All posts by Sonja Hakala

I have been a professional writer since 1987. I've written for newspapers, magazines, worked in the book publishing industry, and published novels and non-fiction books. In addition, I've guided numerous authors through the process of independent publishing, and offer workshops in that same vein. I'm the founder of the Parkinson's Comfort Project and over the course of six years, we gathered and gave away over 500 handmade quilts to people with Parkinson's disease.

Getting There Is All of the Fun

Nine patch blocks for the center of a new quilt

I’ve been working on a new quilt book lately, taking pictures every step of the way.

This started as a simple pattern for a Parkinson’s Comfort Quilt, the criteria for which is: simple, lap size (36 x 60), interesting, and variable. Since then, the book has grown to include four variations on the same theme of using Nine Patch blocks on point, choosing colors not for high contrast but for minimal contrast. These are some of the blocks featured in the center of the second quilt.

The first version is in spring colors. This one, of course, is fall. I have winter underway, and the design variation of summer is worked out.

Gloria Steinem once said that she loved to “have written” more than “writing.” While I do enjoy the penning process, I also know how good it feels to get to the end of a project.

Getting there.


Shadows tell us where we are in space.

It’s a coolish, brilliantly sunny day today in the neighborhood. I had a handful of errands to run so I scooped up Goldie, slid her into the back seat of my car, and we stopped at the polo fields in Quechee for a walk. And she actually walked. In fact, I got her to chase a couple of golf balls I found embedded in the grass.

I spotted this pinecone just as we started off, and tossed it onto the windshield of my car to retrieve when we returned. In case you haven’t noticed, I love trees, every part of them so picking up a pine cone just adds to the natural decor that embellishes my desk.

When I placed it on a shelf by a window in order to take this picture, I became more fascinated by the shadow than the cone. Other than Peter Pan losing his, I don’t think we notice how important shadows are to our perception.

Without them, we would not see the contours of faces, the shape of land or the movement of grasses.

Think about that. Shadows give our world its shape and texture.

I’ve become fascinated by the idea of shadows lately because I’ve been working on a quilt book that features that most traditional of blocks—the Nine Patch. Most of the time, Nine Patch blocks are sewn from at least two fabrics with a great deal of contrast between them. I’m exploring the uses of minimal contrast, Shadow Nines I call them.

I’m coming around the corner with the top’s construction, and will post a few pix of the product-in-process a bit later.

Why Does the Chicken Live Down the Road?

Fresh is best.

There are a great number of reasons to love living in Vermont. One in my top ten is the availability of fresh, locally grown or raised food.

Like these eggs.

The chickens who laid these live just three houses down the street. They are kindly treated, well-fed, and the eggs they produce are wonderful.

When you break open one of these ovoid wonders, the yolk is a deep, rich yellow. And the flavor, if you scramble, poach or fry them, is so much better than anything you could ever get in a store—no matter what the label says.

Woodn’t You Love This Quilt?

This is the first half of the center of my autumn nine-patch quilt sewn together.

I cut my teeth on quilting how-to books with Wiley Publishing, the folks who did my Teach Yourself Visually Quilting book and its companion, Visual Quick Tips Quilting. It was a great way to learn, and great folks to work with as well.

For consistency and probably to maintain good contrast, Wiley insisted that everything be photographed against a white background. My photographer brought a number of foam core boards to my house, where we took the pictures, and they worked just fine.

I wrote here the other day about one of my newfound loves, my Epson printer, which does a great job of scanning the smaller pieces of a quilt in a state of becoming. I’m working on a new quilt, part of which is pictured here, that’s one of four that will be featured in my newest pattern book. Now it’s too big to fit in my Epson any more.

Which brings me, believe it or not, to the hardwood floors in my living room.

My husband installed them last year, pre-finished oak. We love them. And I’ve discovered they make a great background for many of my quilts.

This particular spot on the living room floor is near the windows that look to the southwest so on a sunny day like today, I get a lot of reflected light.

And I love the warm color of the wood.

Besides, it’s my book and if I want to use a non-white background, I get to make the rules. As long as readers understand what I want them to see in my images, that’s what matters.

Getting to Know My Epson

Use your scanner to create images of your small pieces instead of a camera

I have a (now older) Canon PowerShot S5 with which I take just about every image in this publication. The camera definitely has some limitations but I’ve learned my way around those I can learn my way around so we rub along reasonably well together.

But one of those limitations makes me crazy when I’m taking pictures of quilts-in-progress for upcoming books. As well as this little camera does with outdoor shots, it’s pretty awful when in comes to handling the lower light indoors.

And that, of course, is where I make my quilts.

That’s where my Epson printer/scanner/copier comes in.

I gotta tell you, back when scanning technology first took its place in the world of desktop publishing, it was one finicky, expensive process. There was no way most individuals could afford the machines you needed to get color just right, to control lighting, to compensate for moire patterns. You needed high-end electronics and experts to run them.

Which is why I appreciate the scanning capabilities of my Epson. The images I get from this $207 machine rival those that used to come from the bigger machines. So now, instead of fussing and fuming over over lighting—too dark, too much glare, too dim—I take the smaller pieces of my quilts-in-the-making, lay them on the glass of this machine, sit at my computer and voila, great images.

If they made quilt-sized scanners, I’d be tempted to eliminate camera work all together.

Some technological advances are worth applauding.

Ironing Woman

After the pre-wash comes the ironing

Years ago, I had a friend who referred to irons as “slave tools.” And back then, faced with piles of shirts, skirts, pants and blouses that wrinkled when you looked at them, that was probably an appropriate description.

But nowadays, I avoid ironing clothes as much as possible. However, my iron is one of the most important tools in my quilting arsenal. So I don’t iron any less. If anything, I iron more.

I’ve been working through my stash, washing the big pieces to get rid of the stiff sizing stuff that manufacturers put in cloth. Consequently, I’ve been ironing all of this fabric as I put it away. It’s been a long slog.  But there is a silver lining here, of sorts.

Like most quilters, I often forget what I have in my stash because when you open the door to find something, you’re always seeing what you saw the last time you looked. It’s one of those familiarity-breeds-contempt things. Or, to be more accurate, it’s one of those familiarity-breeds-familiarity things. After a while, you can’t see what you have with fresh eyes.

But when you iron a piece of cloth, you have to really look at it. Consequently, my head is now buzzing with design ideas that I want to plunge into RIGHT NOW!

Who woulda ever thunk that ironing would become a meditative design tool?