Category Archives: Handcrafts

Another Birthday Present: Dear Jane

It is astonishing how much attention my hubby pays to my
enthusiastic chatterings. Especially when the topic is something he has
absolutely no interest in personally, like, say, quilting.

One of my birthday presents was a book I've been hankering after: Dear Jane: The Two Hundred Twenty-Five Patterns from the 1863 Jane A. Stickle Quilt by Brenda Papadakis. I learned of this book, and of the incredible Jane Stickle quilt itself, from a link on Twiddletails, one of my favorite crafty blogs. Anina, the Twiddletails blogger, has a second blog called (for now, at least—yesterday a bit of a trademark dispute arose over the name) Dear Baby Jane, an amazing site on which Anina posts step-by-step photo tutorials for making every single block in the Jane Stickle quilt.

This is no mean feat. Jane's quilt is a masterpiece. Every single
block of this large quilt is pieced in a different geometrical pattern.
Many of the patterns are traditional quilt blocks; many seem to be
unique to Jane.

An autographed corner square tells us that Jane pieced the quilt "in
wartime, 1863," and that she used over five thousand separate bits of
fabric. A farmer's wife, she lived in the little village of Shaftsbury,
Vermont. She was born in 1817, which makes her roughly a contemporary
of Charlotte Tucker Quiner Holbrook, the maternal grandmother of Laura
Ingalls Wilder, whom I wrote about in my Charlotte books.
This is one of the many reasons the Jane Stickle quilt intrigued me
when I first read about it at Dear Baby Jane. Charlotte was born in
1809 (along with
Abraham Lincoln, Edgar Allen Poe, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Louis Braille,
British statesman William Gladstone, Charles Darwin, and Felix
Mendelssohn—some year, eh?) in Roxbury, Massachusetts. As a young
woman, Charlotte worked as a seamstress, advertising her services in
the local papers. By 1863, the year Jane finished her quilt—four years before Charlotte's granddaughter Laura was born—Charlotte had been living in the "big woods" of Wisconsin for decades.
Jane Stickle, meanwhile, lived her whole life in the Shaftsbury, VT,
area, and instead of a storytelling granddaughter, the legacy she left
us was her incredible wartime quilt.

Here's a link to a good-sized image of the Jane Stickle quilt—dubbed
the "Dear Jane" by Brenda Papadakis. (Contemporary versions of the
quilt are nicknamed "Baby Janes.") I don't know if it's kosher to post
the image itself, so I'll just stick with the link. The color scheme is
what's known as and "around the world" pattern: the blocks move through
a range of shades in concentric circles (more or less) beginning in the
middle of the quilt.

A whole Dear Jane subculture exists in the quilting world, both
online and off. There are many gorgeous quilts modeled after or
inspired by Jane Stickle's masterpiece. On the Dear Baby Jane blog, Anina leads an online community of quilters who are piecing the quilt a block at a time, two blocks a week. (Marvel at the photos here.)
Just reading Anina's instructions has been a tremendous education for
me. (I was sorry to read, yesterday, of the trademark stickiness and
the possibility that Anina will take down the entire blog. I am hoping
hard that this does not come to pass.)

My indulgent but wise husband will read this and fear that I am
poised for a dive into the world of Dear Jane creators, but he need not
worry. Having never completed so much as a simple block quilt (Rilla's little quilt
is still only half quilted, if you can call the mess I'm making
"quilting"), my attempting a Baby Jane would be something like a
starling chick trying to soar with the flock while it is still in the

But oh how I love to look at the gorgeous variations others have created,
and to read about the gradual progress of people attempting the
ambitious project right now. And I can't wait to dive into my new
birthday book to learn more about Jane Stickle and her quilt.

Wee and Wonderful Indeed

I took a leaf from Jenn's book
today and raided our scrap bin to make a spur-of-the-moment flannel
quilt top for Rilla. We are in the process of transitioning her to her
own bed in the girls' room. (My three big girls share a room, and we're
adding a trundle for little sis.) This is something that's always on
the to-do list during a pregnancy, moving the toddler out of our room
to make way for the newborn, but I admit I've been a bit lax with it
this time around. Rilla still nurses a little at night; that's part of
it. And also, she's very cuddly. Toddlerhood passes so quickly, and I
like to savor every breathy little snore of it.

A month or two
ago, we set up a (bedraggled old) child-sized futon next to our bed,
and Rilla has been starting out her nights there. At some point in the
night, she climbs into bed beside me. She's like a cat, the way she
sort of pours herself under the covers and curls up next to me with a
contented sigh. She's also like in a cat in the way she'll turn on a
dime and hiss and snarl at the blankets because they have offended her
somehow, and she's all flailing paws until the malevolent covers are no
longer touching any part of her body. A mercurial little creature, is
my Rilla.

Yesterday we moved the futon into the girls' room. She
thought this whole "sleeping with the big girls" thing was a pretty
swell idea right up until bedtime, when suddenly it was The Most
Offensive Idea Anyone Has Ever Had in All of Human History. But I
snuggled up beside her in the dark, and her sisters whispered to her,
and the devious plan I'd carried out earlier in the day—feeding her
marshmallows at naptime instead of putting her down for a nap—paid off
pretty quickly. She sighed, and sank, and slumbered, and when her limbs
began lashing at the covers I knew it was safe for me to slip away.

Jane and I thought a special new blanket for her special
new bedroom might help ease the transition. Rilla doesn't have a
blankie she's attached to, though she does like the little patchwork
baby quilt I made her before she was born. It's way too small now, of
course. So this morning Jane and I pieced together the remnants of the
same cozy flannel plaids and prints I'd used for that baby blanket
nearly three years ago and came up with a sort of wonky, large-patch
quilt top. We've got a big piece of pink plaid-and-polka-dots to use
for the backing. I've never actually quilted anything before, mind
you—the baby quilts I've made are just patchwork tops with flannel
backing, no batting in between. I need to go buy some batting tomorrow
and we'll see if we can pull this thing off.

In the meantime, the quilt top seems to have passed Miss Rilla's muster.

The little embroidered kitty with flower umbrella at the bottom is a pattern from the Wee Wonderfuls "Tulip Fairy" Stitchette
set, which I bought a while back and forgot about until today. That
blank pink patch was just begging for a bit of embellishment. And I
have to say, I am completely enchanted. The Stitchette pattern is a
reusable iron-on which took all of ten seconds to transfer to our
fabric. Suddenly everywhere I look are blank bits of fabric crying out
for a little Wee Wonderfuls snail, or the mice pouring tea from that cunning acorn teapot, or that kite-flying ladybug, oh the cuteness of it all.

Saturday Snapshots

I promised to show a picture of the table runner I made. It’s not a
great picture, but that’s okay because it’s not a great table runner.
But I’m pretty pleased with it. The runner, I mean. The other side is
the same green floral as the ends here. The checked fabric—which has
green in it and isn’t as orange in real life as in this photo—was a
long scrap from the curtains I made for the kids’ craft room.

I had fun with Flickr’s "add a note" feature if you want to click through for commentary on the photo. Well, actually, it’s another photo almost exactly like this one, revealing what happens when Scott walks into the room.

I’ve been in a very handcrafty mood lately, as my last couple weeks’
worth of posts probably make obvious. I tried my hand at the zipper
pouch from Bend-the-Rules Sewing, inspired by Jenn’s lovely pink patchwork pouch. This was my first-ever attempt at putting in a zipper, and, well, it zips. Just don’t inspect the ends too closely…

And now that it’s finally feeling cool enough (in the mornings, at
least—we’re melting by noon) to think of baking, I’ve been pining for
my lost sourdough starter. We suffered a little fridge snafu a while
back, and room temperature was way too hot for my starter, which had
been living in the freezer through the hot months. It got moldy. Sob.
Also, ick.

So I’ve been tempted to order a new one, but I thought first I’d try my hand at starting one from scratch. Some sites describe this as a ridiculously easy undertaking.
Other sources say ominous things about poor success rates in arid
climates, which we certainly have here in the decidely dry eastern half
of San Diego County. But hey, a cup of flour and a cup of water is
pretty low overhead for an experiment. So on Thursday morning I mixed
up a batch and put it in a warm corner. By Friday it was already
looking promisingly bubbly.

I fed it twice yesterday, and this morning it looks frothy and
vigorous. (Blurry photo: snapped hastily in the midst of getting
breakfast for my little people.)

Think I’ll give it one more day to get established and maybe try it
in some biscuits tomorrow. Just about time to move it into the fridge,

And finally, a little backyard beautification project: the kids are
decorating our side of the neighbor’s big ole wall with sidewalk chalk.
It’ll last a long time here in did-I-mention-it’s-very-dry? San Diego
County. I think we’ve only seen rain once in the last four months.


1. pink back, 2. summer sunrise quilt, 3. First Doll Quilt, 4. FlockTogetherFront, 5. SewConnected embroidered patches, 6. Polka Dot Estates, 7. baby quilt, 8. raspberry lemonade back + binding, 9. aqua and red, 10. candy corn quilt, 11. spider web, 12. february block, 13. Virtual Quilting Bee – February 2008, 14. february block, 15. 8crayonsA

OK, this is strange. That last picture, the crayons one, is not one
of the photos I starred as a Flickr favorite for this mosaic. I have no
idea why it’s jumping in there instead of the one I picked. Crayons are always kind of inspiring, though, so I’ll roll with it.

Virtual Quilting Bees: Bee Still My Heart

Picot Peek

Jennifer asked for a photo of the crochet project I mentioned in my weekend crafting notes post
at the notes blog. I actually happen to have one already, which is
unusual for me. (I still haven’t gotten around to taking a picture of
those uneven curtains you were all demanding to see the other day.)
Jane and I were working out the pattern for these little picot square
table coverings I’m making to hide the scratches on our cheapo end
tables, and I liked the way her color sketch looked next to the
squares. (The squares are as yet untrimmed, unblocked, and unjoined,


This is the Picot Square Tablecloth pattern from Vintage Crochet,
a most delicious book. I’m making two smaller cloths instead of one big
tablecloth. There are pink and cream colored squares, too. I stole the
yarn from another Vintage Crochet project I have in the works:
the ripple stripe blanket. It’s a long-term endeavor. You can see a wee
bit of it creeping into the frame at the top right.

I like these starry squares because they’re so quick and finite.
Thinking in terms of "this square" is much less intimidating than "this
big huge project I’d like to finish sometime this decade."

Rilla inspects to see if it passes muster.

Hmm, I’ll need to see the pink one before I can make a judgment. I like the green one, though. It matches your bag.

The Mothers in My Books Are Expert Seamstresses

Me? Not so much.

I’ve just finished making my second-ever set of curtains. I thought
they’d be easier than the first set because the first ones were lined
and these weren’t. And, I mean, curtains. Four straight seams. Not rocket science.

Also: the fabric I picked is checked. Checked! As in: the pattern is
basically a grid of straight lines in pretty colors. Right? That’s what
checks are: a grid. So for all my cutting and ironing and sewing, I had built-in straight lines to follow. Foolproof, right?

Not proof against this fool, apparently. Even Scott had to
admit my level of incompetence is pretty impressive, when he saw the
evidence hanging right there, unevenly, in the window. He witnessed how
carefully I measured and re-measured before each cut, each round of
pressing, each seam. He watched in amusement at my overzealous triple-
and quadruple-checking. He saw me ever so carefully compare the
finished first panel to the almost-finished second one before sewing
the final seam, a bottom hem: how hard I worked to make sure they would
be the same length when hung.

They aren’t. Scott actually burst out laughing when he saw the final
product, because it really is comical that a reasonably intelligent
person like his wife could spend two entire Saturdays on a project,
applying an almost insane degree of attention to detail, and wind up
with one curtain a good three-quarters of an inch shorter than the

Oh, and there’s a nice little splotch of blood on one of the panels,
too, from where I ran a pin into my thumb. The blood got on the back
side of the curtain so we figured it wouldn’t show, but it turns out
that when the sun shines through, there’s a gruesome little
silhouette. I should really be washing that out right now instead of
writing about it.

Although, come to think of it, maybe I should stick to writing about women who can sew instead of trying to be one myself. 🙂

The Nice Thing about This Picture Is that It Doesn’t Show How Badly I Botched the Sweater


I learned to crochet when I was eleven, but I took about fifteen years off. And I’d never made anything but blankets, I think. This was my first attempt ever at a sweater (either knitting or crocheting).

Here’s the pattern I used: Baby It’s Cold Outside.

Rilla drew a lot of compliments at the park, but honesty compels me to confess what a mess I made of the project. First of all, it was supposed to be a present for a newborn. Of course, since I spent over a year on the sweater about ten newborn friends grew into toddlers before I had a chance to give what I thought was going to be the perfect new-baby gift. Hee. As I (finally, at long last) crocheted the final stitches, I had two dear friends who were counting down the days to the arrival of wee daughters, and I was delighted with the timing. The only difficulty was going to be in deciding to which baby girl I’d send the sweater.

Then I began whipstitching the sides together and it became clear that this sweater wasn’t going to work for either one of the newborn lasses. Rilla bopped past as I held it up by the sleeves, biting my lip doubtfully. The sweater looked more like her size (and she’ll be two in April) than newborn size. Hmm. I am sure I followed the directions meticulously. I can’t possibly have been at all distracted during the year and a half of sporadic bursts of hooking, right? The year and a half in which I packed up and moved to the other side of the country? No cause for absentminded mistakes there, surely?


The sizing problems, it turned out, were the least of my mistakes.  I mean, there are worse fates than accidentally making a sweater the perfect size for your own child. Of much greater concern was the fact that the front left panel was some two inches longer than the back of the sweater.


I unraveled the extra rows, but now the two front panels are different sizes. As I said, you can’t tell from this picture. Since one panel buttons over the other, the discrepancy looks almost intentional—sort of boxy and chic.

At least, that’s the story I’m going with.

I haven’t made the buttons yet but when I do you’ll see what I mean. If you compare mine to the picture, you’ll see how terrifically I blundered.

Fortunately for me, Rilla doesn’t give a hoot about following instructions to the letter.