it even when I accidentally quilted part of the extra back fabric upside down to the back and had to unpick a bunch of stitching. I finished!

Fall leaf table quilt kitchen

Yesterday I washed my table quilt and my tablecloth while I was (finally) packing up all of my Halloween decorations. I set out the Thanksgiving items I have and, once the quilt was fresh out of the dryer and appropriately crinkled, put it on my table.

I’m sure Kendell has forgotten that little conversation we had in September, about why in the world I’d be making a quilt for the kitchen table. I didn’t bring it up. I didn’t even point out how pretty the table looks. Do I wish he could understand? Yes. Is his lack of understanding going to stop me from quilting? Clearly not. It brings me a specific kind of happiness that I won’t abandon just because to him it’s just some squares of fabric.

But I guess what matters more is that I understand a little bit more. There are many reasons I love quilting (and scrapbooking, too); one of them is this feeling of success. I made this, not anyone else, so it exists just because of my efforts. It can exist in the world for longer than I do, even. It can be on our table for the next decade, maybe. Even if the table is different or even in a different house. It can become a part of our story, of my story. Just like the quilt in that post I wrote ten years ago, which right now is on the foot of my bed. I still love that quilt and have gotten it out every September 1 since I made it. It is also part of my story, a background detail and a mute witness to a whole bunch of experiences I could’ve never guessed I’d have.

This morning, Kaleb went to school late, so he had time for a relaxed breakfast. I made him three scrambled eggs, two pieces of toast, and a protein shake, and he ate at the table with the quilt. I almost said “don’t spill” but then I didn’t, because that is its purpose, to cover the table during whatever meals are eaten there. Who will eat there, and what, and what stories will we tell with it under our elbows?

I’ll check back in a decade and let you know.

Book Review: The Quilter's Apprentice by Jennifer Chiaverinni

"Sometimes people look critically at a woman who spends time on her hobbies when the carpet needs to be vacuumed," Bonnie said.

"Yes, but think about it." Gwen rested her chin in her  palm. "Who would criticize a male artist who spent the day painting or sculpting instead of mowing the lawn? Nobody."

When my mom died, I decided I wanted to donate a book group set to my library in her memory. The Quilter's Apprentice by Jennifer Chiaverini seemed like the perfect book, not only because many of the patrons who use our book group collection want gentle books, but because my mom was a quilter. She taught me how to use a ruler and a rotary cutter, how to thread a sewing machine and how to sew straight lines. Most importantly, she taught me the idea that making quilts is a fun and good thing to do. I once had a friend tell me that she didn't know how I dared cut into the fabric I bought. "It's so expensive," she said. "What if you mess up?" That conversation helped me realize that even though my mom didn't teach me everything I know about quilting, and even though our styles were very different, what she really gave me is confidence to not just dream about doing something, but to actually do it.

(And yes: fabric is expensive. And sometimes I DO mess up. But my quilting motto is "fabric is a flexible medium." Even when I've made a mistake I've been able to find a way around it. I'm OK if my quilts aren't perfect and I like to think that part of my quilting style is actually influenced by my imperfections. Like, someone in the future could just double check the corners, find at least one wonky one, and say "Yep, great grandma Amy made this.")

Quilters apprenticeAt any rate, I choose The Quilter's Apprentice to donate, despite not ever having read it, because I had read enough about it that I could recommend it without hesitation. But then I decided I needed to read it anyway.

It tells the story of Sarah, who has moved to a small town in Pennsylvania with her husband, who has recently (finally) found a new job. Now she is looking for work, but not with much enthusiasm as the career she chose—accounting—doesn't fulfill her. One day, frustrated with another unsuccessful interview, she decided to go with her husband to his job; he is working on renovating the grounds of an old house for an eccentric client. This woman, Sylvia, and Sarah have a sort of snippy first meeting, but Sylvia asks Sarah if she'd like to work for her as well, helping her clean the inside of the house to prepare it to be sold.

Sarah reluctantly agrees, but she discovers that Sylvia is an expert quilter, and Sylvia ends up teaching Sarah how to quilt. As she learns about piecing, color balance and contrast, straight lines, matching triangle tips, applique, and a bunch of other quilting techniques, Sarah also learns Sylvia's life story and the reason why she left Elm Creek Manor decades ago.

I think I definitely picked the right book to donate. My mom would've liked this book, and the patrons who use my library's book group sets will love it. It is very gentle—there is only one swear word and zero sex or violence. The story doesn't only focus on quilting, but on history and on the impact of creativity in a person's life.

I'm also glad I read it, even though it isn't entirely an Amy sort of book. I haven't found the right word to explain my response to this type of book, but it is very similar to my response to the book The Home for Unwanted Girls. It is a quality that many gentle books have: there is nothing wrong with the story itself, but the writing style somehow feels constructed. As if I can see the author moving the marionette strings in ways I don't notice with more literary fiction.  I appreciate the story and the experience, but I can't entirely lose myself inside the book.

I'm glad I read it, however, because it made me feel accepted. I love making quilts. I probably have made too many. I will probably continue to make too many. I might, as a certain spouse sometimes points out, spend too much time and money making quilts for babies who might never care. So I sometimes get a bit defensive about this hobby, and to spend time with these characters, especially Sylvia who understands quilting on a more aesthetic and academic level, helped me realize that it is OK. Loving the process of making this is part of who I am. I especially loved this realization Sarah has, when she is feeling stressed about the experiences she's facing: 

Sarah found herself looking forward to her quilting lesson later that day. Not just look forward to it, she suddenly realized, but needing it. Tangled, anxious thoughts relaxed when she felt the fabric beneath her fingers and remembered that she was creating something beautiful.

My mom taught me to make beautiful things. Quilts, yes—she started me on the path to learning how to make quilts. But at a more basic level, she just taught me TO MAKE something beautiful. So, yep. Quilts. But I also try to make my cakes pretty and my pies golden and glossy, and my other hobby, scrapbooking, is highly influenced by my quilting hobby. (Color and color balance and how to mix prints, for example...and I can't tell you how many times I've bought a scrapbook paper simply because it would make a great fabric for the quilt I was working on, or an entire yard of fabric because I wish it was scrapbook paper. Quite often, I don't even do it on purpose!) I think she'd be happy I donated this in her name. 

The Tale of Two Scrappy Log Cabin Quilts Part Two: Quilting and Binding

One of the cool things about log cabin squares is that the way you arrange them creates a totally different pattern. The squares themselves “read” as if they are made up of two triangles, a light and a dark, especially when mixed with a bunch of others. As with all quilts, even though these were gifts, I also made them for myself: so I could learn how to do this technique, so I could learn what looks great and what might not. So I decided to arrange the squares differently for each quilt. There are a bunch of different ways to put log cabins together, but I liked the flow of light and dark that these two make.

If you are making a quilt with log cabins, my suggestion is to not wing the assembly of the squares into a finished quilt top. Put them on a design wall if you have one, or arrange them on the floor. It is worth the time, especially if your squares are scrappy. This is the final way you create balance with all of those disparate patterns and/or colors, so take some time to get the squares in the right order. I find that even once I think they are perfect (no repeated fabric touching, for example), if I take a photo of the layout and then look at it on my phone, I see it differently and change a few more squares.

Once you have the squares arranged the way you want, sew the blocks into rows and then the rows into the finished top. I ironed the seams open but I’m not sure if there is a right or wrong way to iron log cabins.

After I finished the two log cabin quilt tops, I cleaned up my sewing space, organized all of the scraps I had left over (seriously…I think I could make ten more baby log cabin quilts), and then agonized! I really wanted to freeform quilt these quilts. I think it would’ve enhanced the bigger pattern the arrangement of the squares creates. I did some Google searching for free-form quilting tips, I checked out and read two books about it, and I even did some practice free-form quilting. But in the end, I knew I am not skilled enough at free form to make it look good, so I went with some straight line quilting instead. (I think these two quilts might just be the thing that pushes me over the edge: I might just be ready for a new sewing machine! Any recommendations?)

As I made these quilts, I started thinking of them with names. And as all of the Cool Quilting Bloggers name their quilts, I’m going to go ahead and start naming all of my quilts, too. (I actually also started a draft of a poem about quilting, which is really a poem about grief, history, time, female ancestors, and if I manage to finish it it will be titled “Grief Cabins.”) So! Here are the finished scrappy log cabin baby quilts, with their individual names:

Midnight Feeding

Midnight feeding quilt
I think the arrangement of this one is called Barn Raising. I’m calling it Midnight Feeding because I spent some late nights working on it, and because the colors of the back feel more like night colors. I LOVE the little pops of purple sprinkled throughout this quilt. I had to shop a little bit for some more purples, and I discovered that quilting is similar to scrapbooking: It’s REALLY hard to find good purples. (I like cool instead of warm purples.) I showed this one to a woman at the fabric store I’ve started to become friendly with, and she said something similar: “Oh, I love the purple on this! Not enough people think of purple as a boy color, but it really works with blue.”

It has scraps from quilts I’ve made for Haley, Jake, Nathan, Kaleb, and Elliot. Some of the logs are from my mom’s stash, as are all the hearth squares. Some of the logs come from baby quilts I’ve made for friends and neighbors. Some, I confess, are new fabrics. Midnight feeding close up

I quilted it by first quilting in the ditch around each of the hearth squares and then with echoing diamond lines. When these lines got to a hearth square, I didn’t quilt through it, so the squares are a little bit more highlighted.

Midnight feeding font and back

I pieced the backing out of two different flannels. (I love a pieced backing!) The dinosaur print I bought when Kaleb was about two. I made a pair of PJs for him out of it but had a ton left over. The polka dots I got the day I took the top into the fabric store and the colors matched so well, it was a happy coincidence!

Midnight feeding back

I made this for the baby of my niece Hilary; he was born three weeks ago.


The arrangement of this one is called Fields and Furrows. The light/dark diagonal lines just make me so happy! I love the little details of the quilt. Each of the hearth squares is different. There are sharks, kittens, a cowboy paisley, a few wordy pieces. Since I pieced this so slowly, I tried to sort of match the fabrics thematically a little bit, like there’s a sheriff’s star print with the cowboy paisley, and bubbles with a shark print. I kept picturing the baby I made it for, when he was a little bit bigger, looking at the different prints and making up stories about them. (Realizing that that idea is me projecting my childhood thought patterns onto someone else entirely!)

Imagination quilt

A lot of the scraps I used for this quilt came from my attempt to build up my blue stash, so some of it was new. There is a dark blue flannel that came from my mom’s stash and a few other blue pieces. (I wanted to put more of her stash into this quilt, because it was for her great grandson, but her taste in blues was so different from mine, and she almost always chose a cream base instead of a white one.) But I also used some of the fabric I’ve been accumulating for a quilt I’m making soon for Kaleb. Imagination square close up

Again, I agonized over how to quilt this, but went with two diagonal lines ½” apart, again after stitching in the ditch around the hearth squares. On one of the squares (the second one I quilted) I accidentally quilted around the square made by the first row of logs. I considered unpicking it….but I decided it just added to the random/scrappy aspect of the quilt.

Imagination binding and back close

I had planned on backing it with a solid blue minky, but when I found this fabric I couldn’t resist, because the niece whose baby I made it for is a country fan. And because the baby’s name is Gus, and Gus is a character in one of my dad’s favorite novels, Lonesome Dove, which happens to be about cowboys, so. I realize it’s sort of a mix of two radically different styles, the modern improve feel of the front and the comfy, country feel of the back…but somehow, I think it is OK.

Imagination back

I made this one for my niece Jacqui’s baby, who was born two months ago but who I finally got to meet (and give his quilt to) on Monday.

There’s always a moment when I’m making a quilt for someone else that my husband gets a bit annoyed with me. He sometimes sees my quilty efforts as over the top. And sometimes it is a lot of time spent on a quilt for a baby who might not ever know me very well. But…I think I make the quilts as much for myself as I do for the babies. A person only needs so many quilts in her house, and right now I have no babies or grandbabies of my own to quilt for. But I also make them because of a quilt someone made for me, when I was a baby. My great aunt Myrle made a pink whole cloth quilt for me. It has a lamb quilted on the fabric, with a bright blue eye, and expertly finished with a white cord binding. This quilt is an inherent part of many of my childhood memories, but Aunt Myrle? I don’t remember her at all. So I like to think of her, making that quilt for me, but also for my mom. It doesn’t matter, necessarily, if the baby becomes a person in the future who knows me well. Maybe just knowing that someone cared about him and about his mom enough to make something for him will be a sweetness to him, as that pink quilt (I still have it in my linen closet) is for me.

The Tale of Two Scrappy Log Cabin Quilts, Part One: Motivation and Process

When my mom passed away, one of the categories of stuff we had to deal with was her immense collection of fabric. When it was done—it went to so many different people and places—I resolved that I will never let my stash get that big. So for most of February I worked on gathering all of my little fabric stashes, organizing them by color, and cutting anything that would work in a baby quilt into 6" and 8.5". My fabric is now well-organized and my stash is manageable (I also got rid of some pieces); all of it is in one closet and neatly boxed.

When I cut the baby fabric, I was left with a ton of strips. I had two new grand-nephews on the way, though, so I decided to make a couple of scrappy log cabin quilts with my strips. Can you believe in all the time I’ve been quilting, I’ve only ever made two log cabin quilts, a Christmas one and the one I made this winter for my niece Lexie’s baby, and these were both just ONE square made into a large quilt? I was inspired by one of my favorite quilting bloggers, Amy Smart, whose vintage-inspired log cabin quilt is so beautifully scrappy. It made me realize that scrappy log cabins are a thing, so I dove in.

The basic design of a log cabin square is this: you begin with a central square. Traditionally, these are red, as they represent the hearth of the cabin. You sew one strip to one side of the square, turn it, and then sew the next strip to the next side of the square. The pattern is light, light, dark, dark. (Or the opposite, depending on how you want to do it.) As you build the square, the strips have to get longer and longer, because each strip adds its width to the overall size of the square.

Traditionally (the log cabin square is a very old, traditional pattern, with ties to colonial and Civil War America), the squares are the same size and the width of the strips (or “logs,” really) is also the same.

But I had strips of all different widths, so I decided to do a thoroughly scrappy version by using squares and strips of different sizes. I just kept adding logs until the squares were the right size. Sometimes this meant that the bigger logs were slightly out of order, or didn’t have a pair of dark or light, but I was OK with that. In fact, I think it added to the scrappy feel of the quilts.

Scrappy log cabin quilt sorted strips

The first quilt I made took me forever. This is because I would sew on a strip, walk over to the ironing board, iron the seam open, riffle through the strips for the next one, sew it on, walk to the ironing board…I guess I got my steps in, but that is a very slow way of making squares. I think it took me two weeks to make the 25 squares for that first log cabin. But, I really loved the process. It was a sort of meditation for me, looking for just the right pattern to go next, the heat and woosh of the steam from the iron, the rhythm of the process. And I love the clear delineation between the whites and the blues.

When I started the second quilt top, I decided to try to make the process faster. The squares in this quilt are all the same size, fussy cut from a baby flannel I took from my mom’s stash. Instead of the classic light and dark of the first one, I wanted this one to include more colors (partly because I used up quite a bit of the navy and dark blue strips I had). So, I sorted the strips into two piles: low volume (which is a print made with a white background and a pattern in a color; it “reads” as light in the quilt) and colors (which could include white, but which “read” as purple or aqua or blue or whatever). Then I sorted the colors more specifically, not by color but by intensity/darkness of the hues. Finally, I did one more sort so that the shorter strips were separated from the longer ones. I put these sorted strips into a box that I kept by my sewing machine, and then I started piecing. (I REALLY wish I had taken a photo of those sorted logs. They were lovely!)

For this second quilt, I did strip piecing. So, I started with a square, took a short, dark log (because the squares were lighter, I started with darks), sewed it on. Then I grabbed the next center square, another short, dark log, and sewed it together. When you strip pierce, you don’t lift up the presser foot on your machine, but just keep feeding the pieces through. When I was finished with all 16 squares, I’d cut them apart, pile them on my thigh, and start again. No ironing between each log, just a quick finger press of the seam to keep it open. I would add four logs this way, and then iron, and then keep going.

This process was much faster! It only took two days to finish all of the blocks for the second quilt.

There were many times during the process of making these two quilt tops that I wondered how they would actually turn out. Would the varying width of the logs give the quilts an improve feel, or would they just look sloppy? When I put the squares together and the logs didn’t line up neatly (like they would if the strips were the same width), would it just look weird? I wasn’t sure! I usually have these moments of doubt when I am making a quilt, because my approach isn’t exacting. I’ve made a few non-scrappy quilts (what would be the word for that? I’m not sure!), but mostly my approach is to bring in a whole bunch of different patterns, even if I am staying within a specific color scheme. These are my favorite kinds of quilts, both to make and to admire. But there is always at least one moment when I stop and think: what am I doing???? This is going to look ridiculous. But I think those moments are a natural part of the process, a spot in time when you stop to look and make sure the colors “go” (they don’t have to match) and that you’re balancing big and little prints well. Sometimes you have to wait for the whole thing to come together before you can see that it does, really, all work. Scrappy log cabin quilt sqare

Come back tomorrow for my next post, where I’ll show you the two finished scrappy log cabins I made for my two newest grand nephews and you can tell me if they work or not!

Books Made of Scraps, but A Quilt and Not a Scrapbook

I didn’t always collect my fabric scraps.

Anything larger than about 3 inches I just generally tossed. I didn’t think I’d have a use for small pieces. This makes me sad now, as saving scraps has sort of become a thing I love to do.

A couple of years ago, a friend, and then another friend, and then another friend, sent me a link to this quilt, which is designed to look like a bookshelf full of books. “This is perfect for you, Amy!” my friends told me. “You love books and you love quilting, so it’s like all your hobbies in one!”

Well, some of them!

After I saw that quilt, I realized: DUH. Scraps. I should’ve been keeping my scraps! Nothing I could do about it, though, except for start. So I’ve been collecting what I think of as “books.” They are scraps of all different colors, from almost all of the quilts I’ve made in the past three-ish years. Sometimes I fussy cut the books so they look exactly how I want them to. Sometimes they’re just scraps, between 1.5-4 inches wide and whatever height I have left.

I still think about the scraps I wish I had, though. I love the thought of this quilt, made up mostly of the left-overs of things I’ve made for other people, for my kids, and for myself. Many of the books I could tell a little story about, where it came from or what person I made that quilt for. In this way it will be both a book quilt and a story quilt. I wish I had pieces of everything I’ve made so I could say (and I don’t know who, in my imagination, I’m telling this story to!) “this came from the quilt I made for Haley when she graduated from high school” or “this came from the little Christmas quilt I made for my mother-in-law Beth.”

Today, I started my decluttering process. I kept pushing it back because I’d think “OK, I’ll start with this mess, but wait, I need to clean off this shelf first, but wait, I need to empty this closet before that…” and then on down through all the spaces in my house. Finally today I just picked a closet and started, the closet under the stairs.

This closet has never been very well organized. It had my wedding dress, empty boxes for stereo equipment (because the box makes it more valuable…I guess), several boxes of memorabilia from both my childhood and Kendell’s, a box of cassette tapes (I haven’t talked myself into getting rid of those yet, I know, Marie Kondo thinks I’m lame), the jeans I’ve been collecting to make a denim quilt with for myself, the T-shirts and race shirts I’ve been collecting to make a shirt quilt for myself, and a whole bunch of various pieces of fabric. (As well as an entirely overwhelming amount of largish-sized batting chunks, not big enough for even a whole baby quilt, but too big to just get rid of…)

And, oh, sweetness. Look what I found!

Fabric book scraps for bookshelf quilt

Those are scraps from a baby quilt I made for Kaleb, the quilts I made for the Bigs in 2005, Haley’s hippie Halloween costume from 2006, the first big quilt I ever made which was Haley’s queen-sized rag quilt from 2005. I also found a collection of scraps from the baby quilt I made for Jake, back in 1997, and by “I made” I mean “I helped but mostly my mom made.” Scraps from my autumn rag quilt. Some Christmas scraps and even a few from my Thanksgiving quilt. (The magic of scrappy quilts is the more variety of scraps, the better.)

I showed Kendell the treasures I found and he was like, ehhh, so?

But I’m so excited. It’s like finding little pieces of both myself and my kids. I can still remember how I felt when I bought that purple swirly fabric, very pregnant with Kaleb and panicked that I didn’t have enough stuff for him and excited to see his quilt come together. How much Jake loved his animal quilt, Nathan taking his alphabet quilt for kindergarten show-and-tell. Haley’s adoration of her hippie pants (which I added pink dangly beads to!)

It’s not all of the scraps back. But it’s a few. A few more stories to add, a few more ways to remember.

I still need to straighten the scraps up and make them into books. Add them to my growing collection. One day I’ll have enough to put my bookshelf quilt together, but for now I love the contents of that little storage box, a bunch of fabric stories waiting to be combined into a whole.

Log Cabin Baby Quilt: A Tutorial

There’s always a moment when I’m making a quilt as a gift when I think…is this worth it? Will the recipient appreciate it? Do I do this well enough that I can give this without being embarrassed?  Maybe I should just give something practical, like diapers and wipes.

(Usually this moment comes when Kendell has had enough of the quilting mess!)

One time, six or seven years ago, I went to a baby shower where I didn’t make a quilt. I made a little “baby’s first year” scrapbook album instead. While we were chatting and snacking, one of my friends whispered to me “I can’t wait to see what quilt you made!” and right then I decided, husband’s grumpiness and my self-doubts aside, I will always bring a baby quilt to a new baby. Maybe the mom will love it, maybe it will be the baby’s favorite quilt. Maybe it will just sit on a shelf in the baby’s room, and that is OK too.

It’s my way of telling the baby and the mom that I love them, and that is enough. I hope it becomes a part of their story in some way.

I made this quilt for my niece, who is having her first baby in a few weeks.

Big log cabin finished

I’ve been a little bit obsessed lately with making log cabin squares. There are several new babies coming this year, so I’ve been making smaller squares—but this shower was sooner than I expected. So I made one big log cabin, which was faster. Here’s what I did:

  • The center square is 10” of paisley minky. This was a left-over scrap from a quilt I made for another niece, Lydia, eight years ago!
  • The logs are roughly 3” wide. I say roughly because I fussy cut some of them, so they are larger. Twelve light logs, twelve dark logs.
  • I wanted to include more minky, but I’ve discovered that putting TWO minky logs perpendicular to each other is difficult—the stretch and nap run in different directions so it’s hard to keep the square square. So, instead I put in two different minky logs (the solid pink, which actually has stars on it, and the print with the white background and big paisleys). I think with a scrappy quilt like this, it is totally OK for the vertical and horizontal logs to not always match.
  • I used scraps! Some of the scraps came from my mom’s stash, some came from mine. I love scrappy quilts so this was a fun challenge for me.
  • I only used flannel and minky, no regular cotton (except for the binding). I’ve learned that, with flannel and minky, a 1/4” seam will not be very durable. So, all of the seams in the quilt are 3/8” instead. The texture mix of flannel and minky is so luscious and lovely to me!
  • I backed it with a polka dot minky. The finished quilt is about 43x46”, so I didn’t have to seam the back since minky is 60” wide. Big log cabin backing
  • I really wanted to try to quilt this with some free form quilting, instead of straight lines. In the end, though, I decided I’m not skilled enough at free form yet, so I did straight lines with echoing. My favorite part of the quilting is the four echoed square medallions in the corners. I know straight-line quilting isn’t as impressive as free-form, but I think with some thought and purposeful decisions it is just as beautiful. Big log cabin quilting detail
  • I freaked out about the binding. I love making quilts with a binding that contrasts in some way, or is a little bit of a surprise. (Like, last year I made several all-pink baby quilts with aqua binding.) I wanted to bind this one with a brown and white floral, but I couldn’t find anything I really loved. (I learned that brown is rarely paired with a white background.) Big log cabin binding stripI LOVED this pink floral I ended up binding it with, but I didn’t have the quilt with me when I bought the binding fabric, and I didn’t realize until I got home that it was more coral than pink. So then I agonized. Literally, I had dreams about this quilt binding. In the end I decided to go with the strips I’d already cut, even if the color was a little bit not-quite-right. I ended up loving it, though. I think it works.

Big log cabin binding close up


Here’s a story to go along with the quilt:

While I was making this quilt, I found myself thinking quite often about my mother-in-law, Beth. And my mom, too, since I was using some of her fabric. I had just one small piece of this fabric, with the ballerina elephants and sweet little angels, Big log cabin shared fabricbarely enough to make the two logs if I fussy cut it. I stopped to think…should I use it? Or save it? And I swear: Beth just keep nudging me to use it. So I did.

I made this for a niece on Kendell’s side, Lexie. When Beth passed away, we found several finished receiving blankets, and my sister-in-law, Cindy, has given one to each granddaughter for their first babies. (None of the grandsons have had babies yet.) She brought one to the baby shower…and it was the same fabric as that one Beth was nudging me to use. My mom didn’t know Lexie, but she did know Beth, so it made me happy to know they’d both contributed, in strange ways, to that quilt. I think it would make my mom happy to know that story. Beth too.