Archive for October, 2009

Enchanting Mushrooms for Fall

October 29, 2009


Enchanting is not usually an adjective that comes to mind when describing Halloween — or even many Fall — decorations, but that’s what these mushrooms are!   These giant mushrooms are now “growing” in my neighbor’s yard, so I had to take a peak and a few pictures.  My neighbor (and fellow quilter) said she could not take credit for the idea — she had seen these mushrooms at The Farm, a really great farmstand in Westmont, Illinois, near where we live.  Relatively easy to assemble, the biggest challenge, she explained, was finding the right gourds and pumpkins that fit together, so that the end result would look like a mushroom.  Much like designing a quilt, she was looking at color, size and shape in making her selections.  The Farm, at least when she was there, still had a huge selection of gourds and pumpkins, so she was able to play with combinations until she was satisfied.

I know its a little late to post these directions, but if you’ve got access to a variety of pumpkins and gourds and want to give it a go, the directions are below.  If it’s too late for this year (as it is for me), file these directions for next.

  1. First, decide where you want the mushrooms to “grow”; this is where you will want to assemble them.  Next decide how you want the “stem” and “cap” to fit together (e.g., do you want the cap to angle back, to one side, or sit squarely on top of the stem).
  2. After you have collected your pumpkins and gourds, gather up the rest of the supplies — a dowel for each mushroom, a hammer, and a small saw to cut the dowel to the right size, if necessary.  This is a good project to use up leftover pieces of dowel, but the pieces have to be long enough to go through the mushroom “stem” and into the “cap” several inches.  If you want to anchor the mushrooms to the ground, allow another 4″ to 5″.   Dowels that are about 1/2″ in diameter probably work best, but you can experiment a bit here.
  3. Take the pumpkin or gourd you are using for the cap and with gentle, but firm taps, pierce the skin of the bottom of the cap; set this piece aside.  Now, stand the pumpkin or gourd you are using for the stem on end where you want the mushroom to sit.  Again, using gentle, firm taps, pierce the top end of the stem and  continue driving the dowel through the entire length of the stem and into the ground.  (A quick note here, my neighbor said that once she pierced the skin of the pumpkin/gourd, the dowel went through the fleshy part fairly easily.)  At this point, the dowel should be protruding from the top of the mushroom several inches — enough to hold the cap securely in place.   Holding the cap at the angle you want it to be when assembled, firmly push the cap onto the dowel.
  4. Step back and smile!

As you can see in the photo above, my neighbor nestled three mushrooms in with some other decorations.  The mushrooms could also work under a tree, along a walkway, or even in a garden bed.

Ready . . . Set . . . Sew! The 60-Minute Apron

October 27, 2009

Ready . . . Set . . . Sew!  The 60-Minute Apron


In our fast-paced world, aprons are a reminder of simpler times and good, home-cooked meals. When you see a vintage apron at a flea market or antique shop, it’s hard not to imagine the history behind it and the person to whom it belonged: the simple cotton apron that looks pieced together from leftover dress fabric was perhaps worn by a grandmother as she prepared her famous pot roast for her grown children and their expanding families on Sunday afternoons; the georgette apron was put on right before the guests arrived for a wedding shower and a light lunch of fancy tea sandwiches, cake and punch . . . Of course, as the adult now, I soon snap back to reality and think about the dishes after these events and how tired the hostess must have been at the end of the day when she finally hung up that apron!

The apron here is very utilitarian in design, but the fabrics you choose set it apart.  The beauty of it, too, is that you can wear one side when cooking and the other when serving.  Choose fabrics that have enough pattern so that any splatters are barely visible.   I made coordinating aprons for my daughter and I – her apron features the same motif but in two different colorways; my apron has a pear fabric on one side and a geometric print on the other that mimics the colors and organic lines of the pears.  I like to fold the top edge down a few inches to show the coordinating fabric on the reverse side.


If you have another fabric you want to showcase, add a pocket; or, if you like to embroider, you can embellish one or both sides.  Just remember to add these extras before you sew the two main fabrics together.

So whether you are looking for a simple project to fill a rainy afternoon, introduce a young person to the sewing machine, or simply want a little instant gratification in your sewing world, this makes an easy, quick project.  Start to finish, it took less than an hour to complete each apron.  So, click ApronPattern for a free pdf of the complete, step-by-step directions, and get sewing!


If you want to continue down the apron-making path, you might want to check out The Apron Book:  Making, Wearing, and Sharing a Bit of Cloth and Comfort by EllynAnne Geisel and A is for Apron:  25 Fresh & Flirty Designs by Nathalie Mornu.

Design Wall within Minutes

October 18, 2009

Often times when you are quilting it is necessary to step back several feet to fully assess the project at hand:  Are the colors working together?  Do your eyes keep moving around the quilt?  Do some fabrics in particular demand too much attention to the detriment of the overall quilt?  Does the design that you sketched out on paper translate to good design when it is a 30” x 40” quilt?

While some people are able to lay quilts out on the floor to make design and color decisions, I need my work vertical.  For many years, I was able to carefully pin flannel to a quilt that hangs in my living room (obviously not a quilt that was dear to me) and use this as a makeshift design wall.  I could step back five to six feet and look at the quilt from different angles and at different times of day as the light changed.  Having the quilt in such a public space also made for a lot of good discussion with family and friends as they offered their input on whatever work was up on the wall!  When we re-arranged the living room, suddenly my design wall was no longer within reach.

The solution has been foam core boards.  In less than 15 minutes, excluding the time it took to run to the office supply store to purchase the boards, I had a new and, I think, better design wall than my old one.  What you need:

  • Foam Core Boards measuring 40” x 60” and about 1/4-inch thick – I purchased two, but you should think about the size of quilts you typically make; you may only need one if you tend to make wall hangings and baby quilts most often. If you generally make larger quilts, then you may want as many as four, but will want to attach them to the wall to make them less unwieldy and more useful.  (If you have a partner in this project, you could staple or tape the four boards together in the desired configuration before covering in flannel.)
  • 36, 3/4-inch binder clips per board – My board is not going to be mounted on the wall and, when not in use, will slide behind a bookcase where little dust bunnies occasionally congregate.  Consequently, from time to time, I will wash the flannel.  If you are hanging the boards on the wall, or have a more permanent place to set them, you may simply want to staple the flannel to the back of the board — although attaching the binder clips before you staple might make the job easier.  As a side note, while I don’t find the black binder clips distracting, I would prefer white ones.  The white ones, however, tend to be packaged in with other colors, so I have added them to my shopping list of elusive items!
  • 5-1/2 yards white flannel per board – This is a bit generous since the board measures just 5 feet, but with multiple washes and a bit of fraying over time, I can trim the ends if they become too raggedy.

Begin by standing the short end of the board up against a wall.  Drape the flannel over the top of the board and work from the center out, smoothing the flannel as you go and attaching binder clips along the top edge every 4 to 5 inches.  Then, working down both vertical sides of the board, attach two clips on the left side and then two directly across on the right side (again, every 4 to 5 inches).  When you get halfway down the board, flip the board so it stands on the other short end and pull the flannel relatively tight over the top edge so that there are no folds.  Attach clips to the top edge, again working from the center out.  Work down the sides as before until you reach the previously attached clips.

If you plan to staple the flannel to the board, you can go ahead and do this now and then hang it, if desired.  If you are hanging more than one board, butt the edges next to each other (unless you have decided to staple or tape the boards together as mentioned above).  Because the boards themselves are very lightweight, you can tack the boards to the wall with several nails (or even industrial strength Velcro strips).  That’s it, the board is ready to use!


Children’s Books with a Hand-Made Theme

October 13, 2009

Beautifully illustrated children’s books captivate my attention more than a New York Times best seller.  And, if it is a well-told story about making things – especially with fabric or yarn — then the book is sold!  Three favorites that fall into this category are Knitting Nell, Shall I Knit You a Hat?, and Doggie in the Window.

Knitting Nell is written and illustrated by Julie Jersild Roth.  This book is about a quiet young girl, Nell, who loves to knit anytime, anywhere.  She knits scarves, sweaters, hats, mittens, and socks for family, friends, and occasionally herself.  She also donates boxes of her beautiful hand-made items to people close to home and those far away.  It is a beautiful book with a wonderful message about helping others.  This is Ms. Roth’s first book.  You can see what else she is up to by visiting her website,; listen to a great interview with her at (Episode 54).

Shall I Knit You a Hat?  A Christmas Yarn is written by Kate Klise and illustrated by M. Sarah Klise.  These two sisters have collaborated on other books, but this is their first picture book.  The main characters, Mother Rabbit and Little Rabbit, design and knit beautiful, one-of-kind hats as gifts for their animal friends as Christmas presents.  The idea is hatched when Mother Rabbit hears the weather forecast of an impending snowstorm and the excitement builds as she and Little Rabbit go about taking measurements, designing and making the hats, and delivering the final masterpieces before the wintry weather arrives.  As you read the story, you can feel the warmth of the fire and the excitement in the air.  This is a great book to read when a real snowstorm is on the way!   Visit to check out other books by Kate and Sarah Klise.

Doggie in the Window is written by Elaine Arsenault and illustrated by Fanny.  In this book, Doggie really, really wants Mademoiselle Madeleine to adopt him and goes to great lengths to get her attention. When he learns that Mademoiselle Madeleine is a costume designer/seamstress, he also finds his true calling:  he, too, wants to sew, and in the course of the book, he shows us his great talent.  I would love to snap my fingers and step into this story if for no other reason than to explore Mademoiselle’s workroom and play with her fabrics and trimmings myself.   I had a bit more trouble tracking down personal websites for this author and illustrator. You can find additional information on both Ms. Arsenault and Fanny at

Doggie Window Elaine Arsenault, Fanny Hardcover JUVENILE FICTION English 9780888996190 PUBLISHERS GROUP WEST JUVENILE FICTION BOOKS

Next time you are at the library or your local bookstore – whether you have a child in tow or not – take a few minutes to check out these titles.  I hope you find the illustrations inspiring in the way the artists use color, pattern, and texture to create a wonderful feeling that reinforces the words the author has chosen to tell her story.  So, happy reading and happy creating!