Thursday, November 15, 2007

You Turkey!

For a bit of Thanksgiving fun, create a caption for this photo.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Page Fright!

My friend Julie, editor of Designers’ Quarters quilt magazine, asked me to write a column about my experience as a quilter with Multiple Sclerosis. I feel more comfortable working “behind the scenes” as a pattern proofreader, but decided it was a good way to increase awareness of what seems to be an increasingly common disease.

The thought of having my words appear in print started giving me page fright. So, I decided to look at the assignment as a blog post, to be read by only a handful of my most faithful blogging buddies. That got the words flowing all right. Only now, I’m actually going to impose upon you to read the essay. Thanks!

Pins and Needles

Ask any quilter what “pins and needles” mean to her and she’ll reply that they’re indispensable sewing tools. Ask me the same question and I’ll be more likely to describe a peculiar “pins and needles” sensation in my hands and feet. It’s just one of many symptoms such as numbness, weakness, dizziness and fatigue associated with Multiple Sclerosis, a potentially disabling disease of the central nervous system.

When I was diagnosed ten years ago, I became one of at least 300,000 Americans afflicted with MS, more than half of whom are women. Many of us are also quilters, understandably concerned about this unpredictable disease impacting our needle skills. In my case, I’ve lost much of the strength and dexterity needed to quilt, but I’ve never lost my passion to create.

I’ve learned to quilt in new ways, adapting sewing tools and techniques to my changing physical needs. A new sewing machine with loads of stitches has replaced the sewing I’d previously done by hand. My physical therapist introduced me to ergonomic sewing tools and was even able to modify my rotary cutter to make it easier to use. The latest fabrics are conveniently delivered to my door with one catalog or Internet order. But it’s my friends who really keep me quilting, with their willingness to do those things I can no longer do alone. All it takes is a phone call and they’re here to help cut fabric, press blocks, stitch bindings or finish some long neglected project that I just can’t manage myself. These gracious women inspire, encourage and motivate me to keep stitching.

I used to worry that I’d have to give up quilting because of Multiple Sclerosis. Instead, I’ve found that my strong passion to create actually helps me cope with the challenges of MS. Quilting gives me a positive outlook, a sense of purpose and pride, and a connection with other creative women. And that “pins and needles” sensation? I still get it from time to time, only now it’s in anticipation of my next quilt project!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Making Conversation

At one time, I was a high school English teacher, blessed with the task of expanding the minds of curious 14 year olds. My class was reading Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, when a student came up to me and said, “In the chapter you had us read for homework, Pip and Miss Havesham were having sex.” “What?” I answered, shocked. “Yeah, it said they had intercourse!”

If the situation wasn't so awkward, it would have been the answer to any teacher‘s prayer; a teachable moment with students waiting in rapt attention for me to expound on the richness of the English language. On the one hand, it was an opportunity to talk about multiple meanings of words or how language changes over time. On the other hand, how could I explain the multiple meanings of that particular word to a class of snickering teenagers?

Maybe if I broke the word into its Latin roots, they’d lose interest and we could get on with the lesson I’d originally planned for the day. “Inter means between and course means to run; it's from the Latin intercursus which means running between.” More snickering. “Okay, how about the word discourse? It means a speech or discussion. So, if course means to talk, intercourse means an exchange between people; a conversation.

I should have stopped there but something made me pose this pivotal question: “So, what’s a four letter word ending in k that means intercourse?” I expected the class to erupt into laughter and mayhem. But they very earnestly responded in unison, “F%#K“ as if the answer was obvious. “No,” I replied. The word is TALK.” At least that’s one definition they’d never forget!

The story makes a good segue for today’s quilt which is made from conversation prints. These novelty fabrics, popular in the 1870-1900’s, are printed with images of everyday things such as cats or dogs. The tiny motifs are meant to elicit comments and conversation about the fabric. Most of the designs in this quilt are from Judy Rothermel for Marcus Brothers. I think my favorite image is the pool playing grasshopper. How weird is that?

Sunday, October 28, 2007


In the blue moon-glow of midnight
Specters dance across the lawn
But masquerade as birch trees
In the growing light of dawn.

The stars fall from the heavens
Disguised as fireflies
That flicker in the twilight
With a spark that mystifies.

As angels sing in chorus
Accompanied by the breeze
Their whispering voices harmonize
With the rustling of the leaves.

Spirits cloaked in cobwebs
Cavort with revelry
But, hidden in dark corners
They’re invisible to me.

What wonders lurk around us
That we never recognize
Because we fail to see beyond
What’s right before our eyes!

© Diane Burdin, 2006

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Liberated Jack
© DJB, 1997

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Worms Crawl In, The Worms Crawl Out

What would you think if you got this unusual piece of fabric in the mail? My friend Kathy sent it to me as a souvenir of her trip to Australia.

It’s an aboriginal print, featuring witchety grubs, honey ants, snakes, lizards, and symbols representing family and Earth Mother.

I went from thinking, “Yikes, I can’t use that!” to “Maybe if I cut it up it won’t be so ghastly.” to “If I cut it up, all the integrity of the print will be lost.” This peculiar fabric certainly presented a design challenge!

After a while, those little grubs grew on me (What an image that conjures up, eh?) and I couldn’t bear to cut the fabric into pieces. Instead, I framed it with a liberated sawtooth border.

I tried adding some pieced blocks but they made the quilt look way too busy. So, I pieced together the Broken Dishes blocks I had made and put them on the back of the quilt.

The machine quilting was a lot of fun to do. I stitched random wavy lines with a variety of threads. It not only added great texture but contributed to the freeform style.

16” x 23”
© DJB, 2003

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Hormone Replacement Therapy

As many of you noted in response to my last post, I am blessed with the best of friends. So when my husband left town for 5 days to visit our son at college, I lined up visits with girlfriends. In this estrogen deprived home, it was like hormone replacement therapy.

I sometimes forget just how restorative “girl talk” can be. We laughed and cried, we bitched and moaned (mostly me), we shared secrets and made promises. We ate wonderful meals that my friends prepared, including homemade apple pie and the best pumpkin cookies I have ever tasted. Barb gave me a bunch of dried Bittersweet (my very favorite color) and some autumn plates and napkins. Linda shared a huge box of novels that will keep me busy reading for months. Mary brought a hefty pile of quilts to show, including the sweet log cabin pictured above. Sherry came over at a moment’s notice to snap a few pictures for the blog.

My girlfriends not only know just what I need, they also have the thoughtfulness, compassion and generosity to provide it when asked. As each of them left, we shared a hug and a big “I love you!” Why not call a girlfriend and tell her what she means to you?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

It Takes a Village

Please help me celebrate the completion of a needlework project I started 15 years ago! It didn’t actually take me that long to stitch this reproduction cross stitch sampler. But it did take years to bring it to fruition.

The sampler spent more time wadded up in a basket than it did in my hands. And when my hands could no longer manage the tiny stitches worked over a single linen thread, it sat untouched until I found friends who could finish it for me.

My cousin, Lynn, skillfully stitched the few remaining inches and returned the sampler to me last Christmas. Back to its basket it went, waiting to be laundered. Over the summer, my friend, Sheila, washed, blocked and pressed the piece; then took it to the framer. This fall, my dad picked it up from the framer and delivered it to me. It sat propped up against the wall for weeks until I called my neighbor, Barb, who hung the needlework while another friend, Linda, snapped photos for my blog.

You’ll think, upon reading this, that I can’t do anything for myself and you’ll be close to right. It “takes a village” to care for me and my needlework. I’m so grateful for dear friends who shared my enthusiasm for this piece and joy in finally getting it up on the wall.

The original sampler (shown here) was stitched in 1839 by Ann Rayner of West Yorkshire County, England. It was reproduced by Nancy Sturgeon, from Naperville, Illinois, who charted and kitted the sampler for her needlework business, Threads Through Time.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Autumn Has Its Charms

As the weather cools, my husband likes to visit local gardens and arboretums for a little hiking. Like a kid, he gathers souvenir "sticks and stones" along the way. and brings home pockets full of leaves, acorns and buckeyes--lots and lots of buckeyes.

We first heard buckeye folklore from our college professor, Dr. Kenneth Bidle, who always carried a buckeye in his pocket as a "lucky charm." The prevalent belief is that a buckeye increases pocket money. But because of its distinctive (ahem) "nutlike" appearance, some people think it also increases sexual potency. There are even claims that buckeyes prevent rheumatism, arthritis, and headache. Heck, if the buckeye possesses any of those properties, I'll gladly stuff my pockets full!

The red oak leaves and buckeyes from Jim's latest nature hike reminded me of the colors in this Pinwheel doll quilt. I bought it from my friend and former quilt shop colleague, Shari Tischhauser. Don't you love the old buttons Shari stitched to the center of each pinwheel?

Pinwheel doll quilt
 16" x 22"
 made by Shari Tischhauser

Friday, October 5, 2007

Gee, Thanks!

Thank you for the kind comments about my Folk Art Button Quilt. It has gotten a lot of interest over the years, and I'm always happy to share its story.

The quilt started as a block exchange between friends. We each chose a motif and then looked to antique quilts, hooked rugs, and folk art for inspiration and patterns. By stitching the same motif for each member of the group, we ended up with identical sets of blocks.

After the exchange, we were free to embellish the blocks and set them together any way we wanted. I added buttonhole stitching and old brown buttons to mine. The idea to offset the appliques with Nine Patches was inspired by this Calico Garden Quilt from the Shelberne Museum’s collection. (A pattern to reproduce that quilt is available from Hoopla Antique Quilt Patterns)

I pulled out all my autumn colored fabrics as well as woven plaids, cutting a 2” strip from each. Rather than sewing strips together as we tend to do in making Nine Patches, I cut the strips into 2” squares. This allowed me more flexibility with color placement. No two blocks are alike. I had enough brown buttons to add one to the center of each Nine Patch.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Less Is More Than Enough

One of my favorite NPR radio programs, “The Story,” recently featured a guy named Chris McNaught, who is determined to pare his possessions down to a modest 500. Can you imagine? I have more than that in my sewing room alone!

His concept is not unlike the William Morris' quotation, "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” It’s about making intentional, purposeful choices, rather than mindlessly accumulating stuff.

Chris includes everyday items like dishes, clothes, books, and music CDs in his tally. However, food, toothpaste, or other personal products that get used upare not counted. With sentimental items, he’ll sometimes take photos for posterity, before selling or giving things away.

I couldn't live like that, could you? I’m way too fond of my stuff. Even so, an occasional exercise in restraint is a good reminder that less is often more than we actually need.

On one of my first Mother’s Days, I asked my husband to skip the gift. What I really wanted was some uninterrupted time to sew. This little quilt is what I started that day. It's made of Roberta Horton's "Mood Indigo" fabric, just a few sample squares that I had of the black plaids. It reminds me that it doesn’t take a big investment of money, fabric, or time to satisfy a creative urge--just the bare essentials.

Sawtooth Sampler
16” x 18”
machine pieced, hand quilted
© Diane Burdin, 1990

George Carlin also has a great take on "Stuff"
(contains adult language)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Small Change

I don't know if it's the cooler temperature today (a glorious 68 degrees) or the little nap I took, but I'm feeling better than I have in quite some time. These "good days" are infrequent and I revel in the small victories they allow.

I was inspired to share this Chinese Coins doll quilt today by Libby, who recently stitched one of her own. In true scrap quilt fashion, this was made with cast-off trimmings from another quilt. Do you find it as hard as I do to throw those little bits away? It may be hard to see the cable quilting in that blue fabric.

Small Change
18” x 27”
© Diane Burdin,1995

Friday, September 7, 2007

Quilt Journals

Forgive me for borrowing a blog topic from Lazy Gal Quilting. A reader asked Tonya if she kept a record of all the quilts she’s made and what kind of information she saved. So, I thought I’d share my method of documenting quilts.

I keep albums for all the quilts I’ve made. There’s one for first quilts, large quilts, doll quilts, and challenges, exchanges and collaborations. I even keep one for family quilts and antiques, including appraisals.

My quilts have been exhibited in guild shows, so over the years I've accumulated a detailed record. Most shows require the name of the quilt, the pattern name, measurements, techniques used to construct the piece, and the date of completion. In addition, they often ask for a blurb telling the story of the quilt, what inspired it, who it was made for, etc. This information is usually compiled in a show program or printed on a card that is displayed with the quilt.

From my very first project, I’ve taken pictures of my work. When the piece is a gift, I also try to get a photo of the recipient. If I have a few fabric scraps left, I’ll save them too.

This may all seem a bit anal retentive, especially when it’s typed up and put in plastic sleeves. But it sure saves time when you have to retrieve the information for a quilt show or blog post.

It’s been fun sharing my albums with family and friends but it will also be of value to my kids someday when I’m not around to tell the story of each quilt.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007


I’m happy when my kids ask me for help with homework. It makes me feel useful and proud that they actually think I know a thing or two. Yep, as long as it’s not math or science, I’m willing to share my sage advice and vast wisdom. When William asked me for help with his English homework, I thought, “Great! This is right up my alley.”

He explained that he had to match vocabulary words with their definitions, using the words’ roots as clues.
“O.K., what’s the first word?”
“Parvenu““Uh, what’s the next word?”
“Let’s try the next one.”
“Abstruse““Where the heck did they get these words?”

I did the best I could, helping him dissect words root by root, resorting to the dictionary when all else failed. Hey, if I didn’t know the answers, at least I modeled good learning behavior. Knowing the importance of reinforcing newly learned concepts, I subtly inserted the vocabulary words into dinnertime conversation by saying, “Tell Dad the goofy new words you learned.” I thought my husband would look as dumbfounded as I had upon hearing words like “interlocution” but damn, he even knew what they meant!

The next morning at breakfast, I thought I’d give Will another chance to review. This time I’d work from the other direction, giving him the definition and seeing if he remembered the word. “Hey Will, what was that word that meant “sleight of hand?” “Mom, I don’t need to know the word--just the root.”

He’d hit upon my personal bugaboo--doing what’s required and no more. How do you teach a kid the value of learning for its own sake? How do you foster the curiosity that will make him a life-long learner? It was early in the morning and all I could muster was, “You’ll get to my age and not know cool words like “abstruse” and your life will be poorer for it!” Enriching language indeed!

*Logophilia: Love of words

Monday, September 3, 2007

Red Stars

Red Stars
21” x 28”
© Diane Burdin, 1995

Most of these doll quilts haven’t seen the light of day in years. I'm pulling them out to photograph for their blog debut, but then it's back to the cradle where they're stored. It’s a shame really. I just don't have a good way to display them. No matter, it's the making that I enjoy most.

In any new project, the fabrics are what get my creative juices flowing. That windowpane plaid in the border isn't much to look at on its own, but it sent me digging through my fabric stash for every rich red I could find. Pushing the value range from medium to really dark reds, and adding one or two bright ones for sparkle, kept the color scheme from becoming too matchy. 

quilt back

Moda Fabrics came out with beautiful woven plaids and solids in the mid 1990's. The border plaid and drab colored back ground fabric in this quilt may have been my first foray into the homespun collecting craze of that era. Did you collect plaids too?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Medallion Progress

Here's a peek at the final border for this medallion quilt. The block is called Corn and Beans. It reminds me of undulating waves. This border will only go on the top and bottom edges to add lenth to the quilt.

I like to select and arrange the light, medium and dark triangles for each block as I go.

A great way to organize all these pieces is with paper plates. I make notes, like measurements and cutting numbers directly on the plates. After laying out the fabric pieces for each block, I stack the plates up for sewing. The pieces stay in place, the stack takes up very little room, and it's easy to carry to the sewing machine.

When I’m finished with one project, I reuse the plates for another. Just be careful if you come to my house for lunch and a bit of sewing. Your sandwich might be served on a plate that’s scribbled with quilt notes!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Got Milk?

All I Did Was…

All I did was ask for a gallon of milk--
not for something frivolous, like rain-scented air freshener,
or self indulgent, like chocolate truffles and a dozen roses,
or expensive, like filet mignon when it’s not on sale,
or embarrassing and personal, like panty shields and douche,
or unreasonable, like fresh blueberries in February!

When I saw you reading the flyer from the grocery store,
I didn’t ask you to stock the pantry,
or fill the freezer with meat,
or carry home 50 pound salt blocks for the water softener,
or find the best deal on plastic trash bags,
or search all over town for cardamom spice!

All I did was ask for a gallon of milk,
so the boys could eat cereal for breakfast!
What was it about my request that so annoyed you?
Was it something in my tone of voice,
or that we needed the milk today rather than tomorrow,
or that it was a task I couldn’t do myself,
or maybe it was just that I did the asking?

At any rate, we still need the milk!

© Diane Burdin, 2005

Friday, August 24, 2007

Little Quilters

I've been thinking about the new little quilter here and thought he might like to see what another little boy had fun making "once upon a time."

I use this little Froggy Nine Patch as my computer mousepad. My son made it when he was 7 years old. Sewing these nine little squares together on the machine was enough to satisfy any quilting aspirations he might have had. What does he recall from his brief foray into quiltmaking? The frog stitch. That's what you do when you "rip-it."

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

"Baby, you can drive my car."

"Beep-beep 'm beep-beep, YEAH!"

He passed!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Monday, August 13, 2007

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Friday, August 10, 2007


As a pattern proofreader for Designers' Quarters Magazine, I only work two weeks, every three months. But during that time, I'm focused on checking the accuracy of 10 new quilt designs featured in each issue of the magazine. It's a dream job for a former English teacher and longtime quilter who loves to stay in her pajamas all day!

So for the next couple of weeks, while I'm calculating yardage and double checking measurements, clarifying directions and liberally wielding my red pen, I won't be writing blog posts. Instead, I thought I'd post photos of a quilt I've been working on. It might be fun to watch the progression as I add border after border to a medallion style quilt.

The toile type fabric for the center of the quilt was designed by Jinny Beyer to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' voyage to North America. I bought one yard of the theme fabric in 1992. It sat in a cupboard for years while I collected a variety of "watery" blue prints to accompany it.

Collecting fabrics was not as easy as you might think. For one thing, I'm not particularly fond of blue. The other problem was that shades of color change from year to year in the quilt fabric industry. I had to be patient in order to find turquoise blues in classic prints.

I also had no particular quilt pattern in mind when I bought the toile. Nautically themed blocks like Mariner's Compass, Ocean Waves, and Storm at Sea were obvious choices but wouldn't show off the various scenes in the toile. It wasn't until 2005 when I saw this simple medallion quilt in Designers' Quarters Autumn issue that I figured out how to showcase the Columbus fabric.

The large center square and triangles of this antique medallion quilt (circa 1840-60, owned by Penny McMorris) became my starting point. Follow the next few posts to see how I adapted and changed borders as I went.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Small Quilt Display

A reader named Libby has been following my posts about doll quilts and asked, “Do you have a display of all your doll quilts? I'd love to see how you show/use them.”

Plaid Posies
19" x 22" 
hand appliqued, hand quilted
© Diane Burdin,1991

I’ve never had much luck displaying my doll quilts. Those charming groupings and tablescapes you see in magazines and online are inspirational, but as soon as I try to create one, my quilt becomes a magnet for clutter. Jim moves them off the coffee table so he can put his feet up, and guests mistake them for coasters. I get tired of the tug of war we play, shuffling them from one surface to another, so I don’t bother putting small quilts out anymore.

There is one spot in the house where I hang little quilts -- a room where I spend enough time to appreciate how much they brighten the surroundings -- the laundry room. 

This tulip is a Gwen Marston design. The pattern used to come in a package of Fairfield batting, although, as Gwen herself admits, who needs a pattern? Just cut one from folded paper. I used Roberta Horton woven plaids and stripes, added a saw tooth border and quilted it with my favorite folky fan pattern.

Many of my yard sale finds have ended up in the laundry room too: an old grater, butter paddles, wooden chopping board, and cookie press...

a clothesline winder, cabbage grater and a towel hook made by my friend Laurie from a silver fork and spoon.

Now, if I could only be that clever with quilt displays!

Monday, August 6, 2007

Excessive Heat Warning

There seems to be an excessive heat advisory all over the country this week. I hope you're all managing to keep cool somehow. Quilting is probably the last thing anyone wants to think about in 90 degree temperatures, but I thought I'd keep posting about doll quilts for the rest of the summer.

I’ve gotten some of my favorite doll quilts from friends. The fun of owning someone else’s work is that the quilt designs and fabrics used might be very different from my own style. There’s also the novelty of owning a finished piece--one which hasn’t languished on my sewing room floor for months or even years.

This little Tumbler was made by Judy Heath, a talented and prolific quilter with whom I worked at our local quilt shop. Many of the fabrics are from the Peppermint and Sassafras line designed by Judie Rothermel in the mid 1990s. It's a charming little piece, measuring only 11" x 12" and covered in buttons that Judy brought back from a trip to Australia.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Story Problem

For 6 days in a row, William wakes up at 7:00 A.M. and walks 1 mile to attend his high school's marching band camp. The band practices marching for 3 hours each morning. They rehearse music for 3 hours each afternoon. Evening practice sessions last 2 ½ hours. Throughout the week in which the average daily temperature is 91 degrees with humidity of 75%, 270 students develop 3 entertaining routines which they will enthusiastically perform during the 2007 football season.
Considering all of these factors, what is the result of a week at band camp?

One very tired kid!