Thursday, December 25, 2008


Celebrate the miracles of this season~
Blessed Christmas
Joyous Hanukkah!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Textmas

I’ve heard that Santa is going high tech this year. Parents can actually make arrangements for him to text message their cell phones. He’ll provide travel updates as he journeys toward your home and reassure little ones that, in spite of a paralyzing snowstorm about to hit the Midwest, presents will be delivered on time.

It’s a cute concept, but I see a couple flaws. First of all, the application for the text message service comes with the following caveat: “If your child does not have a phone, have Santa send the text messages to the parents!” Do kids young enough to believe in Santa really carry cell phones of their own? Perhaps they do, in which case you can scratch that particular electronic device off their Christmas lists. Secondly, if I were a kid, I don’t think I’d want Santa a mere keystroke away from Mom and Dad. After all, what’s to keep parents from turning the tables, reporting last minute behavior infractions to the big guy himself?

When my son was little, we employed the latest technology to create a memorable Santa moment. In the end though, it was sheer happenstance that made it magical.

We’d borrowed my dad’s business car on Christmas Eve, for our traditional tour of Christmas lights. We’d arranged with Grandpa to call his car phone about 15 minutes into our drive. Of course, we had set the situation up by telling James to “be on the lookout for Santa! Watch the sky for signs of his sleigh and reindeer!”

When the car phone rang, we could hardly contain our laughter. Santa had his chat with James via speaker phone. Grandpa’s “Ho-ho-ho” was convincing and we were all giddy with pulling off the surprise.

And then we turned the corner. Standing at the curb was a magnificently dressed Santa, reaching inside his car trunk for a sack full of gifts (or finishing a cigarette. I can’t quite recall which). We adults were dumbstruck, but little James simply pointed and called out, “Santa.”

Once I caught my breath, I rolled down the car window and shouted like some lunatic Santa groupy, “Hey Santa, we’ve been driving all over town looking for you. We have a little boy here who’d love to say ‘hello.’”

Santa was nice enough to stick his head in the car window and say all the requisite things: “How old are you James? Have you been a good boy this year? Now go home and get to bed so I can deliver your presents.” Meanwhile, the guy who was waiting for Santa’s grand entrance to his Christmas party, could do nothing but stand there holding his front door open.

It all happened so fast, there was barely time to thank him, let alone slip Santa a tip for his efforts. The party host may have been annoyed but we were ecstatic with our unforeseen Santa sighting. It was pure magic!

This is the quilt I always associate with that Christmas. I'd just made it for James’ third birthday. 

Included on the quilt label is a Dickens quotation: “ . . . for it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child himself.” It sure was good to be James that Christmas!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Scared of Santa

Tis a week before Christmas and the last thing you have time for is looking at other people’s Santa snaps. But bear with me; it’s worth it.

Here I am again (on the right), my 1961 self, waiting demurely for my turn to sit on Santa’s lap and reveal my innermost dreams and desires ~ eeewww, CREEPY! The two kids on the left look just as befuddled and clueless as they did at Halloween. And judging by the smiles and glances exchanged between Santa and the girl on his lap, I’m guessing he just might be her dad. My mischievous brother (second from right), is no doubt preparing to ask Santa for something of which our parents disapprove.

For the past couple years, the Chicago Tribune has run a holiday photo contest asking readers to submit their family’s bad Santa photos. Editors Denise Joyce and Nancy Watkins have compiled 250 snapshots of squirming, shrieking, traumatized tots into a new book, SCARED OF SANTA: Scenes of Terror in Toyland.
Take a few minutes to scroll through these pictures. Quick as a wink, you'll be laughing like the jolly old elf himself!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Never Too Old

You’re never too old to enjoy little trinkets stuffed inside a Christmas stocking. Santa usually leaves an orange, a few nuts and chocolates, a new toothbrush or pen, perhaps a lottery ticket or music cd. My boys keep looking for a set of car keys, but don’t let their disappointment show for long.
What does Santa leave in your Christmas stockings?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

James' Baby Quilt

These blocks were made for the first quilt class I ever taught. Each block demonstrates a different hand sewing technique: piecing, curved piecing, set-in seams and appliqué. The blocks also illustrate particular quilting techniques: outline quilting, stitching in the ditch, cross hatching, hanging diamonds, echo quilting, stippling and all over designs like spider web and baptist fan.

Click to enlarge

I figured if I made each demonstration block from coordinating fabric, by the end of class, I'd have enough blocks for a functional quilt, rather than just a pile of samples. Obviously, I chose fabrics with a baby in mind, covering both bases by including pink and blue.

When James was born, we hung the quilt on the wall above his crib. I continued to use it as a class sample, for years. It really was a good way to illustrate a variety of sewing techniques.

This picture? Just because.

Friday, December 5, 2008

December Quilts

Many people get the Christmas spirit just as soon as their Thanksgiving table is cleared. I envy them, using the long weekend to pull out the Christmas decorations and “deck their halls.” That’s not the custom in our home though, since sandwiched between Thanksgiving and Christmas lies our son's birthday.

As anyone with a December birth will tell you, it’s easy to feel shortchanged by the holiday hoopla. One way to make James’s day special was to hold off on putting up the Christmas tree until after his birthday celebration. 
Since this is James' birthday month, let me share some of his quilts with you. 

This Bear Paw quilt was made for James by my Elmhurst friends, the Piecemakers. They worked on it in secret, choosing fabric, stitching blocks and passing it around for hand quilting at our weekly gatherings. They're a stealthy bunch - I never had a clue.

They told me they wanted to make the kind of baby quilt I wouldn’t make myself. "Hmmm," I thought. "I wonder what that means?" Perhaps they thought bright colors were out of character for me. But I love the 1980’s vintage calicoes they used.

Maybe they were referring to this humility block. Deliberate error or not, this bear paw, with its twisted toes just adds charm to the quilt.

Whatever their intention was, James and I were thrilled by his baby quilt. To this day, it's one of my favorites, because it's bright, cheerful, charming, and from the best of friends.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Checklist

Celery diced
Onions chopped
Oysters shucked and stock pot stocked

Fresh herbs minced
Bread cubes toasted
Turkey stuffed, trussed up, and roasted

Giblets gravied
Salads tossed
Cranberries jellied, relished, sauced

Yams marshmallowed
Carrots glazed
Pearl onions and turnips braised

Brussels sprouted
Green beans steamed
Kerneled corn and spinach creamed

Biscuits baked
Fritters fried
Apples, pecans, pumpkins pied

Potatoes mashed
Squashes squished
Dinner plattered, plated, dished

Butter patted
Jello molded
Linens pressed and napkins folded

Candles lit
Wine poured
Grace said, “Thank you, Lord!”

Turkey carved,
I take a seat
But find that I’m too tired to eat!

© Diane Burdin, 2008

Saturday, November 22, 2008

It's In The Bag

I really enjoyed reading all the comments on my giveaway post. Several of your names are new to me and I look forward to visiting your blogs soon. Almost to a person, you raved about the cornmeal sack I used to back my little quilt. So, in addition to a packet of fabric, I’ve added a Graue Mill feedsack to the prize. The winner will also receive a souvenir bag of cornmeal and a pamphlet of recipes.

Before we draw the winning name, let me tell you a bit about the mill itself. Graue Mill is the only operating waterwheel gristmill in Illinois. German immigrant Frederick Graue built it in 1852, on a scenic bank of Salt Creek in Oak Brook, Illinois, where its waterwheel continues to power the huge burrstones which grind wheat and corn.

The mill is operational April through early November. I managed to get a hold of them just as they were grinding the last corn for the season. For those of you interested in purchasing cornmeal, they sell bags throughout the winter and also ship. Check their website or call (630) 920-9720 for prices or to arrange for a winter pickup or mail delivery. I did ask if they would sell me an empty feedsack. The price would have been the same as a sack full of meal (which is why I now have a lifetime supply in my freezer).

And now, for the drawing… your names have been placed in the feedsack, jumbled, shuffled, and tossed about… and the winner is…

Jan, now that you're a resident of the Chicago suburbs, you can visit the mill when they reopen next spring. You might enjoy seeing spinning and weaving demonstrations in the museum itself, or enjoy a nature hike along Salt Creek through Fullersburg Woods. Send me your address and I'll get your prize on its way.

Photos of Graue Mill are courtesy of Lyle Hatch, Lisle, Illinois and used with his permission. Check out more of Lyle’s beautiful photography at his flickr site here.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Testing, 1-2-3 Testing

Many thanks to my technically talented cyber friends, for their guidance in downloading photos to Blogger. The problem I was having was, my photos wouldn't enlarge when clicked. Apparently, when you compose a draft in Blogger, you mustn't move or drag the photos within a post. If you need to reposition them, cut and paste instead. It's still gobbledegook to me, but I'm getting the hang of it.

Let’s give it a try. Click on the photos in this post. If they both enlarge, leave me a comment telling me so. I’ll enter your name in a drawing to celebrate my newfound blogging skills.

The prize will be a collection of red, white and blue reproduction fabric squares. I’ll keep the drawing open for two weeks (November 20).

I almost forgot to tell you about this little quilt. It’s a One Patch pattern, made of 1” squares (don’t worry, the prize pieces will be bigger) of Harriet Hargrave fabric. It's backed with a corn meal sack from our local grist mill. I've actually got yards of this Hargrave fabric, yet this is the only project I've managed to complete, using it!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Trick or Treat

In spite of great weather for Halloweenwe were well into the witching hour last night, before anyone rang the bell. Very few trick-or-treaters showed up, so we have loads of candy left. It's fine with me; that’s why we buy our favorites. I’ve paired my morning cup of coffee with a couple Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and think an Almond Joy might go well with cup number two.

Here’s your Halloween treat, a “liberated” log cabin quilt, one of the first things I made after reading Gwen Marston's book, Liberated Quiltmaking

It loosely follows the traditional log cabin format of light and dark strips, surrounding a center square, but the trick to "liberating" it is...

-the “squares” are irregular in shape,

-the surrounding strips vary in width, and aren't necessarily cut straight. 

-the strips don’t follow the traditional sequence of lights on one side and darks on the other.

The hand quilted cable design in the sashing, brings a little order to the chaotic blocks.

Oh, and the sashing is that color!

Liberated Log Cabin
20" x 27"
machine pieced, hand quilted
© Diane Burdin,1996

Friday, October 31, 2008


Click for a good laugh!

Well, our weather’s turned out great for trick-or-treating ~ 70 degrees and sunny. We no longer get the caravan of kids we once did. Our neighborhood is maturing and most of the kids are in high school or college now. Nevertheless, we’re armed with 200 pieces of candy. One way or another, I’m sure they will disappear.

This is one of my favorite childhood pictures. It was 1961; I was five years old, dressed as a ghost in a white bed sheet. I remember always wanting a store-bought costume, but Mom made us do with whatever we could scrounge up at home. Maybe it’s just the memories it conjures up, but there’s something about this photograph that seems so indicative of that era. It's like watching an episode of "Mad Men."


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Words Fail

“The frost is on the pumpkin” and I’m bundled in blankets against the morning chill, trying to fight the urge to turn up the thermostat. Several weeks of cool autumn weather have led to spectacular fall colors.

Our Burning Bush is ablaze with fuchsia leaves... fuchsia!

We have two Autumn Purple Ash trees, whose changing colors take my breath away. The outer leaves turn deep red or purple, while the inner leaves remain golden yellow. The effect is hard to capture in a photo, but when the sun shines through, the trees seem to glow from within.

Its leaves are my absolute favorite color ~ more than amber or bronze, copper or russet. The trouble with fall colors is how hard they are to name.

Words just seem inadequate for colors that last only one or two October weeks. It's like trying to describe fireworks or a sunset, as the colors change, second by second and minute by minute. All I can do is gasp! Instead of a word, an exclamation is the best I can offer.

That's okay with me. I know it when I see it. Those singular, nameless colors of autumn are my very favorites!

A few years ago, the Ash trees had an extraordinary showing of color. You know what? They've never turned that particular shade again.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

College Daze

I haven’t been at the computer much lately. My laptop has been commandeered by the family for the college selection process. When I finally get my turn at the keyboard, all I seem to do is read other people’s blogs. It’s so much easier than tasking my brain to write something clever myself!

When last I posted, Lily from Block-a-day commented on a piece of needlework in the background of my photo. It's a needlepoint that goes as far back as our own college days.

My husband started a graduate program at the 
University of North Caroline, shortly after we marriaged.

We left our familiar life in the Midwest,

and the comforting support of family and friends,

to journey southward,

where the countryside was strange (it wasn’t flat)

and people spoke with a drawl (ya’ll).

I bought this needlepoint canvas and tried 
stitching my way out of being homesick during
the three years we lived in North Carolina.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Odds and Ends

Wow, Thanks for all the lovely comments on my last post. I never expected to get more feedback about my gleeful expression than on my very favorite quilt! I’m telling you, I heard from old friends as well as total strangers (from as far away as France) about my smile. What a testament to the appeal of blogging. I blog to feel connected with other women, on more than just a “quilty” level. Connect with me you did and I am grateful.

I thought I would tie up a few loose ends from previous posts. Several people asked if Milly Churbuck’s hand dyed fabrics were still available and where they could be found. After trying to contact Milly in a round-about way, I finally gave her a phone call. We had a great conversation and here’s the scoop. Sadly, she is no longer dyeing cotton fabric. Following the trend for wool applique, rug hooking and needle punch, she now works exclusively with wool fabric and threads. She has no website as of yet and befitting her “semi-retired” status, is vending at a limited number of quilt shows. I promise to promote her business here on my blog, once she gives me the particulars.

Regarding the Hourglass blocks that make up the doll quilt in my August 14 post, a few people wondered how I pieced such tiny blocks with accuracy. The answer is, I didn’t! Although I claimed the blocks finished at a minuscule 1”, they actually finish at 1 ½”. Sorry about the “guesstimate.” I had no ruler at hand. Even so, the blocks were small, with fiddly seam allowances, so here is how I dealt with them:

I use this technique to construct Hourglass blocks. Normally, I’d start with squares cut 1 ¼” larger than my desired finished size, but when working with such small pieces, I add a fudge factor of ¼” to ½”.

After constructing the block, use a seam ripper to pick out a few stitches where the seams intersect. This frees the seam allowance so you can press it in opposite directions, eliminating bulk.

Press the block gently with steam.

Finally, trim each block precisely to 2” (1 ½” finished) using a bias square ruler and rotary cutter. As you pin blocks into rows, match carefully where blocks intersect. I probably alternated the direction in which I pressed seam allowances for each row. However, if you want to eliminate more bulk, press seam allowances open. If doing so, shorten the stitch length on your sewing machine to make seams more secure.

Hope this clears things up.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Shoot Me

We needed photos to accompany my Designer Quilts article about quilting with MS. I called on my friends, Sheila and Kathy, who helped set the stage for the photo shoot and also posed for the camera.

Now that I no longer go upstairs to my sewing room, I work at the dining room table. It's become a dumping ground for fabrics and quilt projects, as well as anything else my family doesn’t quite know what to do with. Before we could take photos, the table had to be cleared, a stunt quilt located, and various poses discussed (so much for spontaneity).

Sherry, my photographer friend, set about snapping our pictures. Although the scene was staged, the smiles and laughter were genuine. Thanks, dear friends, for coming on such short notice to help me meet a deadline.

The quilt that hangs in my dining room is a deceptively simple looking one patch, made from Milly Churbuck’s hand dyed cottons. The assorted 3 ½” squares came precut, in swatch packs Milly used to sell, featuring various color ways of her fabric. For a small price, I got plenty of colors, with scraps to spare for another project

What I tried to emulate was the look of simply pieced but elaborately quilted comforters from Provence, France. CLICK TO ENLARGE the photo below. As you scroll around, you’ll see the borders are each hand quilted with a different motif. The date appears in the lower left corner.

Readers have often asked if Milly Churbuck’s hand dyed cottons are still available. They are not. However, I can recommend Cherrywood Hand Dyed Fabric or Vicki Welsh Hand Dyed Fabrics.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Final Issue

A few months ago my friend and editor, Julie Golimowski, asked me to write about my experience as a quilter with MS. The article is part of a feature on Multiple Sclerosis in the summer issue of Designer Quilts magazine.

Since hiring me as a pattern proofreader four years ago, Julie has shown concern about my health and the impact of MS on my life and work. Does the stress of deadlines increase my muscle tension and fatigue? YES. Is my ability to concentrate good enough to check math, diagrams, and wording for ten quilt projects an issue? MOST of the time. Am I able to climb stairs to get to the computer where I do my work? NOT ANY MORE!

Over time, her questions have become more specific. What was my first symptom? NUMBNESS and tingling. Am I in pain? SOMETIMES. What kinds of medical tests confirmed my diagnosis? MRI and SPINAL TAP. What medications do I take? DAILY INJECTIONS and PILLS for everything from muscle spasticity and incontinence to anxiety and depression.

Julie’s interest became more than concern for a good friend when she herself was diagnosed with MS. She revealed her condition to her readers in this latest, and last issue of the magazine. Her husband Joe writes:

Designer Quilts Magazine (formerly Designers’ Quarters) has ceased publication. In 2006, Julie, the editor of Designer Quilts Magazine and my wife, was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. MS is an incurable disease that attacks the central nervous system. Lesions in the brain and on the spine cause a variety of symptoms from blindness to the inability to walk. Julie has relapsing and remitting MS which means that her symptoms come and go without warning and it is no longer possible for us to publish our magazine. Sincerely, Joe Golimowski Publisher, Designer Quilts Magazine

There's no predicting the path MS will take for either of us. In spite of that, Julie and I maintain good attitudes. That's half the battle in managing this debilitating disease. It's been an honor and pleasure working with Julie on Designer Quilts Magazine. Now, if we could only edit MS out of our lives. 

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Summer's Last Hurrah

I need a dose of color today. How about you? What do these colors make you think of?

They remind me of Kool-Aid and drippy popsicles on a hot summer day... beach toys and water balloon fights... and, of course, the last bright blooms of the season... summer's last hurrah!

The colorful hourglass blocks (1" finished) are made from Milly Churbuck's Country House Cottons and the backing fabric is a batik in Italian ice colors. The inner border and binding fabric may be an early Kaffe Fassett woven stripe/plaid.

Tutti Fruiti Hourglass
17" x 22" 
© Diane Burdin, 2003