Category Archives: Personal

On Pins and Needles

I’ve probably mentioned before that I help teach an English class for foreign-born adults. It’s pretty unstructured and we cover a wide range of topics, depending on student interest. A typical class might be like we had a couple of weeks ago. The word “pick” and how it is used was being discussed, along with variations like “pick up,” pick out,” “picky,” and “pickpocket.” The idea of a pickpocket led a student to ask about another type of crime. What’s it called when someone breaks into your house? Well, that is burglary, and the person is a burglar. We went through several types of crime before heading back to the word “pick.”

In a lot of classes, we talk about expressions in American English. We have a lot of sayings that aren’t obvious for meaning, things like “being on pins and needles.”

Have you ever really thought about that phrase? Supposedly it originated some 200 years ago, based on the tingly feeling you get when recovering from numbness. That tingly feeling has been interpreted, I guess, to how we feel when anticipating something with eagerness or anxiety.

Are you on pins and needles about anything?

I was on pins and needles this morning when I opened WordPress to create this post. Would I be able to use “classic editor,” or would I be forced into using “block editor”? Thanks to Kate at Tall Tales from Chiconia, I was able to find the classic editor. Hence, I’m able to write this post.

Speaking of needles, I’m also on pins and needles in anticipation of life becoming somewhat more normal, whatever that means. Jim and I have both had two covid needle jabs, so we are moving in that direction. In our county, things are going pretty well. Good job, neighbors!

Another needle story: my youngest grandchild is about to have his second birthday. Son asked if I could make a super-hero style cape for him. Well, sure! I could do that. Since grandson is going to visit his mom’s family (across the country) for his birthday, and will see two older cousins there, I decided to make a cape for each of the three little boys.

I went to big-box fabric store and bought polyester-cotton blend yardage in red, blue, and dark green. I looked at a couple of tutorials and decided how I wanted to shape the neckline. Last time I made a cape, string ties were still allowed. This time I needed to use Velcro. (Okay, hook-and-loop tape, not Velcro. If you care about trademarks and don’t get too offended, you might enjoy this hilarious video from the Velcro people.)

My Velcro bits were the kind with glue on the backs of individual squares. That makes it easy for placement, but it was tough on my needles. The glue gummed them up, caught the thread, messed with tension, led to me swearing loudly more than once. I replaced needles twice and gutted it out to not replace a third time. But I got the three capes done, replaced the needle again, cleaned the machine, and tomorrow I’ll put the capes in the mail.

Each cape has two sides of different colors. You can see all three have a red side. The boys can choose to be all alike with the red, or all different by mixing things up. 

Side note: Since finishing the capes, I’ve been working on making a quilt top honoring one made by Martha Washington more than 200 years ago. Sewing needles would have been precious and expensive then. I was so enjoying the process until I had a thought — is it possible to honor the quilt without honoring the woman, someone who owned more than 80 slaves? I’m still thinking about that and will try to post more about it, if the editing tool doesn’t get in my way.

If you’re interested to know more about pins and needles, I’ll point you to a few blog posts with interesting facts and links. One is by me and trips through 50,000 years of needle use. One is by my blog friend Gwen the Textile Ranger, and digs deeper into manufacture of needles in England in the 1850s. Another is by Pati Friend of See How We Sew, and covers a 400-year-old Japanese tradition of thanking worn pins and needles for their service. The last linked here is by the Mill Museum in Connecticut. It’s a fairly lengthy history of the development of sewing machines, which necessitated a functional needle first.

And edited to add one more: this post on the site Love To Know presents a history of sewing needles. I’m no expert and can’t attest to its accuracy, but it’s definitely an interesting read. Here’s one thing I note. “By 1906, Scientific American reported an annual production of 3 million needles per day worldwide, with 300 million purchased each year in the United States alone. Most hand-sewing needles sold in the United States were British-made; Americans never attempted to challenge British dominance of needlemaking.” So that answers my question about needle manufacture in the US. Apparently we’ve never had a big industry in that.


Melting Pot

George & Elmira Wymer, @1910.

In 1860, census records of Bourbon Township, Indiana, show Michael Wymer, age 31, living with his wife Eliza Fischer and the eldest two of their eventual ten children. Michael and Eliza were born in present-day Germany. Other records show they were married in New York in 1853, where their oldest child George was born. George, a first-generation American, was my second great-grandfather.

Currently somewhere between one and two percent of the US population identifies as Native American. The rest of us came from, or are descended from people who came from, somewhere else.

I have always marveled at the parade of athletes in the Olympics, and the array of national and ethnic backgrounds the US athletes carry in their names. The melting pot is a romantic notion, of course. We all have NEVER welcomed everyone here. Institutionally, we have always put up barriers to entry and barriers to success. But ultimately, we from all over the world have become we the people of the United States.

For more than three years, Jim and I have been helping teach English to students from all over the world. They come from Syria, Venezuela, Sudan, Kurdistan, Spain, Mexico, Japan, Brazil, Argentina, Congo, Lebanon, India, Ecuador, Thailand, South Korea, France, China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Taiwan, and other countries!

Some of our students are here for a short time to visit family members. Some are here for their own or a spouse’s temporary employment or study at the university. Others intend permanent immigration.

While we help them, they also help each other learn English and find resources to deal with every day problems; they cheer each other on toward getting driver’s licenses and immigration status; and they provide a social network and friendship. There is nothing different or “other” about them. They are smart, creative, funny, courageous people, the same as my immigrant ancestors and yours.

We are all types of people, and we are from all over the world. We have a wide range of occupations and always have. When Michael Wymer was farming in northern Indiana, about half the men in the state farmed, while the rest undertook trades and employment of other kinds. Fifty years later his son George worked in the Singer Sewing Machine factory in South Bend, IN. Though the demographics of employment have changed since 1860, we still need all kinds of workers to have a successful economy.


In March 2020 I began a new quilt called “Melting Pot” with  an Ohio Star block as the center.

The middle patch of the block, in black and cream, is from a panel print by Julie Paschkis. It is framed by a solid bronze, with star points in maroon traditional print, and a small-scale pale blue plaid men’s shirt as the background. I’ve been working primarily from stash for the last two years, so when I considered turning the block on point, I looked in stash first. The wild swirly black and bronze batik echoed the swirling branches in the center patch. At first I hesitated: would the batik work with the others?

You can use all kinds of fabrics in the same quilt: panels, solids, traditional prints, contemporary prints, Civil War reproductions, and batiks. Even cast-off clothing can work within the composition. In fact, once you’ve opened your mind (and heart) to using many kinds of fabrics, you can create a kind of harmony not possible otherwise. 

Melting Pot. 2020. 71″ x 71″. 


Besides the romantic myth of the melting pot, that the US is a happy blend of many flavors, there is another myth, far more sinister. It is the myth that there is no room here for others. The myth that people from other countries pose a danger to us and our democracy. As we have seen in the past five years, as has been emphasized in the last few months, the greatest danger to our country is home-grown. White supremacists and white nationalists are the equivalent of Germany’s Nazis. They would install an authoritarian government rather than follow the will of the people and the rule of law.

My ancestors and most likely theirs came from other countries, and most did so for opportunities they did not have in their homelands. They came here because of the democracy, not in spite of it. If we wish for the democracy to continue, we must support it by repudiating the voices promoting racism, religious bigotry, and the “America First” movement. We must vote for those who uphold their oaths of office, to protect and defend the Constitution. We must call out those who support insurrection. If we do not, we risk losing this democracy, this melting pot, this United States.

But Love Lasts

A year ago I had lunch with a friend, and I had the honor of presenting him with a quilt. Ira is a longtime acquaintance but recent friend, someone who knew my son but didn’t really know me or my husband, though we have several mutual friends. And we have something in common that has bonded us forever.

A few years ago, Ira was diagnosed with breast cancer. More than 275,000 women in the US are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. Men can also have breast cancer, though they account for only around 1% of cases.

Ira was treated and his cancer was in remission. In Fall of 2019, Ira found out his cancer had metastasized to his liver. When that happens, it is not liver cancer. It is still breast cancer. And though there are a variety of treatments that can extend life, metastasized breast cancer is a terminal disease.

Educator, composer, performer, conductor, coach, husband, dad, grandpa, friend. When he got the terminal diagnosis, Ira had recently retired from his career as a music professor. Even outside of the university setting, even with cancer, he still carries on all of these roles. I made him the quilt to commemorate the part he played in my son’s life, and his retirement, and to provide comfort as he deals with his changing health. He has told me he sits with the quilt on his lap as he composes now.

But Love Lasts. 42″ x 51″. For Ira. 2020.

The leaf-style blocks are called “Maple Leaf” blocks. They were made by both my sister and me in four different sizes from 6″ to 15″, using a 3″ overall grid. I showed you the beginning of the leaves project here. (She got all the ones I didn’t use.) The layout is my own design, with 3″ finished squares to fill.

The name of the quilt is “But Love Lasts.” The name evolved over the weeks that I worked on the quilt. It started with my thoughts about seasons, and especially the notion “to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.” Cultural references are from both Ecclesiastes and from Pete Seeger’s “Turn Turn Turn.” Seasons turn. The maple leaves turn to brilliant reds and golds, dropping from trees to turn again a dusky brown, and finally to dust as snow falls, days begin to brighten, and tender shoots erupt in warmth again.

Seasons turn. But love lasts.

He is surrounded by love, the love of his family and friends and people beyond his knowing, now and before him and after him. Love lasts.

When I saw Ira for lunch, I presented the quilt in a cloth tote bag I made, decorated with a few of the 3″ patches cut for the quilt.

Tune in to the Iowa Quiltscape with the Iowa Quilt Museum

Join the Iowa Quilt Museum for a series of fun programs on the Iowa Quiltscape, highlighting various aspects of quilting life in Iowa. Each Tuesday at twelve CST for the next few weeks, the museum is presenting some programs about current exhibits and others about quilters and quilting in the state.

On Tuesday January 26, I will be one of the featured speakers! Here is the event description from the museum:

Our January 26th session will feature four Iowa Quilters: Carol Bodensteiner, Melanie McNeil, Diane Murtha & Jessica Plunkett.
These women are involved with quilting through a variety of roles—teacher, author, designer—and will share their unique experiences in the quilting world as well as some commonalities, we’re sure.
This is a ‘pour a cup of tea and let’s have a chat’ kind of program. And since it’s looking like Iowa will be covered in a thick blanket of snow tomorrow (9-17 inches have been forecast), it will be a wonderful day for a virtual meet-up!

The program should last about an hour and is available for free via Zoom. There is no pre-registration required. To Join the Zoom meeting, click on the following link, or type the Meeting ID into Zoom:
Meeting ID: 943 9573 5155

The same link will be used for all of the programs. You’re welcome to share it with friends.

Last week’s program was on the current exhibit at IQM. The exhibit is called String Theory: String Pieced Quilts from Past to Present. The program included the exhibit curator and author Linzee Kull McCray, collector and author Roderick Kiracofe, and Siobhan Furgurson, an AQS certified quilt appraiser, teacher and lecturer. If you missed it, you can find it on the museum’s youtube channel. Each of the programs will be posted there, so don’t fret if you can’t sit in. You can always watch it later.

If you have a chance to zoom in Tuesday at noon central standard time, I would be glad to see you. You’ll get a feel for quilting in Iowa. I’ll bet it’s not very different from quilting in your neck of the woods!

Anticipation for 2020 (Looking Back)

It’s been almost 13 months since I’ve posted here! Between breast cancer treatment in 2019 and general world craziness in 2020, writing and posting slipped off my list of things to do. And while I’m not going to make any promises to either you or me, I’d like to come back and write here from time to time. I’ve always loved the interaction with you, the format to document my quilting work, and a way to ponder out loud how I think about a broad range of quilting and making topics.

Before the end of 2019 (another year in which I barely blogged,) I began writing this post, “Anticipation for 2020.” It included the following list of things to enjoy in 2020, not in order of importance:

  • travel with Jim
  • fencing lessons
  • skydiving
  • granddaughter’s college graduation
  • Houston’s International Quilt Festival
  • finally stepping down from the guild’s program committee
  • getting some upper body strength back
  • hiking more
  • finishing some quilts, starting some quilts
  • entering quilts in the Iowa State Fair

We all know how that went!

In fact, I did resign from my local guild’s program committee! And I did attend granddaughter’s graduation via Zoom.

And I did finish some quilts and start some quilts. So overall, I guess it was an entirely successful year!

I want to share a few of the quilts I finished in 2020. Today’s post will look at Cimarron.

Cimarron. Designed, pieced, and quilted by me. Approx. 48″ x 48″. Made in 2020.

This quilt started with a fat quarter of aqua and cinnamon print, which my daughter gave me. The color combination was striking and unusual, and it inspired me to build out from there. You can see that inspiration fabric in the very center, as well as sprinkled out from there.

I wanted a white fabric for brightness, and to highlight the tiny bits of white in the feature fabric and in the other center “background” fabric. I always look to stash first and found the white below. The print on it is actually a strong red but in fine lines. The “right side” of fabric shows how red it is. Using the wrong side makes it show as speckled pattern more than color.

I quilted it using a very pale aqua thread, So Fine 50 weight from Superior Threads. So Fine is my go-to thread for almost all quilting. I also use it for piecing more often than not. The quilting design is a free-motion panto-like design of swirls and bumps.

The quilt is named “Cimarron.” The colors and shapes reminded me of a fresh river running through mountains. The Cimarron River flows from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in northern New Mexico, and the name stuck to the quilt.