Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Pincushion Presents

A few years ago Kathy C. made me a bottle cap pincushion as a Lake Tahoe quilt retreat gift. I thought it was adorable, but it took me awhile to realize
how useful it is. I wound up keeping it in my binding box (a former stationary box in which I keep needles, thread, Thread Heaven, clips, and now, this pin cushion, all in preparation for binding quilts at a moment's notice). It's so useful that I decided to make them for my bookgroup and a few other friends for Christmas. 
Here's how many I've made so far (minus one, which I gave to a quilting friend in Berkeley). I started working on them this summer at the lake and really enjoyed combining the wool felt colors (small pieces purchased from Wooly Lady) with learning new stitches. I used Valdani thread for the embroidery. 
I wish I could get the tops to be a little smoother and less "cupcake-like," but they function as they were designed to do, so I guess I shouldn't worry too much. My bookgroup seemed to like them—I also included a pack of my favorite pins with each one. 
Our bookgroup holiday party is always so much fun and a true tradition at this point—our group has been together for more than 20 years. We exchange gifts—some handmade and some not, depending on how busy we've been—and cookies. This year Anne also made us a lovely soup and salad supper. 

Happy Holidays to you and yours!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Me and O

I try not to bore you with a tale of every article and blog post I write, but I do have to share that while I was at the grocery store on Wednesday evening I came across the January issue of O magazine, and in it is a story written by....ME!
Yup, I've been pretty excited about this for some time, now, but had to keep it under my hat. I pitched the article and it was accepted in August. I'd thought for some time that the Days for Girls story I'd written for Stitch and Quilt Country needed to be told to a wider audience, but I just couldn't decide where. My sister has a subscription to O and when I read the copy she'd left at our cabin this summer I realized it would be the perfect place to tell that story. Turns out it was. They did a lovely job with the layout, headlines, and caption.

As happy as I am to have a clip from O, I'm also thrilled that Days for Girls is getting the publicity that comes with coverage in a magazine whose circulation is 2.7 million (and that's just the paid readership—think how many people pick it up at the dentist's office or hair salon). I just love it when my writing does some good for someone or something good!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Setting a record

Yes, I've set one all right...but it's for length of time between blog posts. Not such a good thing! So herein is a quick rundown of what's been up since mid-October.

Finished some backs and took quilts to Linda Duncan for long arming!

I was thrilled to finally get three quilts off my stair railing and to the quilters. One is back, another is ready for pick up. Here's the first (used the six Farmer's Wife blocks I made on the back).

Interviewing authors for my upcoming book!

Yup, I'm working on a book about art quilts and have had the great pleasure of talking with some of the  artists whose work was selected for inclusion. Can't say too much about that just yet, but it's an exciting project that you'll hear more about in coming months.

Quilt Market!

Had my usual wonderfully-inspiring-and-thoroughly-overwhelming-time. All the usual suspects, plus Cotton and Steel's debut, a stroll through Market with my Stitch editor Amber Eden, quick meet-ups with Lisa, Jennifer, and my other wonderful Meredith editors, dinner with my friends Mel and Mary Lou, a hug from Carolyn Friedlander, a quick chat with Lissa from Moda, and travel with Codi and Greta.
Brigitte Heitland for Moda
Anna Maria Horner's booth (Free Spirit)
Carolyn Friedlander's booth (Robert Kaufman)
Lakehouse's Holly Holderman and PamKitty Morning, with @szyhomemaker, @frecklemama, and Greta Songe
Laurie Simpson of Moda's Minick and Simpson demoing big stitching
Smilin' Vanessa Christenson and her booth for Moda

A quick visit with my wonderful daughter Maggie and her beau, EJ. We took walks, bought boots, saw adorable babies, and ate great food.
Maggie and EJ's backyard grotto
Coolio chair at Austin's Nannie Inez
Coolio daughter

Had a small skin cancer removed from my nose. 18 stitches. Kind of a shock at first, but a month later it doesn't look half-bad. And they got all the skin cancer in one fell swoop, so hooray! (Reserving photos of this one)


Went with my husband, who had a meeting. Saw old friends in Sonoma and Berkeley, a hike across SF that ended in dim sum, and Thanksgiving with my folks in southern Cal. A highlight was my first  face-to-face meeting with fellow Etsy contributor Karen Brown, with whom I've corresponded for a few years. Wish we lived closer...there's a kinship there, for sure.
Karen in her alpaca jacket
Bay view from the Presidio
My awesome dad, his awesome pumpkin pie, and Paul
Santa Barbara pelican
And now home, where I made a few bibs for a baby shower.
One other thing I did was work on a story for a new (to me, but you'll know it) publication that will be out in January. Looking forward to sharing that exciting news soon!

Happy Holidays...hope things are going well for you and yours.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A workshop with Crazy Mom Quilts' Amanda Jean

Amanda Jean's slabs and strings
Our guild lined up Amanda Jean Nyberg, co-author of Sunday Morning Quilts, for a workshop and I signed up immediately. I had the pleasure of interviewing her and Cheryl Arkison for an Etsy story and really enjoyed talking with them and their entire philosophy of saving scraps. I don't know about you, but I can't throw scraps away. Actually, I'll bet that you can't either. I go through phases, where I save even the little triangles I've cut from joining binding strips. I admit that eventually I've tossed them, but now that I've had a class with Amanda Jean, I wish I hadn't!

My scraps
Scraps can be overwhelming, and the goal behind Sunday Morning Quilts is to help them be less so, to make them actually useful. Our class started with a discussion of sorting scraps (Amanda Jean and her friend Pam even brought a set of scrappy sorting boxes) and sorting our own took some time. But it did make them more useable. I was trimming some blocks I'd made from my scraps and Amanda Jean came by and there was a tiny little square—maybe 1.5 by 1.5 inches—that I'd cut off the end and she confessed that she saves even those. Her frugality is matched by her creativity, and she puts these scraps to really great uses.

Amanda Jean's high-and-low volume quilt, Shady
One thing I enjoyed seeing was that even though her aesthetic is scrappy, she has a "look," a clear, colorful palette that shows up time and again in her quilts. I felt quite inspired and started with a log-cabinish block of multicolored scraps.

My slab
I decided, however, to limit my palette and went for blue, green, and yellow with a bit of grey and was quite enjoying that. I'm not sure yet what I'll do with the bit I made, but I do think I'll keep at it, as I have a ton of scraps in these colors.

Amanda Jean laying out gum drops
If you ever get the chance to take a workshop with Amanda Jean, don't hesitate. She's funny, friendly, and spends a lot of time walking around and talking through issues with quilters. A day well spent!
Scrap baskets, rug knitted from selvedges and strings, and 2.5 inch square quilt
My friend Kristin's slabs. We bought that dark blue fabric together six or seven years ago and both used scraps of it in our slabs.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Days for Girls Sew-In

So sorry that Pearl the Squirrel has been so neglected. Life has been busy...some writing, some sewing, a bit of travel. Today was an event that's been awhile in the making: our Days for Girls Sew-In at Home Ec.

My neighbors Pam and Molly are the ones who've sewn the shields, liners, and bags previously. I made my first one just last night, so their expertise was essential (along with their time, fabric, machine know-how, and general good spirits).

We had a great afternoon with around 15 folks showing up to cut, layer, and sew. We finished around 140 liners, 20 bags, and 25 shields (we have a lot more of these that just need to be top-stitched).

Here are some photos from the afternoon. Thanks to Codi for letting us use Home Ec's workshop, and to all who stitched with us! We're hoping to do it again, sometime this winter.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Days for Girls: Near and Far

For the fall issue of Stitch magazine, I wrote a story about Days for Girls, an organization that's working to break the cycle of poverty for women and girls by distributing reusable feminine hygiene pads and shields sewn by thousands of volunteers. I learned about the story from an Instagram photo that my neighbor Molly posted after she spent a retreat weekend sewing for the org. Once I had the chance to talk with Celeste, the founder of Days for Girls, I was hooked. So many of us take for granted access to feminine hygiene products, and Celeste learned that without those products girls miss up to a week of school a month (and often drop out because they're so far behind) and women miss work and can't make money to feed their families.

You can learn more about Days for Girls by visiting their web site, but I wanted to mention two upcoming events. The first is local: we're having a Days for Girls sew-in at Home Ec Workshop on Sunday, Oct. 6 from noon til 5.

If you're not local and would like to join in, you can participate in the first-ever Days for Girls Global Sew-a-Thon, to be held on October 11, the International Day of the Girl. During the Sew-a-Thon, Days for Girls chapters throughout the world will be sewing for 24 hours straight. Chapters and individuals will sit down at their sewing machines for one massive, global effort to sew and assemble kits and win back days for girls and women everywhere.

Learn more at!global-sew-a-thon/chqi, visit their event page at Also, check out the Days for Girls Facebook page. (And if you're interested in spreading the word on your blog, let me know and I'd be happy to share photos and copy.)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Two Fall Favorites: Quilt Shows and Leaf Peeping

I've never been to New Albin, Iowa, but got word of a quilt show in October you might want to add to your calendar. New Albin is on the Mississippi River, just south of the state line between Minnesota and Iowa. Driving along the river in the fall is always lovely. Our first year back in Iowa we took our girls and drove to Effigy Mounds to see the autumn color. At dinner that night, in the tiny town of Harper's Ferry, we waited our turn in a restaurant and noticed two women giving us the eye. One of them leaned over to the other and said, sotto voce, "Leaf peepers." The other nodded solemnly. "Leaf peepers" instantly become a McCray family favorite phrase. But I digress.

The photo I got about the New Albin quilt show features cow quilts, based on the book by Mel McFarland and Mary Lou Weideman book: Out of the Box with Easy Blocks. You may remember when Mel brought samples from the book to my parents' house, or when everyone was stitching them at our Lake Tahoe retreat.  The variety is endless (and often hilarious). Looks like the quilters of New Albin have caught cow-fever, but there will be other quilts, as well: this is the show's fifth year and in years past they've had as many as 200 quilts.

The show will be held int he New Albin Community Center on October 11 to 13 (Friday, 4 to 7pm; Saturday, 10 am. to 5 pm; and Sunday, 12 to 4 pm).

Friday, September 6, 2013

No, Pearl, No!

Pearl feigning nonchalance
When I was visiting my folks in Southern California, my mom and I happened upon a great shop in Laguna Hills: Sewing Party. They had some fantastic samples and their classroom was buzzing with activity. My mom was so inspired that she had my dad take her back the next day and she bought the Harlequin pillow pattern (which also includes this smaller, pin cushion version).

She asked me to clarify the instructions on the pin cushion portion of the pattern and so I ended up making one while we were at our cabin. (Pearl was convinced it was a dog toy and would snatch it whenever I looked away.) I made two using Vanessa Christensen's Simply Style and when I got home I made another with Carolyn Friedlander's Architextures fabrics. I've also marked the quarter-inch stopping points on two more sets of squares (the most fiddly part of the process) in preparation for sewing them. If you're in possession of any of those mini-charm packs (2.5" squares), they work perfectly for this project. Making something three-dimensional was really a revelation.

(If you'd like to try your hand at the Harlequin pin cushion and live in the area, I'll be teaching a class at Home Ec on Oct. 19. They'd make great holiday gifts, and wouldn't you feel so smug having a head start on those! )

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Stitching Up a Storm

My vacation sewing seemed to inspire me to keep at it and since I've returned I've finished another Sorbetto top (my favorite yet), worked on the back for my recently finished quilt top, and stitched up a Sew and Stow bag from the latest Quilts and More, designed by none other than my friend Mel McFarland.

Quilt tops await backs at the top of the stairs
I've also started working an afternoon a week at Home Ec Workshop. As always with a new job, it's that combination of fun (Fabric! Yarn! Nice people!) and terror (Why is the cash register beeping? How much milk goes in a latte? How do I help someone pick up a dropped stitch?). I've gone in three times now and Codi and Anna have been infinitely patient.

I stitched the Sew and Stow bag as a shop sample—whipped it up after dinner one night, and it was a great excuse to combine three lovely fabrics. The instructions were super simple to follow and it seriously took less than two hours. I might make the tabs that keep it rolled up slightly longer—just an inch, really—when using fabric that's a little heavier than quilting cotton—I used Anna Maria Horner's lovely linen/cotton Ghost Wing for the body of the bag, Vanessa Christensen's Simply Style for the top exterior (and an orange solid you can't see to line the top). These would be great gifts, because they're not just tschotkes, but really useful. Yay, Mel!

My Sorbetto top is made of...the fabric name is escaping me, but I've admired it for some time. Anyone remember? The bias tape was made from a Kaffe shot cotton fat quarter: all of it actually only required a 10"square of fabric. I used this great method from Collette: took me awhile to get it the first time, but once I did it works like a charm.

Finally, I had some very exciting news this week related to my "real" job...writing. Can't share it for awhile, but you'll definitely be hearing about it later this year. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Back to Reality

Pearl the Squirrel inspecting the perfectly still lake
Just returned from vacation (sniff, sniff)—nearly two weeks at our family cabin. Though it was much cooler than usual and we weren’t able to swim or even be out on the lake much, it proved perfect for sewing.
I hauled along my trusty Featherweight and finished up my Fabric Fusion quilt that I started after a workshop with Bill Kerr of ModernQuilt Studio. It was a lot of little pieces. But I really wanted to give Bill’s (and Week’s) concept of mixing Jo Morton and Anna Maria Horner fabrics a try. The “fabric smackdown” we did in the workshop was where this started and this Brandon Mabley fabric was my initial inspiration.
These oranges and greens and reds and pinks aren’t “my” colors, either, and that provided an additional challenge. But I’m quite pleased with the end result. I used something like 38 or 39 fabrics in the quilt—including a tiny scrap of this madras plaid in the center, which I found in my mother’s sewing room, a leftover from a summer top she made me when I was in elementary school! I purchased about ten new fabrics, but the rest were from my stash and some of them were truly just scraps: the Amy Butler fabric was from my first Birdie Sling and the orange batik (top right) was from my very first quilt.

I love the crispness the white sashing provides. A highly satisfying project!

We did manage to kayak across the lake on two occasions for blueberries. That, also, was highly satisfying. Two pies and two batches of blueberry pancakes made mornings and evenings quite pleasant. 
The swimming dock, too chilly for a swim until the last day
Driftwood in a quiet bay
A wobbly panorama from my kayak on our last, finally warm and sunny, day