Thursday, June 28, 2018

A Quilty Family Reunion


Every quilt tells a story, but there is nothing like a quilt that tells a story of family, and the caring that is stitched into a quilt by your loved ones. If you have followed our blog for a few years, you may remember my (Teri's) posts about our reunion quilts, made by a group of my extended family each year to be given to a reunion attendee. There is always one bed-sized quilt, several smaller quilts for the children in various age groups, and a traveling quilt with blocks made by each family unit. It is wonderful to sit and visit with family, but it is equally enjoyable to see who wins the quilt each year.

A cousin had put together a photo album of the reunion quilts over the years, and it was fun to look through it and see the great times the quilting group has had preparing these quilts. If I just lived closer, I would so love to be able to join in the fun! I enjoyed looking through it with my two great-aunts and hearing some of their tales and memories.

Here are a few of the pages:

The first page included a photo of my grandmother, not long before she died, and her sister, who just died last summer at about 97 years of age. They were helping their sister,  Leona—who spearheaded this project over the years—to tie a Christmas quilt she'd made for her family. Never having seen my grandma quilt, it was a thrill to see this photo. The photo on the right shows two of the very first quilts made: the wall-hanging on the left was won by my parents and now hangs in my bedroom, and the original traveling family quilt on the right, with photo transfers of old family photos.

The first bed-sized quilt to be given away at the reunion

This Postage Stamp quilt, from 2003, was one of my favorites. Such an enormous amount of work went into this quilt! The heart quilt, above right, was one of the first quilts to be made to raise a donation for the American Heart Association: a small donation gets your name in the drawing for this quilt. 

This was the only quilt I ever helped to work on, and I only made it for the first session to help cut out the fabric. This one was made from men's shirts from family members. I was thrilled to have been a tiny part of the venture. Even the men contribute (not counting their shirts!)—you can see the "expert needle-threaders" on the bottom right. 
I loved that the close-up of that quilt included scraps from two of my husband's shirts and one of my dad's. Here it is basted and ready to be hand-quilted.

My Great-Aunt Leona, the youngest of my grandmother's siblings, shared that these blocks were based on photos from their family farm. She says she still has the bells from the sleigh pictured above. I think I must have missed that year; sadly, I don't remember seeing these beautiful appliqué blocks to study closely. What a great way to preserve family history!!

After lunch, the fun begins, and names are pulled for the lucky winners. I love how the entire group gathers to see who is going to win these cherished mementos of our family reunions. The children's age groups all received "quillows" this year—quilts that can fold into pillows. My own son won one of these one year, and I still have it for my grandchildren to use.


The Traveling Quilt lives with a different family each year and is returned to the reunion for the drawing the following year. It comes complete with the quilt stand!

The big reveal: opening up the big quilt for all to see. Aunt Leona is telling the story of this quilt, while the other quilters are holding it up for all to see. (A couple of the quilters were unable to attend.)

One of my favorite parts of each quilt is the 
heart-shaped label, documenting the story of the quilt. 

Don't they look proud of their work? This is truly a labor of love!!

This year's winner was my Great-Uncle Clark; here, he is studying his prize...

...and here, he's surrounded by his wife, Bonnie, on the left; his daughter, Nancy, behind him; and his sister, Leona, on the right. Aunt Bonnie told me that they always thought it was interesting that none of the quilters had ever won a quilt. Happily, this one will go home with her; it was won by one of the master needle-threaders!

I am still waiting to take one of these gems home with me, but I have many memories of past reunions in the treasures that I have acquired. To realize that this cake stand wall-hanging was one of the first gives me cause to cherish it all the more. (Thanks, Mom and Dad for passing it on to me!) 

Each year, I am inspired by the love that these women put into their stitching, and I know that we all hold dear the fruits of their labors. They share their passion for quilts by planning time to stitch together, but with the selfless motivation to give their work to others. What better treasure than to wrap up in a quilt stitched with love by your family?

If you are interested in reading more about this tradition and seeing other quilts from past reunions, check out the following posts:

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Block of the Month 10—Sweet Pea

Thank you for your interest in our Flora and Fauna blocks! They are no longer free but will be part of a future quilt pattern.

It's hard to believe that we are already on Block 10 of this series! My husband and I (Kara) just passed our one year anniversary of being in Germany; however,  since we didn't move into our house until July, I am still discovering new flora and fauna on our walks. One of my latest finds were sweet peas growing wild.

At first, I just saw one patch and thought that maybe they were a bit of someone's garden that the birds or wind brought by, but then I started seeing them everywhere. They have a lovely fragrance and grow with abandon on the hillsides. I knew that they would be this month's block—especially since I had just made some for a different project.

Cotton Block 

I have always been a fan of William Morris and a long time ago had bought a William Morris Brights layer cake. In there, I found two colors that would be perfect for this block. The green tone on tone print, a little bit of silk ribbon, and some Weeks Dye Works pearl cotton rounded out the supplies.

Back-basting is our appliqué method of choice, so I got the petals and bud back-basted and appliquéd first, followed by the two leaves.


To make the three-dimensional center petals, I drew a 1.5" circle on the lighter of the two pinks and then cut it out, with about an 1/8-inch seam allowance.

Cut out with seam allowance

1.5" circle

Play with the gathers until you are happy with the shape
and then knot off.

I then did a running stitch all the way around the drawn line and pulled in the gathers gently until I had a gathered circle. 

Gathering the small petals

Once I was happy with the shape, I knotted off and turned the circle over so the gathers were on the bottom. I then took my needle and ran some gathering stitches through the center. 

    Once you have gathered the center, take a back-stitch
  to secure the gathers, and then attach it to the other petal.

Adding the leaves and the embroidery were the last steps. I used a green silk ribbon and a ribbon stitch for the bud and the flower in profile. A stem stitch and back stitch made up the stem and tendrils, respectively. 

Finished cotton block

Stitches and Threads Used (Cotton Block)

Stem and tendrils—Weeks Dye Works #8 perle cotton, Emerald; stem stitch and back stitch
Calyxes—Thread Art silk ribbon, color #240, ribbon stitch

Wool Block

One of the things we love about hand-dyed wool is the variation in color you can get from piece to piece. On this particular piece, one side was a darker pink than the other, so I used one side for the back petal and the other side for the front petals.

You can see the two different shades in the one piece of wool.

Sometimes we will use fusible to back our wool, but most often we prefer to use staples to hold our pieces down rather then mess with the fusible. 

Stapled and ready to stitch

I stitched down all the pieces and then began to add the embroidery. Embroidery can add so much to a project, and I tried a few different stitches to highlight the two smaller petals, but in the end what looked best was a simple stem stitch. I used two strands of a variegated floss around all the petals, and it was just what was needed.

A simple stem stitch

I used a stem stitch for the stem, this time in a #5 perle cotton, and a fly stitch for the leaves.  The silk ribbon worked well for the calyxes and in hardly any time at all, this block was finished.

Finished wool block

Stitches and Threads Used (Wool Block)

Stem —Weeks Dye Works #5 perle cotton, Dried Sage; stem stitch
Tendrils—Weeks Dye Works floss, two strands, Dried Sage; back stitch
Calyxes—Thread Art silk ribbon, color #240, ribbon stitch
Sweet pea—Weeks Dye Works floss, two strands, Love; stem stitch

Sweet peas are symbolic of appreciation and tenderness. Giving a bouquet of sweet peas to a host is a gracious way of thanking them for a good time and saying goodbye. Maybe you could make this block as a hostess gift for someone! While we will be assembling these blocks into a quilt, there are many other ways they could be used. What will you do with your blocks? We'd love to hear your ideas!

Thursday, June 14, 2018

"In the Garden"—Hydrangea

The gardens are bursting forth with blooms as the first day of summer rapidly approaches. This month's block in our In the Garden BOM series is the Hydrangea. I (Teri) have always loved the bountiful blooms of a hydrangea, and I am particularly partial to the blue/purple ones. I was excited to create these flowers, capturing their dimensional beauty.

We will be creating the mophead or French variety of hydrangea, the most common type. It has a large, rounded flower head that is composed of many single blossoms. I cut my purple wool into a pile of one-inch squares, each of which became a single flower.

I folded each square in half and cut a small triangle, curving a bit, from the fold toward the top, as pictured above, and then repeated on the bottom of the fold. 

I opened the square and folded it in the opposite direction, and repeated to create the shape pictured on the left, making a pile of petals. You may choose to use a variety of purples or blues and mix them together; I chose two colors. The petals were set aside. (I did not worry about keeping the colors separate; I just made a randomly mixed pile.)

After cutting out the leaves, I placed them on the background and attached them by embroidering the veins.  Since they were not fused or appliquéd, it helped to give a bit of puff or dimension to the leaves.

Now, I was ready to create the blooms. My first thought was to give the flower heads a lot of dimension, so I basted concentric circles of batting to the area where the flowers would be stitched. This way, the center of the flower would be higher than the outer edges. In theory, this was a great idea. And it worked to achieve that end, but in hindsight, white batting was not the best choice.

I gathered my pile of petals, a matching thread, and the beads I had chosen for the center, and I started to stitch them onto the batting base, randomly picking petals of different colors, not planning it out too carefully. To be sure that the white batting didn't shine through, I had to stitch them pretty densely. It really did give them dimension; in fact, they almost appeared to be spherical in shape.

The shadow indicates the dimension of the finished flower.

The finished block...first time around

I loved the block, and the roundness of the hydrangea blooms were pretty realistic, but as I looked at it beside the other blocks, I thought I might just have a bit TOO much dimension. It didn't seem to balance the other blocks, appearing a bit too heavy. So while this method would be a viable option for making the block as a stand-alone project, like a framed block or a pillow, it needed a bit less density for the quilt we are planning for our In the Garden blocks. So I made another one.

This time, I just used one circle of purple wool as a base for the flowers, so that I didn't have to worry about the color shining through. This meant that I didn't have to pack those blossoms as tightly together, which also meant the beads could be seen better.

The finished block, the second time around.

This time, the hydrangea didn't outshine the other blocks, balancing the overall dimension nicely. 

This past weekend, I taught the Hydrangea class at Primitive Homespuns Wool & Needleworks, in Frederick, Maryland. As always, I learn as much as I teach in these classes—sometimes more! We were discussing what we might do with the pile of little wool snippets left over from snipping our squares into petal units. One lady, Deborah, thought she would like to add the extra dimension and stuffed some of those wool scraps behind her purple base before basting in down. What a brilliant idea! It worked rather well, we all agreed.

There is nothing better than enjoying the company of sister-stitchers and getting to know new people while doing something you love. We shared many stories and laughs through the afternoon.

An almost-finished flower. Another happy "mistake" on my part: I had used size 6 beads, but I was unable to find them in that size for the class, so I provided size 8 beads. It turns out that it was a far better size to use, because they are a bit more visible. Yay!

Nancy, proudly showing her first flower, all finished!!

It's never too late to join us In the Garden! All the patterns are available on our website (, and the hard copies of the patterns include any ribbon needed to complete the block. To read more about our other blocks in the series, click on the links below.