Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Past

It’s Christmas. Santa has delivered his packages, enjoyed his cookies and cocoa, and gone his merry way. All is calm once again.

Each Christmas I’m reminded of a Christmas long, long ago when I received a special present. I’m reminded of this same Christmas each time someone asked me how long I’ve been quilting. See, the special present was a little red Singer sewing machine, and I was 5 1/2 years old. I’ve no idea what happened to that particular sewing machine, but over the past few years I’ve tried to recapture my youth by collecting children’s sewing machines. Machines that really sew, like my little Singer did. In fact, one of my machines is very similar to that first Singer, but it’s not red.

The first quilt I ever made was sewn with that little Singer. I’d been given a Raggedy Ann and Andy embroidery set for my birthday. It came with blue stamped fabric, embroidery thread, needle, blunt-ended scissors and instructions. My mother taught me how to thread the needle and carefully sew the little cross-stitches and stem stitches. There were two small squares that could be used as handkerchiefs or sewn together to make a pillow cover. There was also a larger square that was intended to be a quilt for a doll.

I carefully stitched the designs and when I was finished, my mom showed me how to make a quilt. I remember embroidering little x’s all around the edge of the pillow-cased top. Then mom showed me how to knot ties here and there to finish the quilt.  The quilt and pillow fit perfectly on the doll bed that my dad had made. Oh how my dolls must have enjoyed that hand-made first quilt. They didn’t care that the stitches were uneven or that the quilt wasn’t exactly square. And neither did it.

So you can see why these children’s sewing machines are dear to me. Two of the machines are Singers. Both are metal; they were made in Great Britain in the 1950s and hand-cranked. One has a clamp and must be clamped to a table to hold it steady while sewing. The other has a weighted bottom to keep it from moving around. These machines, like most children’s machines, sew a chain stitch. They machine with the clamp as a 3-position stitch regulator that adjusts the stitch length.

The third machine is a Betsy Ross Model 707-E. This metal machine is screwed to the base of the hard case, enclosing the electric motor. Yes – this one is electric so you can actually use both hands to guide the fabric. I love the sort of Art Deco design on the green metallic face.

The manual for one of the Singer Sew Handy machines suggests quilting clothes or blankets for one’s doll, or making a quilted hot dish holder for mother. To make the items more decorative you simply had to sew with the face side down; the lovely chain stitch loops would then be displayed on the front side.

During this holiday season I will sit and sew and remember that Christmas long ago that started me on the path to becoming a quilter. Thank you, Santa!

Photos by Patrick di Natale

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Is It Art?

A trip to a local thrift shop almost always uncovers a treasurer, and today’s trip was certainly not a disappointment. It wasn’t a significant purchase in either dollars or importance. It was simply a round ball with buttons pinned to it.

The pins were fairly new, with round, colored heads and there were two bows made of vintage cloth at the top. It had a big red button on it, and I’ve been looking for just the right big red vintage button. The price was $1.99 so in my cart it went.

This evening I pulled it out of the bag intending to remove all those pins and buttons, but something made me stop and take a closer look.

Someone took a lot of time to pin all those old buttons to a Styrofoam ball. I assume it was made to be decorative. Were the buttons from someone’s collection, or their mother’s or grandmother’s collection? Was this a “memory ball”? The fabric bows were definitely vintage, possibly 40s. But the base was much newer. What is the story behind this treasure?

I’m a victim of the Antiques Road Show. I keep thinking that some day I’m going to stop at a thrift store and pick up an amazing treasure for almost nothing. Well, this button ball isn’t that treasure. The buttons alone are worth more than the price I paid. But it definitely isn’t a valuable treasure. What it is, or at least in my mind, is a piece of sewing folk art. Quilts that I find often talk to me, and this ball of buttons is talking to me. Saying, don’t take me apart. I’m pretty; I’m special.

So it’s going on the shelf with my other sewing collectibles. And I’m still searching for the big red button.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

This little quilter is going to market!

Just 24 hours from now I'll be in Houston in the midst of the madhouse that becomes the International Quilt Market every fall. Boxes and crates everywhere. What's inside those boxes and crates? New fabrics, new patterns, new books and new ideas from the world's top textile companies and designers. Fall Market is where shop owners go to see what's new in Quiltland. How exciting is that?

Fall market is followed by Quilt Festival -- some of the same textile companies and designers, but Festival is open to the public. If you are lucky enough to attend, you'll have the latest news on what we'll be seeing next spring.

My latest book, Prize Quilts: The Omaha World-Herald Quilt Contests, will be introduced along with 10 other books in the Kansas City Star Quilts booth, #2046. Look for Prized Quilts in your local quilt shop now, or go the to see all the latest books from Kansas City Star Quilts.

Friday, October 4, 2013

A treasure in the mailbox

You know the saying, "buy it when you see it because it may not be there later"? I recently was browsing Missouri Valley (Iowa) Antique Mall and found a feed sack with a toy pig on the back. At first I thought it was just a flour sack, interesting because it said "Blair's" and my parents once lived in Blair, Nebraska, and the fact that the company was in Atchison, KS, near where I live. But I picked it up and turned it over and found a pig toy on the back. Yep -- a pig. Okay, that it made it more interesting, but I'm not really into pigs and I'm trying to wean myself from feed sacks. So I put it back and left the mall without the bag.

When I got home, I emailed a friend about the bag. She said she wished she had known about it. Apparently this type of bag is fairly rare. So I looked for these bags on the Internet. Nothing. No toy pig bag. No toy bags at all. What's with that? I know they made feed sacks with several different toys on the back. Dolls. Animals. Maybe this was rarer than I realized.

Of course that made me want the bag even more. So... I took a chance and called the mall. This lovely lady answered the phone and I told her about the bag. Would you believe she took the phone and walked down the aisle and found the very same bag?! Could I charge it on my credit card and would she mail it to me? Of course! SOLD!

Today I went to the mail box and there it was. This innocent little manilla envelop with a return address of Missouri Valley Antique Mall! And there it was. In absolutely perfect condition. I wonder how old this bag is. I searched the Internet and discovered that Blair Feeds is still in business. The company was started in 1867. Of course I emailed them to see if they could date my sack. Stay tuned for updates!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Deb Rowden ( spoke to my quilt guild the other night. Her inspiring presentation, Thrift Shop Quilts, was about improvised quilts and quilting. Not cut and dried, perfect points quilts, but quilts made before we had rotary cutters, specialty rulers, and glow-in-the-dark plastic templates. Quilts made of old clothes or leftover scraps cut using a pair of scissors that probably needed sharpening 2 years ago.

I have some blocks I purchased in Atlanta a few years ago that fit into this category of "improvised" quilts. If I were to define the blocks, I would say they are Log Cabin blocks. But no two are alike. The size of the strips are all different, and they aren't perfect squares or rectangles. A few of the blocks have the same fabric in the center, but strips around the center appear to be whatever was at hand. Some of the "strips" are actually hems -- hems cut off shirt sleeves, perhaps, and still turned under and sewn.

It is hard to tell how old the blocks are and what era the fabrics came from. An expert in textile history could tell, but I can't. I don't see feed sacks but there are wonderfully bright colors and prints. I'm sure they all came from clothing, so the best resource for dating them may be catalogs and fashion magazines.

After listening to Deb and seeing her quilts, I'm inspired to go ahead and put these blocks together, perhaps with a plain muslin sashing so as not to distract from the blocks and the fabrics. And I want to cut the sashing with scissors, not a rotary cutter, just as the original piecer would have done. I wish I knew who made them, and what they intended to do with the blocks. I hope wherever that person is, they will be happy with the finished quilt.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Here is a sneak peak at one of the quilts in Prized Quilts. The design
is based on a quilt made in 1931 by Mrs. Mary Peck of Omaha.
She made a full size quilt in honor of her son, who was killed in
France near the end of World War I. This small quilt, which can be
hung on a wall or placed on a table, is dedicated to my Uncle Ralph
Simpson who served in the Navy during WWII, and was a survivor
of the attack on the Bunker Hill. Marilyn Carr made the quilt and
Freda Smith quilted it.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Prized Quilts: The Omaha World-Herald Contests

Here it is!

My latest book from Kansas City Star Quilts hits the shelves this week. The book is about quilt contests sponsored by the Omaha (Nebraska) World-Herald newspaper from 1931 to 1940. The exhibits were co-sponsored and held in local department stores. Hundreds of quilts were entered each year and thousands of people came from all over to view the quilts. The book contains a history of the contests and ten patterns redrafted from patterns printed in newspapers during those ten years. Be sure to check it out on

Thank you to those of you who helped put together the lovely quilts in this book: Marilyn Carr, Janiece Cline, Susan Thorup, David Hurd, Donna Simpson, Freda Smith, Janette Sheldon, Lindsay Lawing and Alex Thompson. A special thank you to Shawnee Town 1929 for allowing us to photograph the quilts on location at the museum.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Red and White

In my last blog I told you that I had picked up some reds and some cream and white tone-on-tone fabrics. I thought you might like to see what I bought.

This week I'm busy working these into my latest quilt project. Each block has a different red and a different white/cream/white & red print.

Friday, June 21, 2013

What's great about vacation

Vacations are wonderful. Time to get away and relax. The other day I actually sat and read all day long! I cannot remember that last time I did that. Maybe never. It was wonderful. But the other great thing about vacations when you travel is that you get to stop by quilt shops. I've done just that on this trip. First I stopped at Calico House in Lincoln, Nebraska. Lincoln has several fine quilt shops, but this is the only one I was able to visit before closing time. Don't let the name fool you. This shop is hot with the latest fabrics and patterns. And being in Big Red country (a.k.a., University of Nebraska football) I was able to add some terrific fabrics to my red stash. Their selection of modern fabrics will make you drool! On down the road I stopped at The Quilt Rack in North Platte, Nebraska. Things were happening at this shop too, although in somewhat a different direction. You want cowboy fabric? Or any fabric with a western theme? This shop has them all. I feel in love with a simple western style quilt behind the cutting table. You have to stop by the see it! Added more to my red and cream stash and picked up a Dalmatian dog print for my friend Janette. Wool applique is also popular at The Quilt Rack. The owner dyes some of her own fabrics and they are yummy! After spending 3 glorious days in the mountains with no phone, no TV, no Internet, no iPad, just time to enjoy the scenery, we headed back down to civilization. Cabin Quilts and Stitches in Grand Lake, Colorado, was my stop this morning. Happy to say I left with a shopping full of fabric and patterns. This is the one store I can depend on for mountain theme fabrics and flannel. Not just cute baby flannel, but rows of all sorts of patterns in flannel. One disappointment was my stop in Estes Park, Colorado. After many, many years in business, Maggie Mae's Quilt Shop has closed and Maggie has retired. Sad to loose her lovely shop. Maggie taught me English paper piecing several years ago, and now I teach it to others. Back on the road tomorrow with more quilt shops on my list.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Hooray! It's Sunday and we all survived Quilt Market. What did I like best? The people! It was fun to make new friends, like the girls from Ribbon Candy Quilts, and Lore from James Button and Trim -- who knows her bling! And it was so good to see "old" friends, too, like Wenke, my friend from Norway who has a company called Northern Quilts. Her patterns are based on Scandinavian designs, as well as some very fun little penguins. Please check out her web side I missed seeing my friend Lola Newman. Her company is Stitchin' by the River. Her quilts and embroidery designs are really unique. I did stroll by Amy Barickman's Indigo Junction booth to glance at some of her new designs. Always fun to see what she's been up to. So many wonderful creative people. Quilting people are just the best!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Fans get to meet their favorite quilt book authors

Another great day at Spring Quilt Market in Portland. We had three book signings today: Sharon Smith and Devon Lavigne signed Fresh Quilts from the Prairies; Betsy Chutchian signed her new book, Lizzie's Legacy, a follow-up to her earlier book, Gone to Texas;and Carolyn McCormick signed her book, A Flock of Feathered Stars. People lined up to receive tickets to the book signings, and then lined up again to get their own autographed copy of their favorite book. Many said that lines were no problem -- being able to meet their favorite authors and get a signed copy of their book was the highlight of their trip to market and worth every minute spent in line. Tomorrow is our last day out here. Time to wrap up those last minute orders, pack everything into shipping crates, and say good bye to old and new friends until the next Quilt Market.

Friday, May 17, 2013

The official opening of Quilt Market was today. Quilters arrived by the 1000s. Kansas City Star hosted three very successful quilt book signings. Authors Christina McCourt Carolyn Nixon and Betsey Langford and Amy McClellan all autographed books for fans in the Kansas City Star Quilts booth. Such talented quilters!
Survived Sample Spree! As you can imagine, one of the most popular spots at Sample Spree is MODA, where you can purchase fat quarter packets of their new fabrics. Here is a sequence of Moda getting ready, the crowd attacking their corner of the room, and the aftermath. Time to put my poor, tired dogs to bed (it's 2:15 a.m. Kansas City time) and rejuvenate for another day at market.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

O! The joy!

O! The joy! That is what Lewis supposedly said when the Corps of Discovery team viewed the Pacific Ocean from just north of here. And that is what I said today when I looked around the Oregon Convention Center. I'm especially excited to see the finished booths being set up by the fabric companies. They really outdo themselves. I promise photos on Friday. We didn't accomplish as much today as we had hoped. Only 2/3 of our floor tile made the trip. The other 1/3 is on its way to Portland as I write -- at least that is what Fed Ex promised. We start the day tomorrow with Schoolhouse Sessions. This is when our authors get 15 minutes to tell about their new book, show projects from the book, and encourage shop owners to purchase lots of copies from Kansas City Star Quilts. Each book author will give away a copy of their book to one very lucky attendee.I will be giving a 15 minutes talk in the morning about the latest news from KC Star Quilts and will give away a book from our new Star Stitch imprint. Then it's back to finish setting up the booth and hanging all the quilts, before dashing off to Shopping Spree. That's is when everyone who can possibly muster a ticket gets 2 hours to shop at wholesale prices. The line usually forms about 3 hours before the doors open. And when the doors do open, look out! It's like a big box store on Black Friday. Everyone rushes in to find their favorite vendors. I'm hoping we sell out early so I'll have time to shop. Time for bed. Tune in again tomorrow.

It's Quilt Market Time

Good morning from Portland, Oregon! Day one at International Quilt Market. Today we unpack the crates and set up the booth for Kansas City Star Quilts. We have 3 booths this time, one less than usual, but somehow we'll get the quilts hung and the books displayed. The quilts will actually wait until tomorrow, after the Schoolhouse Sessions. So what is quilt market? Twice a year -- spring and fall -- quilt shop owners from around the world gather to see the latest fabrics, tools, patterns, and embellishments, and meet the designers who create those wonderful quilts that we all love. This week they will be purchasing the items that will fill their shops this fall. Kansas City Star Quilts will be revealing their latests books from your favorite designers. Go to for the latest info and click on Bookstore to see all our books, including the new releases. Tune in tomorrow for more news from Quilt Market.