Tag Archives: blessings

In Praise of Technology

More than 25 years ago, Jim and I bought a house built in 1933. Only one family had lived there; with that comes good and bad. There had been relatively few updates, which was good, but those that had been done had mostly been done badly. Though most of the issues were cosmetic, the kitchen was worse than an eyesore. On one side were painted, built-in wooden cabinets with unadjustable shelves at heights I could barely reach. On the other were “St. Charles” metal cabinets, and not enough of them. Countertops on each side also differed, including their mismatched metal rims. The floor was covered in linoleum tiles that had shifted and drifted, the color reminiscent of street-splatter on my car after rain. The gas stove was in harvest gold while the small refrigerator was in avocado. The stove fan, which didn’t vent out of the house, was in brown.

Pretty, huh?

We took our time planning the update while also repainting every other room. Primitive design software helped us determine cabinet placement, and dozens of glossy kitchen magazines helped us sort out the options for decor. I was getting impatient for the kitchen’s turn at renovation, and everyday found myself huffing a little about how awkward it was to use, or how ugly the Pepto-Bismol pink paint was. While waiting, I read an anecdote. Perhaps it was in one of those kitchen magazines, or maybe it was a Reader’s Digest entry. It went something like this:

A young woman proudly showed off her new home’s kitchen to her grandmother. Excitedly she described the various features — countertops, cabinet styles, appliances, finishes. The older woman was quieter than expected, nodding as she took it all in. The granddaughter, surprised by the lack of reaction, prodded for more. “Grandma, what parts of my kitchen do you like best?” she asked. Grandma turned and looked around again before saying, “The hot and cold running water.”

That short reminder helped me keep my kitchen in perspective. We did have hot and cold running water, then and throughout the renovation. We did have appliances that worked, as basic and ugly as they were. After that when I worked in my old, mismatched kitchen everyday, I was grateful for the technology of indoor plumbing and what an amazing impact that had on our lives.


Fast forward a few years. Jim, Son and I were in England, traveling from London to Dover by train. The passenger cars were unlike any I’d seen in the U.S., wooden carriages with doors that opened outward, and bench seats inside. At one point I started giggling to myself and Jim asked why. “Well, I was going to say, ‘We’re lucky to be able to travel this way. A hundred years ago we couldn’t have gone from London to Dover like this.’ But then I thought, ‘A hundred years ago, we could have gone exactly like this!'” No, the rail travel between the two cities hadn’t changed much in that time, but it still was a faster means than walking or horse-drawn carriage.


This week I struggled to finish one of the VA hospital quilts, the one for which I’d already made a rookie construction mistake. It was on the long-arm frame with quilting nearly done, when all of a sudden OOUPH!! The needle hesitated running through a little build-up of fabric near a complex seam, and suddenly the sound of quilting changed. I stopped the machine and looked closely. On top nothing had changed, but underneath I could see bits of white batting fibers clinging to the stitches I’d just run.

I changed the needle and began again. After 15 or 20″ of stitching, I examined my work. Again on top it looked fine. Underneath I had loops galore! The tension was seriously out of whack.

How many steps are needed to solve a problem like this? As many as it takes to fix. Since I hadn’t changed the tension setting, I didn’t start there. New needle, rethreading both top and bobbin, cleaning all microscopic bits of lint out of the bobbin assembly, testing and retesting, rethreading again… I even reset the timing because in the meantime it had started skipping stitches, but the loops remained. Finally I tightened the upper tension dial, figuring I had nothing to lose. And that was the magic step, allowing me to finish quilting.

The work-to-glory ratio was not in my favor for this quilt, all the way through. (And I still need to bind it, so I’m prepared for more problems before it’s done!)


20150904_081406Though my frustration built at times, I tried to remember the modern miracles we enjoy as we quilt. It isn’t just the rotary cutter, which I wrote about recently. It isn’t even just the sewing machine, modern versions of which have been available for about 160 years. (YES, quilters in the 1800s did both piece and quilt on machines, if they were lucky enough to own them.)

The technology of quilting has changed in spurts throughout quilting history, or at least the last several hundred years of it. Consider a few recent changes. In 1794 Eli Whitney patented a cotton gin that could clean short-staple cotton, the only kind that could be grown economically away from the U.S. east coast. Power looms invented in the same decade allowed the rise of factory textile mills in both the U.S. and England. Improvements in dyes and printing technology throughout history let us enjoy the range of colors and designs we have available now. Modern transportation allows fabric and associated products to be shipped anywhere in the world.

Besides fabric production and distribution, though, there are other technological “miracles” that make our lives as quilters easier. Have you ever purchased fabric using a credit card, whether online or in the local shop? Have you ever read or written a blog post or looked up a youtube video about quilting?

My project got bogged down in various ways. Even so, 200 years ago it would have been beyond the imagination that I could use the fabrics I did. One hundred years ago, the even-lofted polyester batting wasn’t conceived of. Fifty years ago, no one had the notion that making a quilt from start to finish would take so few hours, regardless of my personal challenges.

As a quilter I try to appreciate our history, both from the artistic standpoint and also the technological. Practicing gratitude about the achievements of those who came before helps me keep my own challenges in better perspective.

This Thanksgiving, I wish you a sense of wonder and fulfillment in your craft and the rest of your life. 


Some Fun

Yesterday I had some fun. First I loaded the back, batting and top for The Mountain on my long-arm frame. I even had a chance to begin quilting.

In the afternoon I left for the Johnson County Senior Center. The center is one of the many reasons our area ranks highly when considering healthy places for aging populations. With many activities, discussion groups, and presentations offered every day, it is a focal point of Iowa City’s downtown — a downtown shared with the University of Iowa.

At the center I had the privilege of presenting about the Mill Girls. They were female textile workers in New England in the early 1800s. As the Cotton Revolution (the first phase of the Industrial Revolution) kicked into gear with factory-based textile production, the primary population of workers in the U.S. was these young women.

My audience was terrific, offering many questions and a round of applause and “thank yous” when I was done. I LOVE presenting when that happens.

And when I got home, I checked the mailbox. In it was the new issue of Quilters Newsletter. This one was kind of special. The regular feature “300 words about quilting” includes a short essay by me!


Not every day is as noteworthy as yesterday. But my life is full and I am very blessed.

Hugs and Kisses, Given and Received

Today I gave this quilt to a friend.

XOXO, aka Hugs and Kisses. 48″ square. Finished June 2014.

Why? Because it was her quilt. I made it without an owner in mind, but it has since become apparent that I made it for her.

I think it will come in handy soon, while she recovers from upcoming surgery. She is tough. I’ve no doubt she’ll be up and around quickly. But while she is not, while she is resting and gathering strength, perhaps this will provide some comfort.

hmm… I am thinking as I write. Perhaps it is not for her recovery. Perhaps it is for her preparation. Maybe the strength she needs is before surgery. Yes. I think that’s it. In that case, it is good timing that we were able to enjoy each other’s company today, and that I could share this blessing with her.

Yes, I think that’s it.



Odds and Ends

So many things going on! There are several short blog posts I’d like to write. Instead, here’s a mish-mash of a few.

First, I’m excited to be presenting to the DeKalb County Quilters’ Guild tomorrow (Thursday) evening. I’ll be discussing design basics for medallion quilts and showing a few quilts in my portfolio. The meeting begins at 7:00 pm. The address for the presentation is
St. Mary’s Parish Activity Center (PAC)
322 Waterman Street
Sycamore, IL
Guests are welcome. I’d love to see you there!

Besides that, I’m working on a quilt with my sister Cathie. (Okay, make that two quilts. This weekend we’ll be quilting that hourglass together.) We’ve done “round” robins before, passing a top between us using a medallion format. Today I made some flower block parts for the next border of our current round robin. In fact, I’ll pass the flower parts on to her. Then she’ll get to decide whether to use them or not. Here are four of the blocks (not fully assembled) arrayed on my design wall in a bouquet.

I’m a member of the yahoo group called Stashbusters. Recently we’ve had discussions on chain-piecing with leaders and enders. Here is a post I wrote previously about that.

Another post I wrote before was on paying attention to your machine. I take good care of mine, cleaning out the lint regularly. Recently I had my main machine serviced to take care of the parts I can’t reach. It was a fairly small investment, less than $100. But today it was making noise as I sewed. I tried listening to it to determine what might be wrong. Ultimately I decided a new needle was in order. Listen to your machine. Often you can take care of the small problems yourself. (A related post you might enjoy is A Stitch in Time. It shares a little history and information on how your machine actually makes those stitches.)

Friday is my mom’s birthday. She would have been 83. I keep a picture of her on my wall and am always glad to have her with me.

And to the more trivial, I finally got my hair cut this week (!!!) and my new business cards came today.

I’m keeping busy. My life is full and I am very blessed.


[Since it is Throwback Thursday, I thought I would post something I originally published more than a year ago. btw, I have used the Shiva paintstix.]

Traffic merged to one lane before me, polite Iowa drivers taking their turns to cross the overpass, single file. As we crossed, I noted the license plate of the car in front of me.

I solve puzzles, sometimes hard ones, but this one was easy. “Use your gift.”

It got me thinking about gifts generally, and how we use them. Everyone knows anecdotes about a mother, aunt, or grandma who would receive presents — table linens, bath towels, cologne — and put them away. The gift was “too nice” to use. Maybe you’ve done it yourself. Did you get china as a wedding present? Do you use it?

Why do we keep our best gifts hidden away? There could be a lot of different reasons. Fear might be the big one. Fear that we don’t deserve such a gift, fear that someone might think we’re showing off, fear that we don’t know how to use it or display it, or that it doesn’t fit in with our other “stuff,” fear that we might ruin it…
To read more, click here.