Handmade Christmas 2016: Owls and Stars and Colors, Oh My!

I can finally reveal the final four presents that I sewed for my family for Christmas. These four were definitely sewn in 2017 but they still count as Handmade Christmas 2016, right?

My niece and nephew were both two this Christmas (or close to it) so I made them color books! I used my own tutorial, which I’m so glad I wrote because otherwise I’d have to be reinventing the wheel every time I make these! The last one I made was for Marko, over two years ago.

img_0406img_0407And because I know my mother likes to see the inside of these also, here are the inner pages. Finding all the different fabrics for these books is probably my favorite part of sewing them.


I figured I shouldn’t totally ignore Annika and Andrew’s families however, so for Chris and Katie (Annika’s parents), I sewed an owl from the Fancy Forest quilt pattern (same pattern that Rachel’s fireflies came from). For those of you who follow me on Instagram, here’s the front of that crazy bunch of orange seams!

img_0396I drafted the paper piecing pattern for that arrow myself.  It’s not perfect but it was fun!

img_0398had fun doing some irregularly-spaced diagonal quilting on this one!

For Jon and Leah (Andrew’s parents), I sewed them a Striped Star in blues and greens. I thought I knew the lesson that the less you use a color, the more you notice it but was still fairly surprised by how noticeable the tiny strips of green came out. I also had fun using the leftovers from Ellie’s Easter dress as the back ground.

img_0394img_0395inner green fabric also seen in Marko’s quilt and the blues seen in this table runner

As with the other pillows I made this Christmas, I closed them with an invisible zipper (using this tutorial) and backed them with soft, fuzzy flannel.


Here they are, all best buddies before the owl and Annika’s book headed to Alaska and the star and Andrew’s book headed for Belfast, Northern Ireland.


These four projects are also Finish-along finishes for first quarter, 2017!


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Beehive, March 2017 – Here We Come!

This post is primarily for the other quilters in the #beehiveswarmmerrilee but if you want some paper piecing tips or just are curious about my quilting life, read on. 🙂

This year, for the first time ever, I’m participating in an online quilting bee, organized by Alyce at Blossom Heart Quilts, called The Beehive.  I’m the “Queen Bee” for March so this is my post to give instructions to my bee-mates.

First, my block:

I’ve chosen the “Treasure Hunt” block. It’s paper-pieced but it’s a really simple design with no crazy angles.  So if you’re new to paper-piecing, this will be a great first project and for those of you who know how to paper piece, it will be super easy.

Here’s my sample block:

052colors of tools not purposefully matched to colors of block 🙂

Color Choice

I’d like the block to contain a variety of monochromatic grays of different value (i.e. dark gray to light gray). I’d like them to be as close to true gray (if that’s a term) as you can, so not veering into blueish-gray, reddish/purplish-gray, etc. I’d also appreciate leaving out any florals or stereotypically feminine patterns as this is a quilt for my husband and me to share.

055 the grays I am using

061examples of grays from my stash that didn’t work – either wrong color (the gray/white polka dots are way too blue) or wrong design (those bikes are a nice gray but the print has blue in it too)

In real life, these two piles look very different but they were super difficult to photograph (even when playing with warmth, saturation, etc during editing). So I hope the side by side comparison helps a bit.  The blues on the left are either too blue/green  or too pink to work (plus the one with flowers – no thanks!).


For the two accent colors, I’d like bright green and bright orange, matched to these two colors if you can:

So, in summary, you’ll need four grays, plus green and orange.

Color Placement

In the interest of helping the repeating pattern really show itself, I’d like the darkest gray to be on A1 and the lightest gray to be on A5.  For the accent colors, please make A3 orange and A5 green. When I sewed my sample block, I wrote a description of each fabric directly onto the template to ensure I put the correct fabric in the correct place.

I wrote on all four templates as you can see, and then lined them up before sewing, just to make sure that I had written the colors correctly. A little anal perhaps but I hate making mistakes and seam ripping with paper-piecing is a HUGE pain!

Some paper-piecing tips:

Alyce has a great paper-piecing tutorial so definitely read that if you’re new to paper piecing.  And please, pay particular attention to measuring the template after you’ve printed it.  When I first printed it, even though I thought I’d told the printer to print the correct way, it still shrunk it a bit.  So be sure your template measures 6.5″ before you start sewing.  Remember to print 4 templates!

This blog post has a couple introductory videos if you want a paper piecing visual.  I don’t agree with her assertion that you have to use fancy paper.  I just use plain old copy paper and it works fine! (And Carolyn Friedlander agrees with me – she’s the one who told me to use it when I took her class last spring!) I also don’t bother pre-perforating my lines.  Just the actual sewing makes the paper plenty easy enough to rip out.  I do pre-crease all my lines before I start sewing though.  That way, I don’t have to stop after every seam to crease the next line.

A few other thoughts:

1. As Alyce and Carolyn recommend, I use cheap copy paper and don’t have any issues with it other than when ironing open seams after joining sections.  The ink usually smears so I use a press cloth to keep the ink on the press cloth and not on the iron (and consequently my block).

2. I don’t use the printed seam allowance as my guide for the edge of the block.  Rather, I cut that off a bit (with scissors in advance) and then use my ruler to add a 1/4″ just like I do for all other seams in the block.

047looks off but it’s correct because I cut down the paper before sewing!

3. When joining sections, Wonder clips are your best friend! Also, I first join the section using my longest stitch (which is a 4 on my machine) and then check to see that the sections are lined up correctly and that the back line is correct also. If it’s lined up correctly, then I just go back to my usual paper-piecing stitch length (1.5) and sew back over the seam to finalize the seam.  If it’s off, the long basting stitch is really easy to remove from the fabric without ripping the paper.

looks pretty good!

4. When the instructions say, “Remove paper from the seam allowance”, it means remove the paper from the SA after you’ve joined two sections.  (This didn’t make any sense to me until I started.

049paper gone from the seam allowance (on both sides)

5. After I make the final seam to join all sections in a block, I remove all my papers before ironing that final seam.  I find it a lot easier to get the last seam ironed accurately with the paper gone (plus you don’t have to worry about ink smearing).

6. I know some people like to keep the papers in their blocks until the whole quilt is pieced but I do NOT.  So please, pretty please, take out all the papers before sending your block to me.  It will be easier for you to mail and so much easier for me when completing my quilt top!

7. Finally, this block produces a lot of fun tiny triangle scraps.  If you don’t want them, I’d love it if you send yours along to me.  I have thoughts of trying to make something out of them.

And now that I’ve totally overwhelmed you with way too much information for one little block, I hope you have fun sewing! Thank you SEW much! 🙂


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Finish It Up, 2017 Edition

As has been my practice for the past few years (2010, 2014, 2015, 2016), near the end of 2016, I made a list of all the sewing projects that I have outstanding. I have already made good progress on them but, as has been par for the course of my blogging life, haven’t written anything until now.  I did manage to post something on Instagram in order to join up with the Finishalong and I’ve posted a few updates there.  I do want to have a more comprehensive list for myself though so here it is!

Here’s my official Finishalong list (find the picture of everything here):

Finished already:

  1. Marko’s birthday shirt (finished but not blogged about yet because I haven’t managed to convince him to wear it even though he requested that I sew him one. Sound familiar?
  2. The Hobbit quilt (now finished!)
  3. The Firefly quilt (now finished!)
  4. surprise project #1 – there are two of these and I just finished them but can’t reveal them until they’ve been delivered!
  5. Finish last details on Ellie’s birthday dress (buttonholes, buttons, etc.) (also now finished but not blogged but I do have tons of adorable pictures! Here’s one to keep you happy for awhile.)
  6. Make a change purse for my niece Selah (finished! See it here.)

Still to do (before the end of March hopefully!):

  1. surprise project #2 and #3 – These need to be finished and mailed along with surprise #1 before they can be revealed.
  2. Two B-More Bags totes (I have the kits but haven’t started them)
  3. Make Ellie’s family reunion skirt a bit bigger and make a new reunion flower for me.
  4. Finish two more flowers made from a bridesmaid’s dress from my wedding.
  5. Finish my Carkai Hexies project and turn it into our guest room bathroom curtain.
  6. Finish my Facing East mini-quilt.
  7. Make a storage case for the “Happy Birthday!” bunting.

Additionally, I have several more projects I really would like to get done this spring (some of which will likely end up being on my quarter 2 Finishalong list):

This is what I’ve already finished:

  1. Fix Ellie’s knitted doll’s hat.
  2. A pouch with zipper for my bullet journal markers

Still to do:

  1. Hem my new jeans and Nik’s new jeans.
  2. Put Ellie’s Easter 2016 dress back together so she can wear it again. (Clearly I made it too big last year.)
  3. Finish the curtains that I made for our community association hall’s upstairs bathrooms.
  4. Make the cupboard door cover for our upstairs guest bathroom.
  5. Make fancy dinner napkins (to match the tablecloth I made last year during this time).
  6. Make Christmas stockings for Nik and me.
  7. Make several more corn sacks for our family.
  8. Make napkin rings for us to use at our dining room table (to hopefully reduce the number of cloth napkins we go through in a week).
  9. A new curtain for our main bathroom (from last year’s list)
  10. Fix our bathmats (also from last year’s list)
  11. A new wallet for me (to match my sidekick tote)
  12. Add Easter words to the back of the “Happy Birthday!” banner!
  13. Fix our wool pillows.

Think that’s enough to do? 😉

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Handmade Christmas 2016: A Hobbit Quilt

Last year, I had the brilliant idea of making a Gandalf felt ornament for my brother and his family for Christmas.  It didn’t happen so this fall, as I was searching Pinterest for ornament ideas, I came across a site, Fandom in Stitches, that has hundreds of paper-piecing patterns for all kinds of books and TV shows, including the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.

With this treasure trove, how could I not use a few and make them a Hobbit Quilt instead?


Not being a Hobbit expert myself, I ended up choosing blocks based on general familiarity (Gandalf and ring) and visual appeal (river and dragon).

239Gandalf: “Tales and adventures sprouted up all over the place wherever he went, in the most extraordinary fashion.” (The Hobbit, Ch. 1)

236The Bridge to Rivendell:The elves had brought bright lanterns to the shore, and they sang a merry song as the party went across.” (Ch. 3)

237The Precious: “He guessed as well as he could, and crawled along for a good way, till suddenly his hand met what felt like a tiny ring of cold metal lying on the floor of the tunnel. It was a turning point in his career, but he did not know it. He put the ring in his pocket almost without thinking; certainly it did not seem of any particular use at the moment.” (Ch. 5)

238Smaug:He was just about to step out on to the floor when he caught a sudden thin and piercing ray of red from under the drooping lid of Smaug’s left eye.” (Ch. 12)

For the backing, I used the last of this original Denyse Schmidt Flee Market Fancy.  I had no idea what I was buying when I bought it way back when and it was years before I realized that FMF was a super popular fabric line.  Anyway, I love how it looks with the other colors in the quilt and now feel slightly justified for hoarding it for so long.


For the first time in my quilting career, I decided to do some big stitch hand-quilting to finish off the quilt and had a lot of fun figuring it out as I went.  I still much prefer the speed and precision of machine quilting but I can definitely see adding some big stitch details to future quilts!

Throughout the quilt, I had fun using some of the low-volume, shimmery fabrics that the members of the Baltimore Modern Quilt Guild had given me. I like how each block has the added dimension of shimmer in some way (Gandalf’s hat and beard, the bridge, the ring, and Smaug’s background). It’s one unifying factor in the quilt.  The other is that I tried to be intentional in how I used the background fabric.  Unlike the block samples, I wanted Gandalf and the ring to float on the quilt (i.e. to seem as if they weren’t in a block). And I wanted Smaug’s block to be sort of shattered, partly block-ish, partly fading into the sashing.  All in all, I’m so pleased with how this turned out and I hope their Hobbit-loving family loves it too.

Finally, thanks to this quilt, now Ellie wants me to read her The Hobbit.  I need to reread it myself to figure out when she’ll be ready to hear it.  I haven’t read it in probably at least 25 years!


One note on the paper-piecing patterns.  I found the patterns themselves to be really easy to use.  But when I started to trim the blocks to sew them together, I discovered that they finished at all different sizes (some smaller and some larger than the stated 7″ finished size). So if you do use these patterns, just be prepared to do some creative sashing to get them all together.  I can hardly complain though. The patterns are free, after all. 😉

Posted in family, holidays, sewing | 4 Comments

Handmade Christmas 2016: Star Wars and A Star

Earlier in the year, I came across Quiet Play‘s paper piecing patterns and knew that the [free!] Star Wars themed patterns would be perfect Christmas presents for Nik’s brother and nephews. I also bought the “Striped Star” pattern from the same shop, not wanting to force my sister-in-law into having a Star Wars pillow of her own but wanting to have somewhat of a theme. 😉

And so, I present to you, “Star Wars and a Star.”


I chose these particular colors because I wanted the pillows to match the Twister quilt that I made them in 2013. (I still need to make one of those for my family!)

AT AT for Andreas

img_9859Millennium Falcon for Alex

img_9856Tie Fighter for Luke

img_9858Striped Star for Nikki

The quilting plus the many pieces from the paper piecing meant that the front of the pillows were fairly uncomfortable.  So I backed the pillow covers with flannel strengthened with Pellon SF 101 (my new favorite interfacing) and used invisible zippers along the bottom seam.  This made for a warm, cozy back and will hopefully extend the life of the paper-piecing front too.

img_9861My flannel stash being what it is, I only needed to buy the blue. 😉


A few thoughts about my process, the technique, etc. for those interested:

1. I love paper piecing but  I didn’t realize what I was getting myself into when I decided to sew these particular patterns.  The AT AT in particular had some super teeny tiny pieces. But once I got into the rhythm of sewing them, I really enjoyed the process and the final product. And now that I’ve conquered these, I know I can paper-piece anything.

img_9862I should have included something for perspective to help you understand how small those pieces are.  The quilted squares are about one inch square, so that should tell you that each one of those “feet” took forever!

img_3888so many tiny pieces to rip out


2. I had no idea how long these geometric patterns would take.  Making these four pillows ended up being my full-time job for a couple weeks (albeit the most fun full-time job I’ve ever had!). I did the bare minimum needed to keep my kids alive and fed and just kept sewing.  If you are considering the patterns, just be sure to factor in more time for completion than you think you need.

img_3859another process picture – so you can see how the AT AT was slowly assembled.

3. Generous quilty friends are the best.  Back in November, I put out a plea for scraps to my friends at the Baltimore Modern Quilt Guild, knowing that my stash of scraps wasn’t even close to sufficient for this project.  They delivered!  I’m so grateful to everyone who contributed scraps, and especially to Nancy, who gave me a whole set of shimmery charm squares, which were so fun to use!


4. What is paper piecing anyway? This blog post gives a pictorial overview but basically, you sew fabric to the back of a paper pattern and the paper gives enough stability to allow for sewing tiny shapes and awkward angles. I learned how to do it at the Baltimore Modern Quilt Guild Carolyn Friedlander workshop in April and right away, I knew it was a technique I would be glad to use again and again. 🙂


Blurry pillows because immediately upon receipt the “good guy” had to fight the “bad guy”! Ha!!

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Handmade Christmas 2016: France Firefly Quilt, delivered in person!

I’m just going to pretend that it hasn’t been months since any regular blogging has happend and just write this blog post as if everything was its normal old self. 😉

I had a lot of fun with the Christmas presents that I made this year.  Some of them didn’t even get sewn until 2017 but I’m still counting them as Handmade Christmas 2016! 🙂

First up, the mini-quilt I made for my sister, Rachel.  Ellie has requested that I sew her a “Fancy Forest” quilt so I bought the pattern and this is two of the Frances Firefly block from that quilt. Rachel told me she liked gray (grey?) and red, hence this color scheme.

img_4164front (the quilt is about 16×18)

img_4165back (with loops for inserting a dowel for hanging)

I do love straight-line quilting and hand-sewn binding!

The light of fireflies is one of my favorite parts of early summer!

Rachel and her kids came to visit us in January (from New Mexico!) so I had the fun of giving this to her in person.  Actually, I sewed down the binding to the back while we were hanging out in the evenings!  What a gift to have my sister with me! 🙂

img_4032attempting to recreate a very silly picture our three brothers took before my wedding in 2007 – couldn’t quite do the “hang off the front of the cannon” trick that Eric pulled off!


Thanks to Rachel for taking all the quilt pictures in this post – I was so excited to give it to her that I finished it off and handed it over and she was back in NM before I remembered that I hadn’t done a photo shoot!

p1100406Eric, Chris, baby Adella, and Jon, circa June 2007 🙂


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That night the great I AM came down!

img_9934Merry Christmas!

Love, Nik, Laura, Ellie, and Marko

(For the rest of the words, and the tune, to the lovely Christmas carol from which the title of this post is drawn, see last year’s Christmas post. )

P.S. Want to watch our children grow? Christmas 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010


Posted in Ellie, family, friends, holidays, love, Mark | 3 Comments